by Fred McMillin
for August 4, 1997

Tame Those Tannins


  • The production of Petite Sirah for varietal wines was not taken up until the 1960's, when it was still something of a lunatic fringe idea...since the wines could be too tannic and heavy-handed.

    ...from "The Great Wine Grapes" by Bern Ramey

  • In the last five years we've seen riper fruit, heat controlled fermentation and more new barrels in Petite Sirah production. The result in most instances is riper, sweet, complex fruit with less astringency and harsh tannins.

    ...from "The Insiders' Wine Line" by veteran wine critic Joe Sullivan

The Rest of the Story: One of those newer, smoother Petites is made in El Dorado County by Charles Mitchell. Now, you are excused if you've not heard of his winery. It was founded only three years ago and produces less than 10,000 cases a year. As for the quality of the wines, Charles submitted nine wines the first time he entered a tasting competition. All but one won a medal, including two golds! If my panel's reaction is any guide, his '95 Petite will win its share, too. With tamed tannins, it pairs happily with nearly any meat you barbecue.

1995 Petite Sirah, El Dorado County
Charles Mitchell Vineyards
8221 Stoney Creek Road, Somerset

Postscript: Amador County is no stranger to the grape. In 1890, the county had more wineries than Sonoma and Napa combined.

About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. He currently teaches wine courses at San Francisco State and San Francisco City College and is Northern California Editor for American Wine on the Web. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers.

Read more articles by Fred McMillin in the eGGsf

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