Petite Sirah

With its bright acidity, aggressive tannins and bold, juicy fruit flavors, Petite Sirah (a.k.a. Durif) is anything but "petite." Traditionally used as a blending grape to lend structure, color and complexity to Zinfandel, Syrah/Shiraz and even Cabernet, this classic grape  has recently been enjoying a well-deserved renaissance as a stand-alone varietal.

Petite Sirah is a hybrid grape, entering into viticulture history in France in 1880. Botanist Dr. François Durif, seeking to create a Syrah grape that was resistant to the vineyard disease powder mildew, accidentally crossed seedlings of this varietal with those of Peloursin, a rare grape that was immune to the blight. The result he not so modestly christened "Durif." The grape indeed turned out to be mildew-resistant, but in the damp Rhône climate its tightly-closed clusters made it highly susceptible to rot, so the new grape quickly fell out of favor in French vineyards. However, in 1884, an American winegrower brought Durif plantings to California, changing the name to "Petite Sirah." Here, in the state’s hot, dry inland valley regions, the vines thrived. Indeed, at one time, Petite Sirah was the most widely-planted grape in the Napa Valley, as makers of mass-marketed "jug wines" soon realized the grape’s potential to boost color and tannins in generic "Burgundies." However, by the 1980s the demand for varietals was suddenly exploding and jug wines fell out of favor. By the early 90s Petite Sirah had all but disappeared from California vineyards.

But today this classic grape is garnering attention among oenophiles and winemakers have responded by producing excellent standalone bottlings.

In the glass, Petite Sirah is a lip-staining dark blue-purple to almost black, with intense aromas of blackberries, blueberries, black cherries, plums, dark chocolate, licorice and characteristic black pepper, matched by a complex, spice-laden palate of sweet berries sheathed in gripping tannins and fresh acidity. These are bold and powerful wines that can be a bit overwhelming when young, but when aged, the tannins turn plush and velvety.

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-2012 Friedrich Becker Spätburgunder Pinot Noir (Germany) $18, plums, cherries, strawberries and cranberries on the nose with overtones of flowers, herbs and black pepper. Smoothly textured balanced by layers of dusty earth and spice.

 

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