Petite Sirah California's unsung hero - Part 1

 


Say Wha? You say? No it's true, well as true as something like this can be.

Petite Sirah, aka Duriff, has toiled in anonymity for years. It's a solid blending grape and has added punch and color to some of the greatest bottles of jug wine ever to come out of California. It survived prohibition being a thick skinned solution to shipping woes.  While Petite Sirah has had trouble gaining a following we are at least blessed with these old vine beuties, much of them dry'farmed, head pruned relics of a day gone by.

This stubborn vine that refuses to quit has a bit of a mixed past. A cross of Peloursin and Syrah, and named for it's resemblance to the “petite” clone of Syrah, Petty is slowly establishing itself as a premium Wine and earning the respect it deserves. From the first varietally labeled bottle, Concannon's 1961, to today's broad range of  producers, it's been a long, slow journey.

So we have we arrived? Never before have so many high quality Petites been available, and at such reasonable price points. One of the beautiful things that Petites offer are tremendously long drinking windows. For example, last night I enjoyed a 1987 Louis Martini Proprietors Reserve Petite Sirah that remained purple and rich with just a hint of development. If you had told me the wine was a 2004 I would not have been surprised. The wine continued to offer wonderfully ripe, round fruit in classic PS style and had just a subtle layer of tertiary complexity enhancing the black pepper spice and earth note the wines are famous for.

When young Petite Sirah has a rich yet chewy texture and a nice peppery note to the black berried fruit. There can be an almost starchy green note that seems to stick around for a few years in some cases and of course there is the black color. In the mouth the wines almost always have wonderful acidity and surprisingly modest alcohol, figure 13.5 to 14%. This results in a wonderfully drinkable yet large scaled wine, perfect for barbecues and grilling.

And the knock? Well the wine are not the most complex and while there is some development with age the appeal here is really that wonderful fruit. I've had some exceptions, old Ridge, Stag's Leap and  Stevenot, that were more complex than I would have imagined, but when a Petite is right, and balanced, I can forgive it's lack of hyper complexity. After-all sometimes one just wants a damn good bottle of wine that one doesn't have to think about to enjoy. And if that's what you're looking for I urge you to take a look at Petite Sirah!

Petite on a budget

1) Bogle 2006 California Petite Sirah $12 13.5%

Very sweet, tarry nose with plenty of ash, wood spice and cream notes. Fat and formless on entry then shows some bright acid that supports purple fruit with a nice brambly edge. Lots of fruit and flavor if very simple. Tannins are relatively soft and show through a bit more on the short finish that shows a fair amount of unintegrated acid. 83pts

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2) Lost Angel Central Coast Petite Sirah 2006 $15 13.5%

A nice nose that combines a bit of wood with chocolate twizzler, candied black cherry fruit and a significant vegetal/fermented tea tone a touch of black pepper and a hint of barnyard.  Sweet entry but the wine has nice focus with very ripe tannins and acid that pulls this into the sour cherry/sour plum and blueberry end of the fruit spectrum.  Refreshing feel and there's lots of fruit to back it up. Perhaps a touch  sweet but in a crowd pleasing style. 86pts

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3) Parducci Mendocino Petite Sirah 2006 $12 13.5%

A nice note of cured meats with a strong tea note then some spicy wood tones and plenty of white pepper tinged black plum and crystallized black berry fruits and even an edge of dried rose. Inky on the palate with an extracted feel up front. Nicely tannic with good supporting acids and a definite milk chocolate and toast top note to the black fruits. This thins out noticeably on the mid-palate turning a bit dilute yet redeems itself with a moderately long finish with a bit of spice complimenting lurking blackberry fruits with a lovely brisk mineral finale that cleanses the mouth. Not fruity and eminently drinkable 87pts Barbecue Quaffing Value!

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Paso Robles Petite Sirah


4) Vina Robles Jardine Petite Sirah 2006 $24 14.9%

Very black spiced nose with plenty of anise tinged medicinal, tarry, wood spice, a hint of toasted coconut and jammy boysenberry fruit with a starchy green top note.  Rich and chewy in the mouth with plenty of polished tannin yet plenty of fruit to buffer it, in fact this is very well balanced for it's size. Black raspberry and dried plum notes are nicely complimented by the spicy wood nuances and a strong black tea note. Finishes with a more typical cherry vanilla tone and a strong tar finale.  A lot of depth here but at a very early stage in this wine's evolution. Feels inky yet polished and refined so I expect this will improve with a few years in the cellar. 89pts

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5) Victor Hugo Petite Sirah 2006 $24 13.8%

Nice nose, spicy oak clove and ginger notes with a hint of black pepper, black cherry, lime leaf, anise seed, touch brambly.  Sweetly fruited entry then puts on a fair amount of structure with lots of ripe tannins and balancing acidity. This is a touch spicy and has an accentuating note of vanilla  over big grapey fruit with a touch of leather and earth on top. Nice finish is just a touch rustic and tannic but with good length and appealingly earthy tones and a touch of blueberry fruit and perhaps a whisper of chocolate on the powerful, raw finish 90pts

