We are all aware of the great quality and popular appeal of Australian Shiraz (aka Syrah). Its powerful, opulent dark berry and black pepper spiciness appeals to many of us and rightly so. Shiraz has been grown in Australia since the 1830s. I myself have had the pleasure of spending time among the oldest still-surviving Shiraz vines in Australia – and maybe in the world – while sipping the very wine that they produce. And they were 160 years old!
But what about Petite Sirah? Despite a very definite cult following, especially in the U.S. and in Australia (check out a site called P.S. I Love You), it is still a somewhat misunderstood and unappreciated variety. Its original name was Durif and it is still generally known by that name in Australia. The story began in France, in the garden of one François Durif, a French botanist, who in the 1860s discovered a natural cross-pollination between his Syrah and lesser known Peloursin vines. Although almost non-existent in France anymore, some Durif/Petite Sirah vines did make it as far afield as California, Australia and Israel, who are currently the largest producers.
Which brings us to Flegenheimer. The Hammerschlag family left their German homeland for New York in the late 1880s and married into the Flegenheimer family, who were well-known wine merchants. Their business thrived until Prohibition arrived in 1919. Today, the great-great grandson Benjamin Hammerschlag, now transplanted to the McLaren Vale in South Australia, has resurrected his family’s passion and history by producing some mighty and impressive wine.
I’ll be the first to admit that a bottle of Flegenheimer Out of the Park Petite Sirah did not immediately excite me with regards to a sales opportunity. That is, until the wine was in my mouth. Yes, it knocked my socks off, and my colleagues all agreed with me.
The vineyards are located in the Seaview area of McLaren Vale. Here the bush vines are planted on only a few feet of topsoil over a hard shelf of chalk. The wine is aged for several months in neutral French and American oak to showcase bright acidity and natural fruit and then returned to stainless steel tanks where after 12 months the wine is blended and bottled with only very slight filtration. It should also be mentioned that the winemaker is Ben Glaetzer, Baron of Barossa, and one of the central and most lauded figures in Australian wine. The alcohol level is at a whopping 16.7% but this by no means overpowers the attributes of the wine.
The wine’s reception has been very positive. Lisa Perrotti-Brown in the Wine Advocate writes, “An intensely scented nose of baked blackberries, crème de cassis and mocha with fruit cake and preserved plums hints. Full-bodied, concentrated and packed with spicy baked berry flavors that are well matched by chewy tannins and plenty of freshness, it finishes with great length and tons of character…” and awards the wine 90 points.
Besides this exemplary Petite Sirah, ABC Fine Wine & Spirits also offers the Flegenheimer Out of the Park Shiraz which is also rated at 90 points by Wine Advocate. Try both!
Bill Stobbs, Wine & Spirits Supervisor
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