P.S. I love you: Ursa features its Petit Sirah’s at Lake Tahoe tasting

What wines pair magnificently with that great All-American favorite food, Pizza? There are many, and if you’d like the experience of tasting what-goes-with-what first hand, you should head to Lakeside Pizza, located at 850 North Lake Blvd. behind Safeway in Tahoe City any Wednesday at 7 p.m. to find out the answer to this question for yourself.

I went to the tasting of the many interesting wines from Ursa Vineyards, a collaborative effort between a husband and wife team - Greg Stokes and Deborah Elissagaray. The small Sierra Foothills winery, located at 2700 feet elevation outside Placerville on 40 acres in Pleasant Valley, produces no more than 2500 cases annually. This artisanal small-production approach allows exceptional attention to be paid in both the vineyard and the cellar. Their focus is petite sirah from various vineyards in California, but they also produce merlot, syrah and a unique varietal from the Pyrenees, tannat.

Winemaker Greg Stokes is an advocate of petit sirah, which he believes is a varietal that’s been neglected by the winemaking world. “Better sirahs can be made than have been made in America in the past,” he says. “Petit sirah is underrepresented” In their winemaking, Ursa is trying different yeasts, experiments with tannin and other strokes of the winemaking art to produce a flavorful and unique group of petit sirahs.

Ursa’s Petit Sirah 2005 is a classic sirah, using fruit sourced from two high-elevation vineyards in the Sierra Foothills. The mountain fruit gives an elegant aroma of violets and blackberries, and on the palate, there is ripe robustness from the use of European oak that lends flavors from spice and toast, to ripe cherry and wild blackberry fruit. Only 250 cases were produced. 14.7% alcohol. $22/bottle.

The 2006 Vineyard-Blend Petit Sirah is a combination of grapes from five selected vineyards in 3 AVA’s -- Alta Mesa, Sierra Foothills, and Central Coast. Greg has worked hard to tame the tannins in this wine while it is fermenting; only 450 cases were made. Alcohol content is 13.3%. $16 /bottle.

The Tannat 2005 is a wine near and dear to Deborah Elissagaray’s heart. She comes from a Basque background, and this is a classic grape of that region. Their website notes that “Tannat is a varietal not so commonly found in the United States. It’s grown primarily in the Pyrenees and South America and is used as the base of many Basque wines. Ours comes from Silvaspoons Vineyards in Lodi, one of the few vineyards in California growing this intriguing grape.” On the nose, this wine has smoky, dusty qualities that are reminiscent of cabernet layered with classic cherry and ripe plum fruit. Its substantial palate shows deep red ripe fruit flavors, well integrated tannin and hints of French oak. It paired well with Lakeside’s Greek pizza. 200 cases produced. 14.3% alcohol, $18/bottle

Ursa’s Major Red 2006 is a delightful blend of 45% cab sauvignon and 45% syrah (fruit from Sierra Foothills) and 10% zinfandel (fruit from Lodi). It has soft tannins with a hint of pepper and plum. Only 300 cases were produced. It paired perfectly with Lakeside’s popular sausage pizza. 13.5% alcohol, $12/bottle.

The Vigonier 2008, of which 200 cases was produced with fruit from Hidden mesa Vineyards in the Sierra Foothills, had a taste that was apricotty and peachy, and somewhat sweet. A nice surprise for a vigonier! The wine was stainless steel fermented to about 10 brix, and then moved into 5 yr old French barrel for that light kiss of oak. 14.5 % alcohol. $16/bottle. It was successfully paired with cheese pizza, and cheese and mushroom pizza. You might also try it with spicy or Asian fusion styled foods.

The every-Wednesday winetastings at Lakeside Pizza begin around Memorial Day and continue through the end of August. The cuisine is informal: pizza, wings, sandwiches, salad bar. The wine list changes weekly. If you don’t find the URSA wines on the current Lakeside Pizza list, you can source them from the winery’s website: http://www.ursavineyards.com/index.html

To see Lakeside’s complete wine tasting schedule, go to their website at http://www.lakesidetahoecity.com/ or you can drop an email to wine (at) lakesidetahoecity.com and ask. Or call 530-583-2000. The small tasting fee is generally donated to The Humane Society.

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© 2009 Barbara Keck

For more information on dining and the wide range of activities around Lake Tahoe, see the online version of The Tahoe Weekly. This article appeared in my column "It's Grape" in July 2009.


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