In Praise of Petite Sirah

 


Petite Sirah has the stuffing to hold up to extended oak aging. It can also be made in a lighter, fruit-forward, early drinking style. As a result, a survey of current release Petite Sirah from several producers might easily span four or more vintages. The wines selected for you below, all current releases from Northern California, run from 2009 to 2012. Petite Sirah is a good mirror of both region and vintage. In this regard, the selected wines also will help to hone and sharpen your palate.
In a warm year, alcohol levels can be stratospheric and the wines full-bodied, jammy and fruit-forward. Cool growing seasons naturally result in leaner wines but also showcases the variety’s spicy and earthy personalities. Regional differences in climate have similar effects. And the terroir of specific vineyards, and particularly old vines, shines through in both fruit character and intriguing side notes, be they floral, mineral or spice. 
 
2009
2009 was a low-stress year for vines and vintners alike. Lower than average frost-risk and few heat spikes meant initial crop loads were generous. The fruit developed gradually. Timely, late summer rain made up for early deficits and limited the need for irrigation. In the end, winemakers were able to make wine to their preference rather than having style dictated by vintage. Despite this vintage’s ability to benefit from extended barrel and bottle aging though, most vintners current releases are now more recent.
 
2010
The first of two consecutive cool vintages, 2010 also got off to a late start due to spring grains that delayed bud break, flowering and fruit set by about two weeks. While crop loads weren’t affected by frost, cloudy skies slowed the ripening process. A sudden week of soaring temperatures late in the season allowed for maturation within a comfortable harvest window. However, some fruit which had been purposefully exposed by leaf-pulling to encourage ripeness frizzed out under the harsh sun. The result was lower yields and, in some cases, raisin-like flavors despite moderate levels of alcohol. 
 
The 2010 wines below demonstrate the complexity and moderate alcohol of this cool year but, fortunately, little to no heat-induced cooking of fruit. They are wines with old world personalities and most will cellar very well.
 
2011
If 2010 made winegrowers nervous, 2011 had them wondering if they were still in California. A wet winter and wet spring were followed by a wet entry into summer. The uncharacteristic weather hampered fruit set, limiting yields in many vineyards from the start. The growing season remained quite cool for the most part. This further delayed ripening and then October rains hampered harvest. Some unlucky growers wound up with significant rot issues due to fruit that couldn’t get dry fast enough.
 
Nonetheless, a number of producers were fortunate to have vineyard sites that got enough warmth for good ripeness and suffered few ill-effects from the late rains. A great example is the 2011 Robert Biale Vineyards Petite Sirah from Thomann Station Vineyard in St. Helena. St. Helena has Napa Valley’s warmest average temperatures during the growing season and was thus ideal for the year. Alcohol in that wine is still only 13.8%, a full two points below what it might be in a typical year. However, the wine teems with complexity and even manages a full-bodied palate.
 
One area that thrived almost across the board in 2011 was Lodi. Situated south of Sacramento in the Central Valley, Lodi is significantly cooled by the Sacramento-San Joachin Rivers delta but still achieves ripeness earlier than Napa Valley in most years. 2011’s cool nature extended the growing season in Lodi, allowing for phenolic ripeness and complex flavors at relatively low sugar levels.
 
2012
Growers and winemakers alike drew sighs of relief in 2012. Everything was back to normal. Milestones such a bud break and fruit set occurred right on time. Days were sunny and warm, evenings characteristically cool for northern California’s wine-growing regions. Without challenges of attaining ripeness or dodging rain, winemakers were once again able to make the wines they wanted to. 
 
Unsurprisingly, 2012 accounts for a significant proportion of the top-scorers among the Petite Sirah I’ve just tasted. Look for a lot of ripe black fruit, often accompanied by floral notes and Petite Sirah’s characteristic spice. Alcohol levels can vary substantially depending on vineyard location and producer style, but quality is high regardless. 
 
Click through to page two for wine reviews. 

1 2 next

Mentioned in this article

Comments

  • Snooth User: zinfandel1
    Hand of Snooth
    154660 1,085

    Petite Sirah has always been a favorite of mine many years. Over the last 15 or 20 years or so, it became harder to find on wine store shelves.

    Apr 23, 2015 at 3:43 PM


  • Snooth User: fwv
    104120 18

    I will be at Biale in 2 weeks.

    Apr 23, 2015 at 3:58 PM


  • Snooth User: Big Vinny
    1523553 26

    Amphora in Sonoma makes a really good Petite Syrah. The grape is owner Rick Hutchinson's baby.

