Frank Napa Valley is a darn nice $35 Petite Syrah

November 30, 2015

Sitting here pondering all the things to be thankful for, and, “aw snap” as my computer says to me, I was reminded by my pal Jen “up to the CG newsroom” that my column deadline was Monday, due to the holiday. Fortunately I had been supping all week and had copious notes lying about waiting to be fluffed and buffed just for you. Let’s start with The Other Guys Plungerhead wines. These can be a shoppers’ nightmare for the wine newbie. I don’t want to characterize these as second label because that might be misconstrued. Perhaps winemakers' art wine would be a better label. Sebastiani wished to attack the lower-end market and in order to do so decided to buy juice and blend it. This is clearly indicated on the labels by using “California” rather than one of the regional names such as “Dry Creek.” In each vintage the wine may be labeled differently using the Lodi or Sierra Foothills AVA designation. As a fan of recent Plungerhead Zin, which I rated in the 88-90 range, I had high hopes for the 2013. Dark purple colored with cherry, vanilla and caramel nose, it resolves on the palate to cherry, blackberry, pie spice, caramel and chocolate. This will complement most of the traditional seasonal foods and goes well with venison if you are a lucky hunter. I give it 87 points. If you spot a 2011 or '12 they are a bit better at 90 points and have mellowed.

Another good venison, lamb or “steak on wood chip” wine for those with patience and a cool dark space are the Frank Family inaugural vintage of Napa Valley Petite Sirah, the 2012.

The wine trade promoters are comparing it to the reserve that has been in production since 2008 and runs about $55-60. Unfortunately I have not sampled the reserve, but I can tell you the Napa Valley is a darn nice $35 bottle. I was fortunate to get a sample recently and think those who enjoy Petite Sirah should buy in. For those unacquainted with Petite Sirah, it is not Syrah but a stand-alone varietal grape. For years these small berries were blended in order to provide color and tannin. Recently the grape has been bottled as a single varietal wine. Although they were originally cloned in France, it is the Cali growers that have brought them to their best performance. There is nothing “petite” about them.   

Petite Sirah generally delivers dense blackberry and black pepper notes, licorice, smoked meats and tar.

I think the best producers are EOS, Bogle, Rosenblum and now Frank joins the ranks with affordable wine.

How about MooBuzz Pinot Noir Monterey 2013, another Sebastiani Other Guys product. This PN is blended with 5 percent each of Petite Sirah and Syrah. For body was the winemaker's note. He wrote: “gorgeous aromas of earthy mushroom and fresh raspberry are highlighted by notes of fresh violet and ripe plum. The palate expands to include a savory abundance of red currant, dark cherry, rich mocha and wild strawberry on a long, velvety finish.”

My tasting panel notes read: "violet and raspberry with forest floor aromas. On the palate, plums, baking spices, cherry, and strongly brewed tea. Finishes cleanly with good fruit/acid balance; 89 McD points and 90 if priced less than $17."

I rarely write of sweet or off-dry wine because so many leave my mouth feeling muggy, and the better Sauternes are too darn expensive. David Akiyoshi Clarksburg Moscato 2014 is a well-made rare exception. Now, I’m not trying to compare Moscato to Sauterne or White Zinfandel or Pinot Grigio, but if you enjoy these type wines you will likely enjoy the Akiyoshi Moscato with its pale color, lemon, grapefruit and pineapple nose.

On the palate some residual sugar is very well balanced by fruit and proper acidity. Akiyoshi got his creds thru a 25-year stint with Mondavi’s Woodbridge as director of winemaking. He was named Best of California in 2012. This can be found at naked wines and is worth the search. Hope your Thanksgiving was wonderful!

Email John McDonald at


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