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! 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! 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.
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. 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.