Taste: Powerful and intense with dense blackberry and plum fruit and a savory, peppery edge, along with smoky notes.
Acidity: Medium to high
Age: A few years are required to soften their structure. The best wines have good aging potential and can continue to develop for a decade or more.
Aka: Also known as Durif.
Petite Sirah (puh-TEET si-RAH) is a grape variety with a confusing history. It is found mainly in California where the vast majority of the vines described as Petite Sirah are in fact a variety called Durif, which is a crossing of Syrah and an obscure French grape called Peloursin. This gives it a good pedigree as it is therefore a son of Syrah.
The man who gave it its name, Dr. Francois Durif, in 1880, first propagated Durif in the Rhône Valley in France. From there it made its way to California in 1884 where some growers began to call it, and other similar looking vines, Petite Sirah as this was an alternative name for Durif in France – while Durif is an offspring of Syrah it produces much smaller sized grapes.
So Petite Sirah and Durif are actually synonyms for the same grape variety, which originated in France although it is extremely rare in its home country today. It is quite a vigorous vine that requires a warm climate to fully ripen. When it does, its small berries have a high skin-to-juice ratio making the wines very tannic and deeply colored. Alcohol is also high and acidity is good, which helps balance the wine.
These characteristics make Petite Sirah very attractive for blending with fleshier varieties and it provides the backbone to many fine cuvées – it is a particularly good partner for Zinfandel. When made as a varietal wine Petite Sirah is powerful and intense, with dense blackberry and plum fruit flavors and a savoury, peppery edge, along with smoky notes. In their youth they can be very abrasive and muscular, requiring age in order to mellow and soften their profile.
The best wines are made from old vines, which take the concentration and intensity to an even higher level and they can be massive in structure. For all that, they are exciting wines and have an almost cult following (an organization called PS I Love You has been set up by fans of Petite Sirah). An interesting tasting exercise is to compare Petite Sirah with Syrah to see how closely the burly son takes after its father.
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