    Apr 23, 2015 at 5:24 PM


  • More and more retailers in fact are allocating a specific space for Petite (BevMo is one of the many examples I can give you). I am currently writing a book about it. So, stay tuned.
    Look for the 'Palisades' vineyard cru when at Robert Biale and pay a visit to Vincent Arroyo, Relic, Rockland, Switchback Ridge and Jacob Franklin before to leave the Valley.
    They too are among the elite with Biale (not to mention many others).

    Apr 23, 2015 at 6:24 PM


  • Snooth User: EMark
    Hand of Snooth
    847804 8,426

    Guys. Quiet. PS is the best kept secret in California wine. If the secret gets out, the price goes up. Not good for us fixed income guys.

    :-)

    Apr 23, 2015 at 7:10 PM


  • I JUST LOVE PETITE SYRAH! I'M A HOME WINEMAKER AND HAVE MADE THIS WINE FOR YEARS AND SOON WILL BE LIVING IN SONOMA OR MENDOCINO COUNTY AND WILL HAVE MY OWN PRODUCTION VINEYARD. MY EARLIER BATCHES CAME FROM GRAPES FROM PARDUCCI WINERY IN SONOMA COUNTY. THE WINEMAKING SHOP, NOW SINCE GONE OUT OF BUSINESS, HAD A CONNECTION WITH THIS WINERY AND HIS SHOPS WINEMAKING CLIENTS WERE ABLE TO GET ABOUT A TON OR SO EVERY YEAR. ALAS, SINCE GREAT FERMENTATIONS OF SAN RAFAEL HAS GONE OUT OF BUSINESS, I NOW PURCHASE FRESH WINE GRAPES FROM OAK BARREL IN BERKELEY CALIFORNIA. THANKS TO LONG STANDING RELATIONSHIPS WITH MANY GROWERS IN PRIME NORTHERN CALIFORNIA AVA'S, THEY GET EXCELLENT PETITE SYRAH GRAPES THAT I'VE GOTTEN EACH YEAR AND CONTINUE TO PRODUCE THIS VARIETY EACH YEAR. THIS WINE HAS GOTTEN ME SEVERAL PRESTIGIOUS AWARDS AT THE MARIN COUNTY FAIR AND THE SONOMA COUNTY HARVEST FAIRS RESPECTIVELY. SINCE I MAKE A 'DYNAMITE', FULL BODIED WINE, I USUALLY DON'T PURCHASE THIS WINE , HOWEVER, PRODUCERS I'VE TRIED AND LIKED INCLUDE: PARDUCCI, PEDRONCELLI. DUXOUP, FETZER, RIDGE AND FRANCISCAN. DAMNED GOOD WINE AND A FANTASTIC GRAPE TO WORK WITH!

    Apr 24, 2015 at 3:28 AM


  • The Livermore Valley has been delivering superb Petite Sirah for years, the price points are much more attractive, give them a try!

    Concannon
    Darcie Kent
    Mitchell Katz
    Steven Kent

    Apr 24, 2015 at 5:38 AM


  • Snooth User: fwv
    104120 18

    Re Amphora., I love their PS and their entire line of wines. Rick and Co. do a terrific job year in and year out- and he is a fun, funny guy. Great place to visit- I have been a wine club member for years.

    Apr 24, 2015 at 11:07 AM


  • Dilemma, dilemma!
    Should we keep it quiet or.....should we make it a must against all the great varietals of the world? Should we let a Malbec, a Sangiovese or a Mencia overtake it or should we give it its right place among the elite?
    After its 100 year Anniversary, I do think it's time to give PS its dues.
    So, yes prices will go up but so will its immense quality potential (still untapped).
    Everyone will benefit but moreover we will finally give our Petite ....justice!!!
    So, I'll keep writing.

    Apr 24, 2015 at 11:50 PM


  • Snooth User: Jo Diaz
    135355 31

    EMark has the right thinking... I'd a best kept secret, and that's because there are only abut 11,000 acres planted in CA. If it did become more popular, though, nurseries would get more requests and they'd have to plant more. Meanwhile, welcome to a very exclusive club.

    Apr 25, 2015 at 3:11 PM


  • Snooth User: Jo Diaz
    135355 31

    "about" Maybe I'll get how to edit next time.

    Apr 25, 2015 at 3:11 PM


  • Snooth User: Bobby Boy
    219559 29

    Petite Syrah and Syrah seem to be unique terms to the USA. As an Australian reader of Snooth (we just have Shiraz)
    for several years could someone please explain what the difference is.

    May 05, 2015 at 9:35 PM


  • Snooth User: Bobby Boy
    219559 29

    I have just answered my own question...should have googled first.
    We call Petite Syrah, Durif in this country. A big wine over here that lives forever
    and does well in North Eastern Victoria in the premium Fortified country; amongst other areas.

    May 05, 2015 at 9:41 PM


Add a Comment

Search Articles


Best Wine Deals

See More Deals





Snooth Media Network