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July 26, 2011 > Wine meets rails

Wine meets rails

By Julie Grabowski

Ride into the flavors and history of Livermore Valley's Petite Sirah when Niles Canyon Railway begins their wine train season with a special tribute. "Petite Sirah on the Rails" celebrates 50 years of the popular varietal whose American roots began in California in 1884.

The grape originated in the Rhone region of France in 1880 under the name Durif, but did better in drier foreign regions and became known by its common name, Petite Sirah. A cross between Syrah and Peloursin, its small berries produce red wines with high acidity and tannin levels, providing an aging ability of over 20 years. It is characterized by flavors of dark fruit combined with black pepper notes.

Previously used for blending, Jim Concannon of Concannon Vineyard in Livermore was the first to develop this varietal, releasing his 1961 vintage labeled Petite Sirah in 1964. California is now recognized as the place to find the best variety of Petite Sirah, and it has proved to be one of the most popular in the state.

"Petite Sirah on the Rails" is a two-hour ride aboard a restored vintage train featuring Petite Sirahs from some of the best wineries in the Valley including Concannon Vineyard, Nottingham Cellars, McGrail Vineyards, Charles R Vineyards, and Bent Creek Winery. Wine educator Steve Ferree will share the history of Livermore Valley wines, focusing, of course, on the star of the event. Local winemakers will also be on board to provide further insight into this particular wine, including fourth generation vintner John Concannon of Concannon Vineyard, Collin Cranor of Nottingham Cellars, and Mark Clarin of McGrail Vineyards.

The menu includes five special Petite Sirahs along with delicious complementing hors d'oeuvres. Attendees will be served at their seats and receive a complimentary wine glass and tasting plate.

The Charles R Petite Sirah will be paired with aged cheddar with a fig jam or quince paste; the Concannon Petite Sirah will be accompanied by stuffed mushrooms or a crostini with carmelized onion or onion jam and gorgonzola. Enjoy McGrail Petite Sirah with pate on a large halved strawberry dipped in aged balsamic or pate with a slice of strawberry atop French bread or crostini, and sample the Nottingham Petite Sirah alongside a skewer of salami with an olive and smoked gouda chunks. The Bent Creek Petite Sirah Port will be paired with chocolate truffles from Concannon. Non-alcoholic beverages will also be provided.

July 30 and 31 is "Petite Sirah Weekend" in Livermore Valley. "A Celebration of Livermore's Shining Star: Petite Sirah" buffet dinner will be held at McGrail Vineyards following the train ride on Saturday at 6:30 p.m. where local winemakers will gather to share their Petite Sirahs and other wines of the region. Several wineries will also be offering specials on their Petite Sirah during this weekend.

Niles Canyon Railway Wine Tasting Specials continue every Saturday in August, sharing the wine history of the Livermore Valley with samples from a variety of its best wineries.

Trains depart the Niles Station at 3:30 p.m. with boarding beginning at 3 p.m. All riders must be 21 or older and reservations are required. Tickets can be purchased at or For information about "A Celebration of Livermore's Shining Star: Petite Sirah," go to For more about "Petite Sirah on the Rails" or future wine trains, call (510) 910-7024 or visit

Petite Sirah on the Rails
Saturday, July 30
3:30 p.m.
Niles Station
37001 Mission Blvd., Fremont
(510) 910-7024
Tickets: $45 (reservations required)

Wine Tasting Specials
Saturday, August 6, 13, 20, and 27
3:30 p.m.
Niles Station
37001 Mission Blvd., Fremont
(510) 910-7024
Tickets: $37.50 (reservations required)

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