Although cabernet sauvignon, merlot and pinot noir remain the most popular red varietal California wines, if you’re like me you crave something different now and then (maybe more often). No matter how much I might like certain grape varieties, I still delight in trying different ones.


One of my favorite “alternative reds” is petite sirah, a variety that has been gaining in well-deserved appreciation in recent years. Despite this, I wonder how many wine drinkers have tried this Rhone Valley origin grape on its own. I bet more often they have drunk it hidden in a blend.


It often has been commented that there is nothing petite about Petite Sirah wines. While they often display a flavor profile similar to their parent syrah – dark berries, tobacco, leather, earth, mineral and pepper, with an ability to age well, they typically are wines of deep color, dense structure, rustic body and agibility.


The following wines are excellent introductions to Petite Sirah and excellent values considering fine quality.

2013 Clayhouse Red Cedar Vineyard Old Vines ($23). From Paso Robles, its meaty, roasted notes overlay ripe red fruits in a dense, husky texture.


2014 Peachy Canyon ($32). Another Paso Robles wine, it is well integrated with black fruits and black pepper; oaky and full, rustic tannin leads to a creamy finish,


2013 Edmeades Mendocino County ($35). Full and tight, with dark berries, spice and smoke, this drinks with an underlying softness while ushering strong tannins.


Another French grape, malbec, has gained a lot of popularity in the U.S. recently. But, of course, that attraction has been directed at Malbec wines from Argentina, not California, where it is used largely as a minor blending grape in Bordeaux-style wines. That recent appeal has been based largely on those wines’ up front, round fruit and lush textures. They are user friendly and eminently drinkable – and affordable. Try these California Malbecs and you might be surprised how the grape can deliver equal quality here, too.


2013 Clayhouse Red Cedar Vineyard Malbec ($14). Rather jammy with sweet berries, it’s fresh and a bit sweet with a tart finish.


2014 Jamieson Ranch Whiplash ($16). Another fruit forward malbec, it suggests fresh oak and drinks grapey with a chalky palate.


2013 Rodney Strong Sonoma County Reserve ($40). This inaugural release shows strong earth, black fruit and oak toast; it’s full, structured and deeply fruited.


Often, when I’m looking for a change of pace, I turn to Italy and Spain for inspiration. Tempranillo is arguably Spain’s most important red grape. It is responsible for the famous Rioja and Ribera de Duero, along with countless regional wines. Apart from regional variations, typically it produces an aromatic wine with solid acidity, leathery red fruits and earthy qualities.


2014 Castoro Cellars Whale Rock Vineyard Reserve ($24). From an organic vineyard in Paso Robles, I enjoyed its forest notes, red fruits, and its full and dusty texture.


2012 Artesa Limited Release ($45). From Napa Valley, the heart of cabernet country, this has deep black cherry, creamy oak and  a fresh resiny, but elegant texture.


As with Tempranillo in Spain, Sangiovese is arguably Italy’s most important red grape. Although it also presents red fruit qualities, its wines tend to be brisker and higher toned, with savory notes

2013 Frank Family Reserve Winston Hill Vineyard ($65).  This serious wine shows well integrated oak with bright, leathery cherry, baking spices, and fresh tannin.


2013 Palumbo Bella Vigna Vineyard ($45). From Temecula in the south coast, this is smoky and woody with pure, high toned red fruit, and chocolate accents.



About Rich

I first became interested in wine while I worked in numerous liquor stores during college in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. In the years following college, I researched, tasted, traveled to vineyards in California and Europe, participated in countless tastings. I began writing about wine in 1995 with a column in Out Front Colorado. For me, wine is more than a drink. It is food. It is a connection to the earth. It is culture. There is just something amazing, even magical, about the transformation of grapes into wine. It is also remarkable how drinking wine with food enhances the taste and enjoyment of both. Appreciation of wine has become an integral part of my approach to life, which emphasizes balance, respect for nature, physical and emotional health, and an appreciation of our nature as social beings. In 2006, I was awarded a fellowship to the Symposium for Professional Wine Writers.