1972 Freemark Abbey, Petite Sirah, Napa Valley.
A wine that seems forgotten in time, I’d bet the winery doesn’t know much about it either, the garnet and dark brick hued 1972 Freemark Abbey Petite Sirah proved a delight at a recent dinner event, in fact it was an incredible bottle with Bordeaux like class and character with a sweet fruited medium bodied palate and only the slightest hint of true age, even after many hours it was still holding on with pretty flavors and wonderful length. This was a surprisingly impressive display, I have to believe this wine, which Freemark Abbey don’t even seem to make anymore, was made from old vines that either they don’t source from or re-planted to Cabernet Sauvignon, since that is there main focus and has been for many decades now. Not that I was shocked really, because I’ve had remarkable bottles of California wines that should have been long dead that weren’t, like old Zinfandel, Barbera and Petite Sirah, AKA Durif. Petite Sirah (or Durif) is a black-skinned grape variety that was developed by Dr. Durif, a French nurseryman living in the southwest of France in the late 1800’s. He created this new variety by crossing the Syrah grape with the little known Peloursin grape, with Petite Sirah being its North and South American name, and according to Patrick Comiskey, author of American Rhone, Durif took the name for a completely different variety (thought to be a clone of Syrah) in the early 1900s, and that’s why it can also be spelled Petite Syrah as well. In the rest of the world, like in Australia where it has become quite popular, it is generally known as Durif, as mentioned, named after its discoverer, Dr. Francois Durif himself. Tasting this Petite, is quite literally tasting history, and it is still astonishingly fresh wine with layers of only slightly faded blackberry, dusty cherry, dried violets, minty herbs, tobacco leaf as well as the mentioned below, mulberry and currant fruits along with a hint of earthy mushroom, gravelly loam, autumn leaves, a faint whiff of soy/balsamic and cedar.
Though the grape was never highly regarded in France, and is a rarity there, it makes for a inky dark wine of great tannic intensity with blue fruits and chocolatey element when in its youth, developing a more refined character with age, often losing the sense of jammy fruit and taking on, as this 1972 Freemark Abbey has a secondary, almost like a Cabernet Sauvignon personality taking on currants and earthy mulberries. Freemark Abbey, in St. Helena, which was first founded in 1886, as noted by the winery, by Josephine Tychson, a Victorian widow, built and operated the original redwood cellar on our estate, cultivated the land, and became the first female winemaker on record in Napa Valley. This was short lived, as in 1898, Antonio Forni, a good friend of Josephine’s, purchased the winery and renamed it as Lombarda Cellars, after his birthplace in Italy, he also build the winery structure which still survives today. Just before the US entered WWII, in 1939 three southern California businessmen purchased Lombarda Cellars, combining their names, Charles Freeman, Marquand Foster and Albert “Abbey” Ahern into the name, we know today, Freemark Abbey. Interestingly, Freemark Abbey was one of the first wineries in Napa to open a tasting room and visitors center back in 1949, and in 1967 a new partnership took over and into the 1970s they focused almost exclusively on Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon, plus a few Bordeaux blends, including their Bosché Vineyard Cabernet, their signature wine, and one of the first single vineyard labeled bottlings in California. Freemark Abbey, one of the original twelve wineries to be included in the Judgement of Paris tastings, along with the likes of Chateau Montelena, Ridge Vineyards and others, and while I can’t find out much on this Petite Sirah, the winery does have an intriguing history that is worth remembering. What an experience, honestly, if tasted blind I might have said Napa Cab, but it does have a left bank charm, I wish I had a few more bottles!
($ N/A) 92 Points, grapelive