Think of the 2007 Castle Rock Petite Sirah from California's Russian River Valley (about $12 at wine shops and wine-savvy markets) as a sort of bottled Napoleon — not the short emperor, but the mile-high layered pastry.
Its deep red color telegraphs its concentrated character, and a first sniff intrigues with notes of licorice hovering over ripe black cherry. It's on the tongue, however, that the layering really kicks in. In rapid succession these bold flavors announce themselves and hang in there together for the ride across the palate: first comes blackberry, then coffee, followed by black cherry, and finally a subtle gust of raisins steeped in spiced rum. Add in nicely rounded tannins and a velvety mouth feel and you have a wine that rewards those who take the time to savor each sip. This petite sirah finishes medium long but surprises with notes of bittersweet chocolate and sour orange at the finale.
All this makes for an excellent food wine, especially with boldly flavored meat dishes like Mediterranean-style lamb shanks braised with garlic, onions and olives.
By Colette and John Bancroft. She is the Times' book editor, and he is a freelance writer specializing in food, wine and travel.