The petite sirah/durif varietal is a thick-skinned black grape with berries that are small to medium in size, hence “petite” in the name of the varietal.
In short, petite sirah is an off-spring of the syrah grape, however the vines and grapes of each of these plants is very different and as parent and child they should not be confused one with the other. But there’s more . . .
As far back as the 1880’s petite sirah vines were growing in California. There were renegade winemakers in the 1880’s who were interested in the French Rhone grape varieties and began making rich syrah wines from these vines laying the foundation for what was to come from the syrah grapes. That’s another history lesson.
It was difficult to make a distinction between syrah and the petite sirah vines, however winemakers noted that one of the vines produced smaller grapes and hence was called ‘petite’ sirah.
As more grape varieties were planted in California vineyards the petite sirah vines became obscure, that is until 1997 when the University of California at Davis identified the Petite Sirah grape to have the same DNA fingerprint as the Durif grape. Huh? Durif — O.K. there’s more to this story, but I will make it short.
Francois Durif was a botanist in the South of France who wanted to produce a grape that would be resistant to mildew. He attempted to propagate peloursin and syrah grapes to try to achieve this. The result was the Durif grape varietal which he named after himself.
The wines produced from petite sirah grapes in California can be labeled as either Petite Sirah or Durif or it can have both the varietals listed. To legitimatize the name calling, the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) recognizes the Durif grape and Petite Sirah grape to be interchangeable.
All this is just a little bit of need to know so as not to confuse the popular wine Syrah or Shiraz with the Petite Sirah. They are not the same wines — hence the history.
The Petite Sirah grapes produce a dark red wine that is quite acidic and high in tannins. The wine has dark plum and blackberry and blueberry fruit flavors and has a little spiciness to it. If the wine is aged in new oak barrels it can develop aromas of melted chocolate. In Australia the petite sirah is often made into sparkling red wines.
The high tannins makes Petite Sirah age-worthy. You can keep it in your wine cellar upwards of 10-20 years. Whether you are opening a young Petite Sirah or one that has some age it is best to decant it before serving.
Concannon Vineyards in California was one of the first producers of Petite Sirah in 1961. This year commemorates 50 years since the first bottling of Petite Sirah. No doubt there will be some celebrations this year among the Petite Sirah producers.
Look for Petite Sirah in your local wine shops and celebrate the 50th anniversary. A California Petite Sirah will pair well with teriyaki beef, herb-rubbed lamb, pork, grilled steaks and my very favorite, dark chocolate.
If you are still over-whelmed by the winter storms and don’t want to venture out, wine.com has a selection of Concannon Petite Sirah starting at under $10.00 a bottle.