A Petite Sirah With a Big, Dark Flavor

Gnarly Head Authentic Black, 2014
14.5 percent alcohol content
Lodi, California, $12.99

Even though temperatures are warming, there’s still a place this summer for a rich, bold red wine, particularly when its served with flavorful grilled or slow-roasted meats.

Gnarly Head Authentic Black, which also is nice to sip while sitting around the wood stove on a cold night or to enjoy with rich soups and stews, is an excellent match for such barbecue favorites as pulled pork, juicy ribs and moist, tender brisket, accompanied by the traditional side dishes of Brunswick stew, creamy coleslaw and slices of white bread.

The grapes used to make the wine are grown in the Lodi region, and winemaker Scott Jones has a lot of experience with dry, full-bodied, red wines. He produces very good old vine Zinfandel from the region’s premiere grape, one that I believe makes the ultimate barbecue wine, although Authentic Black has made me reconsider that position.

Black wine, so called, is having a moment. I might be out of step, but I have an aversion categorizing a wine as black, just because it’s a deep, dark red made from black-skinned grapes. Black wine seems too trendy for me, a bit phony and something that wine writers and marketers cooked up to label a consumer preference away from rosé. In the viticulture world, black is not something you want to hear. There are numerous vine diseases that begin with black, such as black rot, black goo and black measles. And I doubt many would call Pinot Noir black.

Authentic Black is made primarily from Petite Sirah, a small-cluster grape that grows so well in Lodi that it is beginning to rival Zinfandel for space in the vineyard. Petite Sirah has had a surge in plantings and popularity in California over the last 15 years due to the efforts of its advocacy group: PS (Petite Sirah) I Love You (psiloveyou.org), according to Red Wine: The Comprehensive Guide to the 50 Essential Varieties and Styles by Kevin Zraly, Mike DeSimone and Jeff Jenssen.

The grape variety is derived from a somewhat accidental crossing of Peloursin, an old French grape, and Syrah. The cross occurred in 1880 in the Montpellier, France, agriculture laboratory of Francois Durif, a pioneering oenologist. Durif took credit for the vine, which bears small, deep colored grapes and named it after himself. In 1884, cuttings were brought to California, where growers didn’t like the name Durif and called it Petite Sirah, the Red Wine authors say.

In 2016, California winemakers harvested 103,000 tons of Petite Sirah, up from 75,000 tons the year before. The grape’s production is not to the Zinfandel level of 500,000 tons, but it’s getting there, a recent article in the Seattle Times says.

The soils and climate of Lodi also deserve some credit for the intensity of the Petite Sirah grapes, and the flavors that winemaker Jones showcases in Gnarly Head Authentic Black.

Located about 70 miles east of San Francisco, Lodi has a surprisingly moderate climate, which is kept cool by the area’s many rivers and streams as well as breezes off San Francisco Bay. Freestanding grape vines, some over 80 years old, grow well in the sandy, well-drained soil and resemble twisted, gnarly short trees.

The old vines inspired members of the Indelicato family, who own Delicato Family Vineyards, to name the brand of Lodi wines Gnarly Head, the company’s website says. There is an illustration of an old vine on the label.

Gaspare Indelicato planted the family’s first vineyards in 1924 in Manteca, Calif., about 25 miles south of the town of Lodi. He, along with many other growers in the region, initially sold bulk wine.

Under the leadership of his grandson, President and CEO Chris Indelicato, the company is now ranked among the 10 largest wineries in the country, producing 7 million cases a year. In addition to making Gnarly Head, Noble Vines and Bota Box, the family-owned company also produces such prestige wines as Black Stallion Estate in Napa and Belle Ambiance.

The company, too, is recognized for its efforts to operate its vineyards sustainably and to foster biodiversity that maintains a balanced environment. For example, owl nesting boxes in the vineyards encourage the birds to settle in, raise families and eat the rodents that nibble on the vines. Native cover crops and grasses planted between vine rows help beneficial insects that prey upon insect pests.

Authentic Black is a dark, inky wine with aromas of black cherry, licorice and vanilla and flavors of boysenberry and chocolate, Jones says in the tasting notes.

In addition to barbecue, the company’s website suggests trying Gnarly Head Authentic Black with espresso rubbed tri-tip steak, a cut with California origins, but gaining in popularity elsewhere. It also goes well with dry-rubbed pork tenderloin and spicy grilled chicken.

Gnarly Head Authentic Black is a great bargain at $12.99, but it often goes on sale for much less. I’ve seen it at $7.99. The wine is widely available.

Suggestions of wines in the $10 range are always appreciated. Warren Johnston can be reached at raiseyourglassofwine@gmail.com.

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