My very first blog posting on December 29, 2005; this was my first wine blog topic. I’m doubling back 15 years later, and not much has changed, in terms of the questions surrounding this intriguing and exclusive wine grape variety. If you’ve been lucky to taste some spectacular ones, you’re a rare palate in the world. With only about 13,000 planted acres worldwide, you’ve almost got to visit wineries in California to taste this prized wine.
As the founding executive director of the Petite Sirah advocacy group PS I Love You, I get a lot of basic questions about what Petite Sirah is.
The most basic question is, “Is it related to Syrah?”
The answer is an absolute “Yes.”
So, when you read that it’s not related to Syrah, you’re reading a dated answer, and people are STILL writing that it’s not related in any way whatsoever. Or, worse yet for me… It’s a distant cousin. If I’m a distant cousin from my parents, I ask you, “What’s wrong with that answer?”
Dr. Carole Meredith and her staff did the DNA fingerprinting on this variety in the 1990s, and there is no longer any question about its lineage.
Syrah (father) + Peloursin (mother) = Petite Sirah (Son – or daughter – of Syrah)
What follows are the most frequently asked questions, with my most frequently given answers.
Q. Is Petite Sirah related to Syrah or Petit Verdot?
A. Petite Sirah IS related to SYRAH. Syrah is the father grape; Peloursin is the mother grape in that crossing. Dr. Francois Durif crossed Syrah and Peloursin in the late 1890s, looking for a grape resistant to powdery mildew, and created a variety that’s very prone to bunch rot, as the cluster is very tight… So tight, in fact, that if a day’s fog doesn’t burn off, bunch rot can begin to grow. Time line for Petite Sirah is on this page (the PSILY Web site is your best friend for info on the variety): www.psiloveyou.org
Q. What are the most conspicuous aspects of Petite Sirah in aroma, flavor, and texture?
A. Conspicuous aspects in aroma and flavors: Big, bold berry cherry. Tannins that won’t quit, in fact, US PS ages better than US Cab, as told by many winemakers and writers… many agree on this; others would dispute that Cab is king; however, a Napa Cab costs $70 a bottle, while a Napa PS is more in the range of $50 a bottle. It’s a tasty alternative to CS, aging as well, if not better.
Q. It was long used as a blending grape to add accent to other grapes. What did/does it do best in such blends?
A. Blender — because it adds colors, flavors, textures, and tannins to otherwise lighter wines (perhaps the vineyard is just bearing fruit, needs some boost from some variety that has all the attributes that PS offers, and has been used accordingly). In the wine spice rack, it’s the staple. Contender — On its own, it’s a joy that those who are brave enough to step outside the bounds of the “usual” will find a new friend. It’s almost a cult experience… very fun to be on the edge with this one. It’s NOT your daddy’s Merlot.
Q. PS is frequently blended with Zinfandel. What’s its primary purpose in that marriage?
A. Marriage with Zin? Zin has very little agability… the marriage is for spice and tannins.
Q. What other grapes benefit from some small percentage of Petite Sirah?
A. Cabs get a bit of PS when the wine is needing some “cftt” (color, flavor, texture, tannin)
Q. In recent years, PS is being used in stand-alone bottlings. If you turn the tables, and add non-PS grapes for accent, which would you choose?
A. Petite and Syrah are a combination that I hear about, as is Petite and Cabernet Sauvignon. Scandalously, some winemakers are beefing up their Pinots with a touch of Petite… and I mean scandalously. If I were a winemaker, I’d let Pinot Noir be Pinot Noir, instead of appealing to aging palates that need flavor to even be able to taste anything.
Q. Are there single-vineyard Petite Sirahs?
A. Yes, there are single vineyards of PS, and more-and-more growers are planting it this way. Although, there’s nothing like an old field blend to really get your sense of taste going.
Q. Will PS become more popular in the coming years? If so, why?
A. More popular, yes, as people’s palates are constantly changing. Here are some growth figures for PS that I’ve been tracking. Know that when I started this in 2002, there were only 60 growers and producers on a list for who’s who. I’ve knocked off the growers, as the most important list for me is who’s got it on their labels… again, 60 was the magic number for both growers and producers. Just over three years later, we had 274 producers (labels with PS on them) on my list. It’s all been gathered through the Wine & Vines Directory, Internet, clipping service, etc. I look daily; therefore, I dare say that this is the most comprehensive list, as no one else is living this particular passion. Today in 2015?
- 164 growers
- 905 producers
- Total = 1,069
Per “Wine Grapes” by Jancis Robinson, Julia Harding, and Dr. José Vouillamoz:
“The variety [Durif] was discovered in the 1860s in the canton of Tullins in the Isère, eastern France, in the experimental vineyard of François Durif (often incorrectly spelt Duriff), a French botanist and grape breeder. It was first mentioned in 1868 by the ampelographer Victor Pulliat under the name Plant du Rif as a variety propagated in Tullins by said Durif (Di Rovasenda 1877; Goethe 1878; Rézeau 1997). Durif was praised for its resistance to downy mildew [not powdery], a fungal disease that had been a serious threat to French vineyards since 1878.”
Hi, again, Mike,
It looks like your information is a missing link to the info that we have recorded from Charles Sullivan: A Companion to California Wine, an Encyclopedia of Wine and Winemaking from the Mission Period to the Present, UC Berkley press. I’ll be adding Jancis Robinson’s research. Valuable, Thanks.