About The Author:
"Roger, The Wine Guy" is Roger Yazell, CWS. He is a member of the International Wine Guild and has had a long time admiration of wine. After careers in broadcasting, advertising and marketing account management, he explored his love of wine in hospitality, wholesale and retail sales. The intent of Roger's Grapevine is to share stories, history and information that will add to the reader's love, enjoyment and appreciation of wine and sake'.
Questions, requests for topics and comments are always welcome via email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Note: The Wine Guy is currently undergoing chemotherapy and this blog will be on hiatus for the duration and into a recovery period. The Wine Guy is planning to celebrate his recovery with a trip to the two wine producing regions in Argentina and that should provide for some interesting new blogs. Meanwhile please enjoy the archives and feel free to email in the interim.)
Tuesday, March 30, 2010
Petite Sirah: Big Taste From A Little Grape!
Newcomers to the exploration of wine often make the mistake of assuming that Petite Sirah is similar to Syrah. While this little grape is a descendant of that renowned French grape, it is not a Syrah and is very different in taste and style.
A Frenchman, Dr. Francis Durif, first developed this grape by crossing two Rhone Valley natives, Peloursin and Syrah in an attempt to overcome some of the susceptibilities of the Syrah grape. It was (and, in many cases, still is) called Durif after its creator. Petite Sirah (Durif) is a very hearty leafy vine that produces clusters of small grapes (hence the Petite moniker). It is very mildew resistant but subject to gray rot. It notably survived the phylloxera pandemic of the late 1800’s.
It’s small fruit results in a very high skin to flesh ratio. As a result, any lengthy maceration produces a large amount of tannins and fairly high acidity in the wine. Wines produced from this grape are typically dark and inky and have lengthy aging capabilities. The grape, however, never came to favor in its native Rhone Valley, home of smooth, palpable reds based largely on Syrah and Grenache. In fact, Durif or Petite Sirah is virtually extinct today in France and is prohibited, by law, from being utilized in wine production.
That’s not the case in the U.S. and today more than two-thirds of the Petite Sirah produced worldwide comes from California. The grape there has had a lengthy history. It was one of the mainstays for producing sacramental wine, the only commercially produced wine allowed during Prohibition. It, along with Alicante Bouchet, was also utilized by home-brewers and bootleggers.
It was one of the favorite varietals for producing California raisins and, indeed, the hint of raisins, is one of the notes most sippers will identify in the California wines of this varietal. In 1960, Petite Sirah accounted for about 60% of the grapes grown in the Napa Valley. Its production peaked in 1976 and then fell to about 10% of its former levels by 1996. It has, however, had an increase in acreage planted in California every year since.
Petite Sirah’s ability to add color and depth make it useful as a blending grape and it can even sometimes be found in very small amounts as an additive to some California Pinot Noirs. Concannon and Fappianno were among the first California vintners to commercially produce Petite Sirah as a single varietal but today have been joined by scores of other winemakers. Most notable among these, and good sources of Petite Sirah wines for your exploration are Rosenblum and Bogle. The Bogle Petite Sirah has twice earned a “Best Buy” designation from Wine Spectator magazine. All of the above producers were among the developers of a wine advocacy trade group called “P.S. I Love You” and their website is a good source of information despite the fact that it has not been well maintained in the past couple of years.
There are also other good sources for Petite Sirah. Australia has now moved into second place worldwide in Petite Sirah and is utilizing the grape in some of its excellent ports. Australia narrowly surpasses Mexico, the world’s third largest producer. The overwhelming majority of Mexico’s Petite Sirah comes from a single source: L.A. Cetto (L.A. Cetto is also the world’s largest producer of Nebbiolo outside of Italy!). The Wine Guy would encourage you to sample their offering if you can find it.
Look for dark color, deep fruity tastes that include Blueberry, blackberry and plum and just a hint of peppery spice in the typical Petite Sirah. They are usually big, bold, jammy reds with a lot to offer and they pair particularly well with grilled game. One note of caution from The Wine Guy: Petite Sirahs are known for their ability to stain tooth enamel a colorful purple. Be prepared to brush after imbibing! Enjoy your exploration!