What: During these dreary winter months, I like to pair comfort food with comfort wines. A good combination just picks up your spirits and drives away the blues caused by clouds and cold.
The Frank Family Petite Sirah is perfect for lifting spirits, especially when paired with one of my favorite foods, Italian beef sandwiches. In fact, several Frank Family wines are on my permanent list of go-to wines. Quality is always outstanding, no matter the varietal.
The petite sirah is particularly good in the winter months because it is a big, bold red with a rich, warm complexity. I like sipping it by itself, but it really comes to life when paired with food.
This wine came from the near-perfect 2013 vintage when great weather produced outstanding fruit. It is a classic petite sirah, inky dark in the glass with aromas of tea, plums, cinnamon and pepper. The first sip of wine fills your mouth with flavors of blackberries, blueberries, vanilla and chocolate.
The velvety mouthfeel is marked by chewy tannins that make the wine especially good with red meat. All the elements of the wine are in perfect harmony, with intense flavors that bring a smile to your face as you sip.
The grapes were grown in the Benjamin Vineyard in the heart of the Rutherford AVA. The vineyard’s location on the valley floor exposes the grapes to long hours of sunshine and cool night breezes. That allows the grapes to ripen slowly and fully.
After harvest and fermentation the wine is aged for 20 months in one-third new French oak barrels and two-thirds once- and twice-used French oak barrels.
Winery: Frank Family Vineyards is steeped in history and located at an historic site, but it continues to grow and evolve.
The winery will celebrate its 25th anniversary this year, but part of it, the old Larkmead building, dates back to 1884 and is on the Registry of National Historic Places. While the history is important, the owners of the winery are forward-looking and trying to preserve the land for future generations.
The winery and vineyards have received Napa Green certifications in the Napa Green Certified Winery and Napa Green Certified Land programs. The program recognizes wineries that minimize energy and water use, waste, and pollution.
Rich and Leslie Frank, who own the winery, continue to make strides in environmentally-friendly winemaking practices. They also produce many varieties of outstanding wine.
Rich Frank, former president of Disney Studios, founded the winery in 1992 after visiting Napa for many years on weekend getaways from his Los Angeles home. When the historic Larkmead property became available he bought it from Kornell Champagne Cellars. Frank bought out his partner Koerner Rombauer in 2007.
What started out as a hobby for Rich has turned into a highly successful business, growing from just over 200 cases in the first year to nearly 75,000 cases now. He not only has great land on which to grow the grapes, but he has a passion for wine and a passion for excellence.
Frank and Leslie, an Emmy-award winning television journalist, have continued to build the quality of the Frank Family brand. Winemaker and general manager Todd Graff has been with the winery since 2003, creating a varied portfolio of wines from the family’s 380 acres of estate vineyards in the Napa Valley.
The old Larkmead building is still used for special events, but a modern winery was built next to it. The winery also opened a new tasting room in 2008 in a 1930s Craftsman home. The tasting room has been one of the most popular in Napa Valley for years, and the winery has been named “Best Napa Winery” six years in a row by the Bay Area A-List San Francisco City Voter polls.
Unfortunately, Dennis Zablosky, a long-time popular fixture in the tasting room, died a month ago. But the fun, informative tone he set for years is carried on by others. The tasting room is known for putting people at ease while teaching them about wine.
The winery also is a great place to have a picnic. When people ask me where they should go for a wine country visit, this is always my first choice. There are several tasting rooms and several levels of tasting at the winery. Every time I have been there it has been fun.
The latest addition to the portfolio is Patriarch, a wine made in honor of Rich Frank’s father, Hy Frank. Hy was a World War II veteran who was part of the D-Day landing force at Normandy. After the war, Hy opened a wholesale meatpacking company in Brooklyn. That allowed him to send the first member of the family, Rich, to college.
Patriarch is one of the special occasion wines, selling for $225. It is 100 percent cabernet sauvignon from select rows of the prized Winston Hill vineyard in Rutherford.
The winery makes a range of varietals, including zinfandel, cabernet sauvignon, pinot noir, sangiovese, chardonnay and some incredible sparkling wines.
Goes With: We had this wine with one of my favorite Chicago comfort foods: Italian beef sandwiches. I’ve never seen Italian beef anywhere but Chicago except when Dino’s was open in Augusta, so whenever I can order it I do.
I got this batch as part of a shipment from Chicago, frozen and shipped in dry ice from Portillo’s, one of the best places for Chicago hot dogs and Italian beef. What makes the beef different is the spices used when cooking it. I’m trying to find a recipe to see if I can duplicate this at home. Then all I’ll have to do is figure out how to slice it paper thin.
That’s one of the secrets to Italian beef: extra thin slices, lots of good herbs spices and plenty of juice. Then you just serve it on a crusty baguette and add slices of cooked green bell peppers.
A good Italian beef sandwich is one of the messiest things to eat I can think of, but the flavor is heavenly.
With its big, rustic flavors, the petite sirah was a perfect match for the hearty beef. The beef could overpower some lighter reds, but the Frank Family Petite Sirah was more than a match for this food. They blended together nicely to create an outstanding meal.
The wine also would go well with a juicy steak on the grill, wild game, lamb or duck.
Wine tasting: 5-7 p.m. Friday, Jan. 13, Kroger, 435 Lewiston Road, Grovetown; new wines presented weekly; free; (706) 619-3420
Wine and beer tasting: 5-7 p.m. Friday, Jan. 13, 5-7 p.m. Saturday, Jan.14, Vineyard Wine Market, 4414 Evans to Locks Road, Evans; (706) 922-9463
Wine tasting: 5-8 p.m. Friday, Jan. 13, Whole Foods, 2907 Washington Road.; five wines with snacks; $5; (762) 333-0260
Wine tasting: 5-8 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 19, Wine World, 133 Georgia Ave., North Augusta; three whites, three reds and cheeses; $5; (803) 279-9522
Craft beer tasting and art auction: 7-11 p.m. Friday, Feb. 3, Snelling Center, 3165 Washington Road, next to Edgar’s Grille, with food by Helms College culinary students; $75; (706) 840-7441