Petite Sirah, even with its long history in California and Napa Valley, is something of a misunderstood wine. However, it is enjoying a noticeable resurgence of late and Robert Biale Vineyards is leading the way in Napa Valley!
1. Is Petite Sirah a lighter version of Syrah?
Actually, Petite Sirah is even darker and can be even more full-bodied than Syrah. The two grapes are related but different. A genetic researcher at U.C. Davis by the name of Carole Meredith recently proved that Petite Sirah is the offspring of two grapes from the Rhone Valley – Syrah and Peloursin. A botanist by the name of Durif crossed the two and created a new variety that he hoped would be resistant to mildew. Named Durif there, it was not suitable for France’s more humid climate, but took hold in California where it became one of the most planted grapes in the state starting around 1900. Petite Sirah has always been a California winemaker’s favorite secret weapon or magic wand for beefing up and filling out red wines that sometimes could use a boost – including Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel!
2. So Durif and Petite Sirah are the same grape?
Yes. What confused matters in the early days of California was that Petite Sirah was also used as a name for several other grapes in field blends. Now we know that the true Petite Sirah was the main one and the wine industry looks on it as one of California’s so-called “Heritage” varieties.
3. What am I looking for in a “great” Petite Sirah?
Start with color. Petite Sirah is incredibly dark purple due to its natural skin pigmentation. Pouring Petite Sirah into a wine glass always gets notice and “wow” s. But within the dark color lay a range of delicious flavors along the lines of blueberries, blackberries, cocoa, licorice, pepper, and espresso…sometimes subtle floral, mineral and even iodine notes. Petite Sirah displays much less of the “green” or “herbal” tones that can creep into dark reds. And, there’s never a shortage of texture and structure in Petite – the grape’s natural tannins add a firm and velvety feel that carry the flavors beautifully – when done right.
4. Should I age Petite Sirah?
Petite Sirah offers tons of hedonistic pleasure when young for those who like dark, sturdy reds.
Good ones aged in a cool cellar will develop and improve slowly for years and years, at which time they will show more perfume, less of the “primary” fruit notes, and a rounder and more supple texture.
5. How come I don’t see them much in stores or wine lists?
Because it isn’t planted as much as it used to be, Petite Sirahs tend to be smaller production and scarce. Great ones like Biale are grabbed up by Petite Sirah fanatics. Some restaurants are leery of carrying Petite Sirah because of its lesser known status. Great steakhouses often like to feature Petite Sirah because it stands up so perfectly to rich meats.
A little background…Historically, most Petite Sirah went into red blends, then, in 1964 two wineries released bottlings labeled as Petite Sirah: Concannon and Chateau Souverain. Many followed. Petite Sirah production peaked around 1976. Now, following a decline, acreage is climbing back up again in California. There is now a rapidly increasing number of producers and an accelerating appreciation for this wonderful “orphan” wine grape that adapts perfectly to California- and in our opinion- Napa Valley in particular!
6. What do the reviewers say about Petite Sirah?
Robert Parker has always called Petite Sirah “the most underappreciated red wine in California for drinking pleasure and longevity.” The new wave of Petite Sirahs by top winemakers now garner huge scores in the wine magazines like Wine Enthusiast and Wine Spectator, and online blogs like Steve Heimoff. Numerous articles about Petite Sirah are popping up regularly.
The best resource for recent articles and official information about Petite Sirah is:
www.PSI LOVEYOU.org whose founding director is Jo Diaz.