Before the use of mega-purple was as widely known as it is now, Petite Sirah was widely attributed to being the ‘mystery’ ingredient of deep, dark Pinot Noir wines that received so much press recently. We all know, that Pinot Noir isn’t that way. Pinot Noir relishes cooler climates, and the combination of its thin skin and affinity for cool weather dictates a modest ruby color. Although when I hear some comment, upon pouring a slug into their glass, that it must not be very good Pinot Noir, it doesn’t have much color, I have to fight the urge to explain. Then when they see the deep, rich purple/black color of other Pinot Noir, and they smile…it’s even harder to refrain! I believe these ‘corrected’ Pinots are designed, or rather constructed, for the American palate, which prefers Cabernet and weight and body.
Petite Sirah is a French invention. Dr. Francois Durif, whom I believe was from the Jura or somewhere in the Southeastern France, maintained grape varieties at his home, and had pollinated the local Peloursin with Syrah, and named the new cross Durif. Most likely because it is a cross and not a true Vitis Vinifera, it was never permitted in the blends of the wines of the Rhone Valley, where he propagated it. Rhone blends contain everything but the kitchen sink… but not Durif.
As with many other Vitis Vinifera, the Durif made its way to California (as well as Australia, Washington state, Israel and probably a few other vineyards) and was used extensively in the old ‘field blends,’ most certainly because the grape makes intense, extracted, dark wines. Dr. Carole Meredith, geneticist at UC Davis, proved that California’s Petite Sirah is in fact the Durif and gave it the name Petite Sirah (note: there is nothing petite about it!).
Now, in California, Zinfandel has her own fan club, called ZAP (Zinfandel Advocates & Producers) so why not Petite Sirah? Let me let you in on a little secret: They do! P.S. I love You is the official fan club of this [slightly less than] noble grape. A club whose base boasts many of the top PS producers and many fans (of which I am one) and their mantra is, “Our Mission: To promote, educate, and legitimize Petite Sirah as a heritage variety, with a special emphasis on its terroir uniqueness.” Enough said! One thing I can add is that I can’t remember having one I didn’t like! True some can be excessively tannic and sometimes I can find a greenness to others, and a few have a bitter tannin streak running to the nerve, but still. Grilled meats, smoked anything, BBQ, meatloaf…get out and get a bottle today!
Shayne Hebert, Wine & Spirits Sales Manager
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