Bending Branch Winery: A Petite Sirah Vertical Tasting with Dr. Bob – In a Flash, a Perfect Wine for a Sip or a Braise, Your Call

Bending Branch Petite Sirah: 2016, 2017, 2018

I admit that this all started with the Texas Fine Wine tasting earlier this month. I didn’t have any particular plans for what wine to open and taste that evening. So, I went to my wine cooler and surveyed its shelves and almost immediately my eyes locked onto two bottles of Bending Branch Winery Petite Sirah (PS) – vintages 2016 and 2017. I figured that this might be a way to steer clear of the usual good-natured banter between two gentlemen, one favoring Tempranillo and the other Aglianico; no names mentioned here.

Together, I figured that these two wines made a good statement about the role of Petite Sirah (PS) in Texas. They were very different – 2016 lean and retrained; 2017 big and brawny more in the classic PS style. Then, Bending Branch Winery’s Jennifer McInnis began her Texas Fine Wine presentation with a new 2018 Petite Sirah release. At that point, I realized that 2018 offered something different still. I asked, “What gives here?”

Texas Fine Wine February Talk and Taste Via Zoom

I needed to get a bottle of the 2018 to make my vertical tasting complete with Bending Branch Winery’s PS 2016, 2017, and 2108 vintages. So, during my last visit to our hill country cottage between Comfort and Fredericksburg, I stopped at the winery for a tasting of their 2018 Petite Sirah, and it was a shocker.

My initial analysis of the there Bending Branch Winery’s PS vintages from nose and palate was:

  • 2016 was red fruit dominated, a very presentable wine with alcohol of 14.2 vol%.
  • 2017 on the contrary, flowed with dense, dark berry richness and an alcohol content of 15.5 vol%.
  • 2018 was and interesting mix for me with dense, dark berry richness, still more complex, but lower alcohol at 13.7 vol% (lowest of the bunch).

I’ve known Dr. Robert Young for 10+ years and am aware of his work at his Bending Branch Winery on the cutting edge of fermentation science, both a leader in the use of cryo-maceration and the first in Texas with a flash détente unit [Please jump down the page for a short backgrounder on these techniques. Therefore, I knew that there was more to the story on these three wines that needed to be told. So, Jennifer, Dr. Bob, and I scheduled a virtual Zoom tasting of these three vintages of Bending Branch Petite Sirah to allow me to get a bit more “inside the winemaker’s circle” and discuss the evolution of these three wines from vine to glass. Here are my notes for our tasting:

Dr. Robert Young – Owner Bending Branch Winery with His Flash Détente Unit

While the three vintages were themselves were quite different largely dependent on what each season gave, Bob Young said, “The three wines each had different fermentation methods, as well.” Now I was getting somewhere since wines are really defined by the interface of each summer’s offering and decisions dictated by the winemaker as to when to pick and also in the winemaking process to make the best wine possible.

2016 Bending Branch Winery Petite Sirah, Texas High Plains, Newsom Vineyards

According to Bob, “We made this wine totally with the help of our flash détente (FD)” [FD is basically heating, cooling with a pressure drop – see details of FD below.] In 2016, the wet weather was preventing further ripening of the grapes and eventually they were harvested at 21 Brix (a measure of sugar content in the grapes). We harvested early, accepting the lower Brix, but some chose not to and they generally ended up with fruit rot.”

I found this wine from Bending Branch, while not as expressive as the 2017 and 2018, to be restrained but still quite “sippable” offering secondary aromas of leather and dark roast coffee, over flavors of tart red cherry. Bob said, “This wine really benefited from flash since it gave it a bump in flavor and aroma, and also a bump in sugar content of about 2-3 Brix before fermentation that increased the alcohol content of the finished wine.”

2017 Bending Branch Winery, Petite Sirah, Texas High Plains, Newsom Vineyards

Knowing that 2017 was a good ripening year with the grapes showing a Brix of just over 26 (an increase of 25% over 2016), Bob said, “For this wine, we decided to go primarily with Cryo-maceration (CM) – actually 2/3 CM and 1/3 FD.” Basically, CM means freezing the grapes and thawing them prior to fermentation (See below for description). In this case, he indicated that the grapes remained frozen for four months and the fermentation was not started until January of the following year. To use a wine-geek term here, the 2017 PS is a “big boy” with lots of dark ripe jammy berries and plenty of alcohol to give followed by essence of mocha, a hit of licorice candy, and caramel cream on the finish. It held together nicely during my tasting with everything in balance, but to me, this wine had the ability to pair with red meat, hard cheese, and more to be fully enjoyed.

