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Revisiting Lake County, California
By Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Sep 5, 2017
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Langtry Estate & Vineyards, Guenoc Valley - Lake County (California) Petite Sirah Serpentine Meadow Vineyard 2013 ($30):  When I was offered the opportunity to sample a selection of wines from California’s Lake County recently, I jumped at the chance because, frankly, I hadn’t given much thought to that area in many years.  The four wines I tasted impressed me.  They shared many characteristics that I prize, such as vibrant acidity, freshness of fruit flavors and long finishes -- and yet they also showed lovely ripeness, which often does not go hand-in-hand with those characteristics.  This Petite Sirah was my favorite of the lot.

Situated north of Napa County and east of Mendocino, Lake County boasts California’s greatest concentration of high-altitude vineyards -- high valleys, terraces and slopes ranging up to 3000 feet in elevation.  The Mayacamas and the Vaca mountain ranges join here, surrounding Clear Lake.  Because the terrain has both volcanic and tectonic origins, soils are complex.  Intense sunlight accompanies temperatures that swing by as much as 50°F from day to night during the summertime, enabling ripeness by day and helping retain acidity and freshness of flavor by night.

Guenoc Valley is one of six AVAs in Lake County.  It sits apart from the others in the southern part of the county, extending into Napa Valley north of Calistoga.  Actress Lillie Langtry established a vineyard there in 1888; today, winemaking encompasses two brands under common ownership, Langtry Estate & Vineyards for single-vineyard, estate-grown wines and Guenoc, for wines sourced from mainly, but not exclusively, estate-owned vineyards. 

The Langtry Serpentine Meadow Petite Sirah comes from a five-acre site whose soil, rich in solidified magma, inhibits vine growth so that the vines, clusters and berries are all small and the grapes show concentration of flavor.  Tasting the 2013 Petite Sirah and then factoring in that the wine aged for two-plus years in new oak (French and American), you can appreciate what fruit concentration the grapes had:  The wine’s fruit easily sustains the oak influence.  And yet this is not a monster Petite Sirah; it is a very well balanced wine with freshness and finesse.

The wine’s deep and complex nose suggests blackberry and black cherry aromas but also red berries -- cranberry -- with gentle hints of floral and woodsy notes, and white pepper, rather than the more typical black pepper.  Vanilla, toast and clove aromas speak to the oak aging. 

In your mouth, this wine is dry and full-bodied with fresh acidity and only a medium amount of fine, soft tannins.  It is a particularly flavorful wine, with delicious dark berry flavors that are fresh rather than jammy, accompanied by spicy notes and a suggestion of leather.  The wine’s finish is long and flavorful, echoing dark fruit and vanilla flavors.

Fans of Petite Sirah wines know that they can vary in style from jammy-rich to lean and tannic.  On that spectrum, the Langtry Serpentine Meadow sits near the middle, with the softness of the riper styles and yet with controlled structure.  This is a seductive, polished wine that expresses all the flavor of Petite Sirah without any excess.

90 Points