May 14, 2008
Last Night's Wine...and Burger

Petite sirah long has had its advocates, but its group of followers hasn't been particularly large or vocal. It's been called a "cult wine," though that suggests a following more limited than it actually is. What's more, petite sirah is showing signs of rising in popularity as wine enthusiasts discover how lush with floral aromas and blackberry flavors it can be. More consumers haven't ventured into petite-sirah land for two related factors: Petite sirah's inky color and rigid tannins are so intimidating they can scare off potential customers before they give it a chance.

Under his Quixote label, veteran Napa Valley vintner Carl Doumani makes one of those big, brooding petite syrahs. (Contrary to the approach of most other winemakers working with petite sirah, Doumani prefers the spelling "petite syrah," recognizing that the grape's parents are syrah and peloursin.)

Now, however, Doumani is releasing a more approachable petite sirah, the Pretense 2005 Solano County Petite Syrah ($15). Though its color is dense as night, the wine is immediately accessible. It's dry and medium bodied, with a smell of violets, a flavor that runs to both blackberries and raspberries, a satiny texture, and a finish that includes a snap of spice. The tannins are in full retreat. The alcohol is a modest 13.8 percent. And it comes in a screwcap bottle. The whole package, in fact, leaps off the shelf, thanks to Marin graphic designer Jim Moon's novel wrap-around label that looks like a crinkly brown-paper bag.

"We give you 'Pretense,' with the assurance that now even those of modest means can have 'Pretense' in their cellar and on their dining table," says Doumani in a press release.

Unfortunately, Doumani says Pretense is a one-time-only wine, the consequence of a series of serendipitous happenings that began with the availability of the grapes from Oberti Family Vineyard in Suisun Valley.

In Sacramento, Corti Brothers has received a shipment of the wine, which could be on the floor as soon as today.

We found the wine a perfect accompaniment, incidentally, to the first burgers off the grill this spring. They were sweetened with grilled onions and spiced with a catsup-and-mayo sauce seasoned with horseradish, mustard, wasabi and lime. But the meat alone was the big hit. For the first time, we made the burgers with Five Dot Ranch ground chuck from Taylor's Market ($4.49 per pound). This is good beef, coming from a famly that's been ranching in California since 1852. Today, the Swickard family's holdings stretch from Lassen County to Napa Valley. The mostly Angus cattle they run are raised on open range with sustainable, "holistic" and natural practices. They don't use antibiotics on the herds, and they don't add hormones to their feed.

Five Dot Ranch beef was sold wholesale until the family recently opened its first retail store at Oxbow Public Market in Napa. In addition to Taylor's Market, Five Dot Beef is found at Davis Food Co-Op, Ikeda's in Auburn, and Natural Food Selection and Briar Patch Co-Op in Grass Valley. Local restaurants that use Five Dot Beef include Ford's Real Hamburgers, The Waterboy and The Kitchen in Sacramento, Hawks in Granite Bay.

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