The zinfandel marketed under Ravenswood's Vintners Blend label has long been a staple on our shopping list. It is well priced, reliable and a fine partner for food. Now we're adding to our list the label's California Petite Sirah (the current release, 2006, brings $11 or less at supermarkets and big box stores).
Like the zinfandel we've long enjoyed, the Vintners Blend petite sirah is a blend of wines from winemakers scattered across California wine country. On its own, each wine might well be less than drinkable, this one lacking bouquet but sporting nice tannins, that one notable for the ripeness of fruit on display. A gifted taster/blender, called a negociant in the French wine trade, detects in each wine a strength that will contribute just the right note to the final product, yielding a wine that is, in fact, the sum of its parts.
The petite sirah lives up admirably to the label's goal of offering "up-front, fruit-forward and immediately enjoyable" wines of character. Ripe dark berries dominate on the tongue, with subtle overtones of anise and chocolate. The nose is all fruit and the finish moderately short but satisfying.
We tried pairing it with a bouillabaisse of scallops and shrimp flavored by the celestial combination of fennel, orange zest, garlic, saffron and tomatoes. The petite sirah not only stood up to this forceful combo but complemented it perfectly by virtue of both its good manners and its backbone.
Colette and John Bancroft. She is the Times' book editor, and he is a freelance writer specializing in food, wine and travel.