2018 Bending Branch Winery, Petite Sirah, Texas High Plains, Newsom Vineyards

The 2018 PS brought a conundrum for me. It had nearly as much flavor and heft on the palate as the high alcohol 2017, with the lowest alcohol of the three Bending Branch wines. Bob said, “The grapes in this wine also came in with a Brix that was a bit low, about 22. But, the wine was made nearly three-fourths flash and one-fourth whole berry fermentation performed in two separate fermentations.”

From my experience, WB fermentation is often referred to as a “winemaker’s wild card”. It can bring in rich sweet fruity notes, soft earthy tones, and even integrated vegetal nuances, sometimes as a surprise to even the winemaker. In this case, I think WB definitely enhanced the complexity of the 2018 PS bringing in a sweet-tart “grapey” element to its blackberry-cassis base along with a hint of fresh Texas cedar in the mid-palate while finishing with an interesting chocolate covered cherry note. The speciality of this wine is that is has so much to give without the aid of high alcohol thus making it palate filling, extremely food friendly while also making it a very comfortable and enjoyable sipper. Bob closed saying, “This wine is a particularly good example of what flash can do.” 

Bending Branch Winery Petite Sirah 2016, 2017, 2018 Vintages with Braised Short Ribs (Recipe Below).

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Fermentation Terminology

Cryo-Maceration (CM) – A winemaking technique in which the grapes are held at sub-freezing temperatures in order to weaken the structures in grape skins via ice crystals and release more of the color and flavor compounds. This is done prior to fermentation to allow for more polyphenolic and flavor extraction leading to increased structural (tannic) and flavor development. Think what frozen blueberries look like when thawed.

Grapes frozen for cry-maceration at Bending Branch Winery.

Flash Détente (FD) – Flash detente (also known as thermovinification) consists of a programmable rapid heat treatment prior to fermentation, with the grape juice and skins brought up to high temperature, followed by immediate cooling and pressure reduction (‘flash’) to significantly increase the stability and quality of extracted color, polyphenols and related compounds in the must over all other techniques.

Grape and grape must after Flash Détente at Bending Branch Winery.

Whole Berry (WB) – In normal fermentation, yeasts go to work on the juice from crushed berries. By comparison, whole berry fermentation starts fermentation from inside the berry, a process known as intracellular fermentation or partial carbonic maceration. This technique, also used in Beaujolais winemaking, yields attractive and nuanced candied fruit flavors.

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But Wait, There’s More…

Later, I figured that I needed to go another step further by pairing these three wines with an old favorite recipe of mine for braised short ribs (Given below). Short ribs are usually well-marbled, yielding more flavor. When braised, the meat is tender, very flavorful and, the bottom line for wine pairing, it needs a full-bodied and flavorful wine. In my mind Bending Branch Petite Sirah is a match made in heaven. Here is my recipe. Get yourself a bottle and give it a try.

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Braised Short Rib Recipe

Ingredients:

2-1/2 lbs – Short ribs (well-marbled, with or without bones)

2 tbs – Grapeseed oil

1 – Medium onion (skin removed and halved)

4 – Garlic cloves (chopped)

1 tbs – Ginger (powdered)

2 tbs – Soy Sauce (low sodium)

2 tbs – Lemon juice (fresh squeezed)

1 cup – Medium bodied red wine

3/4 cup – Dry white wine

4 cups – Vegetable broth (low sodium)

6 – Carrots (whole)

1 – Butt-end celery bunch (3-inches)

2 tbs – Tomato paste

Instructions – On stove, add oil to a large heavy lidded pot on medium+ heat and add short ribs to brown on all sides (5-10 minutes). Add all ingredients (except tomato paste) to pot with liquid covering short ribs (add some filtered water, if necessary), and bring to a boil. Transfer pot with lid on to oven at 350 F and cook for 2 hours. Remove lid and stir-in tomato paste. Cook another hour with lid removed until crust starts to form on top of ribs. Carefully rotate them using tongs to expose the other side and cook with lid off for another 15 minutes. Meat should be tender. Remove ribs to a plate and cover with foil, then put them in a warm oven. Strain juice into a small pot while removing most of the fat, while reserving the carrots. Slice the carrots and add back into the juice. Serve ribs and juice with smashed red potatoes and petite green peas on a warm plate or open bowl, then garnish with chopped parsley, add salt and pepper to taste. Pair with Bending Branch Winery Petite Sirah of your choice.

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Bending Branch Winery Tasting Room and Patio in Comfort, Texas.

Bending Branch Winery – 142 Lindner Branch Trail, Comfort, TX 78013, tele: 830-995-2948, Email: info@bendingbranchwinery.com. For more information to consider before you visit the winery, click here.

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Click the link for information on future Texas Fine Wine tastings… next one is Thursday, April 14, 2022.

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Love to taste, talk and tweet about Texas wines and where they are in the global scheme for wines. After all that's the only way they will reach the full potential.

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