Grape Notes: Petite Sirah
Meet the French grape that is grown almost entirely outside of France: Petite Sirah! You may be familiar with this varietal if you drink full-bodied Californian red blends. Winemakers favor this grape for its robust dark fruit flavors, rich colors and tannic qualities, which add backbone and character to blends. But many vineyards today are also making Petite Sirah as a single varietal wine. Give it a try if you enjoy the likes of Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel or Tannat.
In the glass, Petite Sirah is an opaque bluish purple, thanks to the very dark skin of the grape. The color is indicative of a high concentration of the phenolic compound anthocyanin, an antioxidant also found in berries like currants and blueberries. Anthocyanin has been discovered to have cardiovascular health benefits as well as anti-inflammatory and anti-carcinogenic properties. Cheers to that!
Top Growing Regions:
Although technically a French grape, California has the ideal terroir for Petite Sirah. Look for wines from Lodi, Clarksburg, Napa, or Paso Robles for a truly excellent expression of this grape. Australia, Argentina, Chile and Israel are also producing fine wines from this varietal.
Petite Sirah is interchangeably called Durif, named for the man who discovered this cross between Syrah and Peloursin (a rare Rhône-Alpes varietal). The word petite refers to the small clusters of grapes that grow on the vine. These tight clusters are one reason this grape thrives in the warm and dry Californian climate, where there is less chance that they will develop mold, and then rot. Other names include variations in spelling, like Petite Syrah and Duriff.
This grape is anything but petite. Go ahead and pour a bottle of Petite Sirah into a decanter for a few hours before serving to really let it open up. Swirl your glass and inhale distinct aromas of blueberry, blackberry and black cherry. You may also experience notes of coffee, caramel, wood smoke or leather on the nose. Take a sip and taste bold plummy fruit, with interwoven hints of spice, mocha and dark chocolate. Grippy tannins and high acidity add to Petite Sirah’s mouth-filling full-bodied taste. These characteristics will soften with some aging.
Petite Sirah merits an equally bold food pairing. Enjoy with a braised short ribs, lamb roast, or a bowl of chili. For veggie lovers, Petite Sirah goes well with sautéed shitake mushrooms, eggplant dishes, and black beans.
Dinner party trivia:
Petite Sirah winemakers in California banded together in 2002 to form an advocacy organization called P.S. I Love You.
Try the Peirano Estate Petite Sirah Heritage 2013 from Lodi, CA or the Vinum Cellars Petite Sirah, from Clarksburg, CA.