A big wine with a little name is right at home in California
It all started in the 1880s, when lots of traditional European grape varietals were introduced to the California wine regions. Among them was Durif—a red wine grape named after François Durif, a French nurseryman who crossed a varietal named Peloursin with Syrah and came up with something new. The Durif grape looks much like the Syrah but produces grape clusters that are tighter with smaller berries. Many European wine varietals take on different characteristics when introduced to new environments. And so it was with the Durif, which looked similar enough to the Syrah grape that it came to be known as “Petite Sirah” on these shores. Valued for its dense color and peppery notes, most Petite Sirah was and still is used as a blending grape, particularly when blended with Zinfandel. Today in California the Durif grape still goes by the Petite Sirah name.
For more than thirty years Stags’ Leap Winery (not to be confused with Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars) has produced a Petite Sirah ($36) and was one of the first to do so. In this wine, the concentrated black fruit exhibited by the Petite Sirah is complemented by the Rhône Valley trio of Syrah, Grenache and Mourvedre for complexity and balance. The fact that this wine is aged in oak barrels adds a spicy component.
Another Napa Valley Petite Sirah of note comes courtesy of the Girard Winery ($28). Again, the power of the Petite Sirah is tamed with the addition of Mourvedre, Grenache, and this time Zinfandel. Blackberry fruit flavors mingle with rustic (woody) notes and just a touch of spicy oak.
The Daou Vineyards Petite Sirah ($30) from Paso Robles, California, is a dark and powerful wine that smoulders with dark berry and cherry character. A small quantity (5%) of Viognier, a white grape with aromatic qualities, is added to brighten and soften. This makes the wine an excellent complement for grilled foods crusted in black pepper.
For a different take on the Petite Sirah, consider the Petite Petit ($16) from the Michael David Winery. The two circus elephants on the label tell it all. This is a dense, full-flavored wine comprised of 85% Petite Sirah and 15% Petite Verdot.
One last warning when drinking Petite Sirahs of all kinds: don’t spill this inky wine on yourself (or anyone else)—it’ll never come out. Best enjoyed while wearing dark clothing! Cheers e
Steve Staples has been encouraging the enjoyment of wine in Baton Rouge for twenty-seven years. By day a rep with Glazer’s Companies of Louisiana, by night Steve teaches a series of wine education classes as part of the LSU Leisure Classes program. For information and to register, visit lsuunion.augusoft.net.