After spending several arduous hours drinking by the pool, Emily was loathe to let the festivities end just because the sun was getting lower in the sky, so she invited the Winos over to her house and promised to grill up some huge burgers. Andrew and I had the sense to take her up on her offer, as well as the foresight to go and grab two hefty bottles of Petite Sirah that had recently been sent our way by the good people at Aaron Jackson and Michael-David, respectively.
Why pair Petite Sirah with hamburgers? Well, when you’re dealing with a meal that’s delicious, but might not be considered haute cuisine, you want a wine that’s similar: mouth-watering, flavorful, and free of affectation. Enter big-and-bold Petite Sirah, with its massive fruit, sinister spice, and serious backbone. If there was any grape that was going to make our taste buds as horny as those burgers were going to, it was this one. As responsible journalists, though, we thought it best to start by tasting each wine on its own, prior to the hot beef injection.
The 2005 Michael-David “Petite Petit” (Lodi) is a blend of 85% Petite Sirah with 15% Petit Verdot, an eclectic Rhone/Bordeaux mash-up that certainly wouldn’t be allowed in France… but hey, god bless America, right? A rush of early alcohol on the nose gave way to what Emily identified as “rum and black cherry,” as well as some dried fig. Andrew got green olives, and Emily’s sister Becca agreed. I was appreciating some charcoal — that distinctive smell you get right after firing up the grill. Andrew then described some “chocolate berry action,” and Becca got “burnt sour teriyaki.” Kind of a wild nose, but a lot going on.
The palate was a little hot, I thought, and Andrew concurred; Emily called it “liquid smoke,” which wasn’t too far off. The berries we’d perceived on the nose weren’t making much of an effort on the palate, with the smoke and charcoal notes prevailing uncontested. A little tannin and a little acid provided the light/medium body with structure, but we were really missing that fruit. Andrew blamed the Petit Verdot, a varietal he’s never thought much of, and made the bold claim that “I think Petit Verdot should never be blended with anything, and the all fields should be plowed over.” We decided to reserve final judgment until burger time.
Next up was the 2005 Aaron Petite Sirah (Paso Robles), the product of 24-year-old winemaker Aaron Jackson, whose stated mission is to produce “the biggest, most badass Petite Sirah imaginable.” Aaron was previously the assistant winemaker at Four Vines, and his minimalist label design pays homage to the bottles of that Paso Robles stalwart — we were curious to see if his wine would follow suit.
The nose jumps out of the glass with an initial stab of model paint (yeah, I was that kid, I know what model paint smells like). Thankfully, this breezed off quickly to reveal some lush blackberry and some printer’s ink. Andrew picked up dark chocolate, but thought it was still a little hot; as I rambled on about various berry notes, he replied, “I can’t get there, because it’s burning the taste buds off my nose.” Eventually, though, he got some nice brown sugar component, while I got cumin, and Emily thought it smelled like fallen leaves.
The palate was big, with a lot of dark berries and dried fruit segueing to a charcoal finish. Medium body and good structure, with plenty of nice tannins and light acidity. To Andrew’s chagrin, it wasn’t fruity enough — or, as he put it, it wasn’t ready enough. “I think it has enough structure to age,” he pointed out, “but it needs to settle down. It could benefit and become more sophisticated.” Emily got “nice full flavors” and “a lot of dark fruit,” but thought it was a little too hot; to her, the finish was total alcohol.
Becca served us up some huge burgers, piled high with palate-coating cheddar cheese and copious amounts of fresh fixins, and we re-visited both glasses. Andrew was floored by the Petite Petit the second time around. “The fruit after the burger is phenomenal,” he enthused. “Nice big berry chocolate that’s not distracted by anything.” I agreed — the food softened the alcohol and revealed some nice cherry and light acidity. Still not quite the body I typically associate with Petite Sirah, however… but that allowed it to be more refreshing. A great burger wine, and a solid deal at $18.
The Aaron also softened out after the food, and some of those nice dark fruit notes were revealed. Andrew wasn’t as impressed; he found it “still very biting” and dominated by structural elements. I agreed to some extent — I’d initially found the Aaron to be a darker, spicier expression of the grape, so it was no surprise that big red fruit wasn’t jumping out at us even after we’d dulled our tongues to the tannin and alcohol. Overall, I think the experiment suggests that Petite Sirah certainly can be a great burger wine; it just depends on which one. To me, the Petite Petit is the wine to drink with a burger this summer, while the $28 Aaron is the wine with long-term potential, the wine you want to put away for a year or two — to eventually drink with a burger, perhaps, or maybe even as a meal all its own.
The Young Winos of LA — edutoxicating Los Angeles since 2005