Critical Section

Stags' Leap

Saturday,  11/13/10  09:39 AM

1996 Stags' Leap Petite SyrahOf all the unappreciated grapes in wine, Petite Sirah is surely near the top of the list*.  It grows in the same climates and soils as Cabernet Sauvignon, and is invariably overshadowed.  And of all the unappreciated vintages, California's 1996 would rank right up there; the 1997 vintage was one of the best *ever*, eclipsing its inconsistent predecessor.  And of all the unappreciated wineries, perhaps Stags' Leap is the most underrated; often confused with Stag's Leap Wine Cellars whose Cask 23 is one of the best Napa wines bar none, it is easy to overlook.  (They are neighbors in the Stags Leap AVA, on the East side of Napa Valley, which also includes Clos du Val, Mondavi, Shafer, Silverado, Sinskey, Shafer...)   And yet, these three unappreciated entities came together for us last night in one of the finest wines I have ever had, a 1996 Stags' Leap Petite Syrah.  Big and bold, with bright blackberry fruit and a smoky, lingering finish, it was truly amazing.

We were headed out to dinner at our local favorite Tuscany (Westlake Village), with their usual perfect filet mignon in mind, and on a whim I poked my head into our wine room to see if there wasn't something that needed drinking.  I have our older stuff arranged by vintage, and sitting next to the once-big-but-now-diminishing block of 1997s I've hoarded was this little gem.  What the heck I thought and dragged it along.  On the first whiff I knew we were in for a treat; and on the first sip: Wow!  As it opened up it just got bigger and brighter and smoother and longer until it became entirely wonderful.

The best thing of all: I have one more just like it :)

* In the U.S. the grape Durif is called Petite Sirah, sometimes spelled Petite Syrah.  It is not to be confused - at all - with Syrah, aka Shiraz, an entirely different and unrelated grape.  Compared to Syrah, Petite Sirah is darker and more purplish in color, rounder and fuller in the mouth, and offers a brightness that Syrah lacks.

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