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October '09

Wine Report from the Fort
Petite Sirah vs. Zinfandel vs. Pinot Noir:
Which won the three-varietal shootout?
By Fred McMillin

Corison WineryIn October, our Fort Mason class found Petite Sirah outscored Syrah. So we decided to match another six bottles of Petite Sirah with their Zinfandel and Pinot Noir counterparts. Each match had wines of the same vintage and price range. Here are the top two winners in each price range.

$10 maximum
    Pinot Noir: Kendall Jackson Vineyards California 2003, $9
    Pinot Noir: Fat Cat Cellars California 2006, $10

$15 maximum
    Petite Sirah: Concannon Vineyards Central Coast 2004, $14
    Petite Sirah: Vina Robles Paso Robles Jardine 2006, $15

$20 maximum
    Petite Sirah: Steele Lake County Writer’s Block 2005, $16
   Pinot Noir: Hahn Estates Monterey County 2005, $20

$30 maximum
    Petite Sirah: Bianchi Winery Paso Robles Signature Select 2004, $24
    Zinfandel: Dry Creek Vineyards Dry Creek Valley Old Vine 2006, $28

Over $30
    Zinfandel: Dry Creek Vineyards Dry Creek Valley, 2005, $34
    Petite Sirah: Concannon Vineyards Livermore Valley Heritage 2001, $50

   Decision! Zinfandel scored twice, Pinot Noir three times and Petite Sirah five. Buy it and try it.

Cathy Corison: How to succeed in business by really trying
By the late seventies, Corison had decided to make great wines in the Napa Valley. The upside: She had a biology degree from Pomona College and a graduate degree in enology from UC Davis. The downside: She had only $200 and no connections in the Napa Valley.
Sure enough, 16 years later, the critics had this to say about the 1992 Napa Valley Corison Cabernet Sauvignon.
James Halliday: “Truly excellent, full-blown and concentrated.”
Prof. John Baxevanis: “Immense flavor, majestic fruit.”

How had Corison accomplished such a meteoric rise? By starting as what is known as a “cellar rat,” doing the simplest jobs at the wineries, she eventually became Chappallet’s winemaker for 10 years. She got to know the central Napa Valley growers and wineries well.
In 1987, she bought grapes from some of the growers and rented the use of the excess capacity in one winery. Producing about 2,000 cases, it was clearly a boutique effort, but just as clearly, not a boutique of the weak.
The fruit of success
. Today, Corison has her own winery and a long record of acclaimed vintages. My picky panel gave the 1992 Cabernet a “highly recommended,” the 1996 an “excellent,” and the 1997 an “excellent” and “Best of Tasting.” We just tasted the 2006 ($70), and not surprising, the wine was rated right at the top. Buy it and try it.
And about that Corison Cab – it can clear tall buildings in a single bound. That is, it is super, man.

Save gas, take a class
Instead of using gas to drive to the wine country, go to Fort Mason and take a class: Saturdays, 1 p.m., 20 wines.
·  Feb. 6: Basics for Beginners: Learn the five basic types of wines and how they are made.
·  Feb. 26: Taste the Terms: Taste wines that illustrate the 100-plus terms used to describe wine.
Many people take Terms over again because the wines and words are different each time. To enroll or wait-list, phone San Francisco City College at 415-561-1840, or visit

Just the facts
How many pounds of grapes are in one bottle of wine? About 2½.
What is the largest winery in the world? That of E&J Gallo.

From chilly Chile

No warm climate. No flat vineyard for easy harvesting. No problem for this wine:
Espiritu de Chile Winery Chile Valle Central Sauvignon Blanc 2008, $10
My class rated it a fine buy.

A final wine smile
The press often states red wine is good for heart health. This reminds me of the heart surgeon who was challenged by an auto mechanic who said it was just as difficult to repair a motor as it was to perform open-heart surgery. So the doctor said, “OK, next time try to repair the motor when it is running.”

Credits: Edgar Vogt (tastings); Opie Mercado & Ruby Dequis (statistics)

Fred McMillin was voted one of the best wine writers in the United States by the Academy of Wine Communications. Phone him with questions at 415-563-5712 or fax him at 415-567-4468.

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