Robert Parker called her “the first lady of wine,” yet Heidi Peterson-Barrett doesn’t travel with an entourage---unless you want to count her daughter, Remi, who handles sales and marketing for Barrett’s personal label, La Sirena.
For several decades, she has been one of Napa’s most celebrated winemakers. Barrett crafted the first 14 vintages of Screaming Eagle, and has served as a consultant to properties such as Dalla Valle, Paradigm, Diamond Creek, Grace Family and Niebaum-Coppola. Wine is in her DNA: the daughter of California pioneer Richard Peterson, she is married to Bo Barrett, winemaker at Chateau Montelena.
Yet her unquestioned pride and joy is La Sirena, a project she launched in 1994. The winery focuses on producing small batches of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Muscat Canelli from carefully selected vineyard sites with impeccable pedigrees. At a recent tasting of her product line in Palm Beach, Barrett was as classy and elegant as the wines themselves.
We began with her 2012 Moscato Azul ($30), a dry Muscat with an enticing nose of wildflowers, honeysuckle and ripe melon. The wine was luscious in the mouth as well, with crisp acidity and bright citrus flavors. In addition to the obvious food pairings (fish and shellfish), Barrett observed that it also went very well with some traditional “no-nos” such as asparagus and blue cheese.
Two Rhone-style blends followed. The 2011 Pirate Treasure Red ($65) incorporated Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon with dollops of Merlot, Grenache, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Petite Sirah. Medium-bodied and tart, with good acidity and resonant black pepper accents, Barrett described it as “Bordeaux meets the Rhone,” while I would call it a Cotes du Rhone on steroids. Even better was her 2010 Le Barrettage ($77), a full-bodied yet graceful Syrah packed with flavors of fresh herbs and blackberry jam.
Cabernet Sauvignon is her signature wine, and the 2010 from La Sirena ($150) did not disappoint. The nose revealed whiffs of cedar, briar and tobacco; on the palate the wine was full-bodied and beautifully balanced, crammed with flavors of sumptuous black fruits. A special occasion wine, to be sure, although some of us might have difficulty finding one of life’s milestones to measure up to it.
Mark Spivak is the author of Iconic Spirits: An Intoxicating History, published by Lyons Press; his second book, Moonshine Nation, is forthcoming from Lyons Press in July. For more information, go to amazon.com