California Port: Go, and Zin No More!

Over the years of my research, I‚€™ve
enjoyed many late-harvest Zinfandels or Zinfandel ‚€œports,‚€ syrupy,
thick, sweet wines from California that make a nice end to a meal or
suitable mate to a chocolate dessert, even if they didn‚€™t exactly
remind me of their more famous counterparts from the Douro. Faux Ports
seem to be the domain of the Aussies.
Recently, however, I tasted a California ‚€œport‚€ that blew me away.
It was Blue Cellars 2003 Petite Sirah Port, made by Jeff Ritchey, a low-key, high-talent winemaker you‚€™ll probably read more of in years to come. Until last year, Ritchey was winemaker at Clos la Chance,
a Central Coast operation that began by making wines from small private
vineyard plots ‚€“ essentially backyard vineyards. Now Ritchey is
making wines under two labels with different financial partners, Blue
Cellars and Sensorium.
The Petite Sirah port offers bright fruit flavors of plums and
blueberries, vibrant color and a long finish. There‚€™s plenty of
acidity to balance the sweetness.
But what makes Petite Sirah a better choice than Zin for such a wine?
‚€œPetite Sirah has several advantages over Zinfandel in making a
port-styled wine,‚€ Ritchey explains. ‚€œFirst, it has bigger and
smoother tannins and that a shows through all the sugar and alcohol in a
port. The second is that the color is amazing. Zin doesn‚€™t seem to
hold it‚€™s color in port conditions. Third, Zin tends to raisin and
that shows in the finished product and fourth, PS has an amazing
blueberry syrup character to it that lends itself really well to port.
‚€œ
Ritchey‚€™s other wines are also worth searching out: There‚€™s a Blue
Cellars Syrah 2003 from Truchard Vineyard, and two elegant offerings
under the Sensorium label, a 2003 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and a
2003 Central Coast Syrah.

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