Varietal Vignette: Petite Sirah

by Sarah Shotwell 
VineyardPetite Sirah (also known as Durif) is a big, dark, spicy red wine with an alluring past, and it’s making a bold comeback in California.

Mysterious Origins

Petite Sirah has a bit of a winding, head-scratching history. In 1880, it was created by a French botanist who grew a vine from the seed of Peloursin, an archaic French variety, and pollinated it from an unknown source (now believed to be Syrah). This new wine had an inky black color and a bold, juicy, tannic profile. In France, it was called Durif, after its creator.

Though its origins were then unknown to American farmers, the grape came to California in the late 1800s, and stood strong while the local Syrah crop was bing decimated by Phylloxera, a dangerous pest native to North America. But here in the States, the grape’s true time to shine was during Prohibition, when because of its thicker skin and tightly packed clusters, it was one of the few varietals strong enough to be shipped on trains to home winemakers back east. There was a dip in production in the second half of the century, but now, winemakers throughout the Golden State are rediscovering their love for a varietal that continues to surprise and delight wine drinkers, many of whom are encountering it for the first time.

Descriptors

Petite Sirah is most famous for its inky, black color and bold, fruity, tannic expression. Its ripe, blackberry flavors are kept in check by notes of pepper, leather, and herbs. It’s an excellent addition to the winemaker’s blending kit, or, done right, the wine can stand alone as a satisfying accompaniment to hearty winter fare like wild game, lamb stew, and sharp cheeses.