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6) Eos Estate Petite Sirah 2006 $20 13.5%

Very chocolaty nose with white pepper, cured meats, ground coffee and dried cherry tones.  A little bit of sweet tea and flowers in the background,  lots of complexity but in a fresh, clean style.  Real polish on entry with the acid on top of fairly rich  fruit with nicely enmeshed tannins. Nice fruit here, definitely not a sweet style but with nice fresh black cherry and black currant tones.  Really well balanced and fresh feeling this doesn't seem tiring to drink. A touch inky and blocky on the fairly long finish that offers up nice hints of tea, candied orange peel and licorice. 91pts

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Lodi Petite Sirah

7) Harney Lane Petite Sirah 2006 $24 15.8%

A bit jammy with powdered sugar tones and a bit of evident heat on the nose. It smells earthy, dense and not particularly open with a strong grilled meat and black pepper salami nose.  Drying and like a black hole in the mouth but with surprising elegance.  Pretty tight at this point and one can only extrapolate where this might go but it has tannin to burn yet possesses a wonderful mouthfeel. Even the finish is more about intensity than actual flavor but there seems to be plenty of dark berry fruit hiding behind these lovely  crisp tannins but man they need time to mellow. I wouldn't be surprised to see this really blossom in time. Today a tough 88pts but promising.

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8) Judds Hill Petite Sirah 2005 $30 14.5%

Classic petite nose of dark fruit, earth, autumnal vegetal tones, beet root, cola notes touch of wood, gamy, raw veal, sweet black raspberry candy, the wood gets the upper hand though.  A bit soft on entry and fluid through the midpalate but there are plenty of tannins that clamp down on the finish. This has a real chocolaty tone in the mouth and there's big ball of dark cocoa tinged  fruit lurking but the wood treatment is a bit heavy at the moment leading to a chocolate and mint marshmallow finish. 88pts

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9) Mettler Petite Sirah 2005 $20 14.2%

Deep nose has nice notes of crushed currants, spice, tree bark, red currants, earth, clay, and subtle medicinal/menthol tones with a hint of curing tobacco. Big and bright in the mouth with the depth and richness that PS can deliver yet very little fat or flash. This is  deep and plush with  muscular fruit and ripe tannins. There's a floral almost rose like note in the mouth with lots of earthy spice framing the black currant and mulberry fruit.  Really well balanced particularly since the simplicity and rusticity of PS has not been entirely finessed away. Lovely freshness with a nice licorice/menthol medicinal tone and plenty of milk chocolate notes on the moderately long finish. Embryonic but super stuff even now. 94pts  Wine of the night!

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Napa Valley Petite Sirah

10) Stanton St Helena Petite Sirah 2006 $45 14.5%

Wow this has fine fruit tones on the nose with wonderful depth. This is very ripe yet not over-ripe with well integrated toasty oak and nuanced floral tones as well as notes of ink, blackberry liquor/syrup, macerated flowers, cedar, vanilla minor note, musk, bitter roots and earth. Polished yet big and round. Slippery in the mouth but in a good way with excellent balance and old-vine intensity. The flavors are layered with sweet boysenberry/blueberry fruits dominating the palate and minor notes of spice, herbs a subtle vegetal/green bean tone, shaved bitter chocolate and espresso crema tones. A great crisp finish tops everything off. 92pts

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11) Girard Petite Sirah 2006 $30 14.5%

Very dried floral nose at first then turned medicinal and earthy with a macerated black plum fruitiness and plenty of spicy berry notes. Soft and juicy with a mouthfilling quality. This is a little loose yet it's structurally quite sound with lovely blueberry toned fruit and nice underlying wood spice tones that meld perfectly with the fruit. There's a nice vanilla/bay note that extends to the finish and an accent of chocolate twizzler that turn a bit redder on the finish. The tannins really pop on the finish as well. This needs some time to come together but is an attractive package if not terribly varietal. 90pts

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12) Miner  Petite Sirah 2005 $40 14.4%

Inky yet crisp smelling with a touch of sulfur to lose. Smells lightly cherried and very tarry with plenty of prosciutto and grilled meats. Quite elegant in the mouth with a decidedly black cherry fruit profile. Lot's of tannins but well balanced with a rather refined feel and a distinct lack of extraction which keeps it light on it's feet. Juicy and focused on the finish. Which has solid length and a nice touch of minerality/chalkiness. A claret styled PS with wonderful fruit and balance destined for a long life. 91pts

~

 

Gregory Dal Piaz

Community Manager

Snooth


Mentioned in this article

Comments

  • Aaron deMello

    Nice tasting Greg!! Btw, “Duriff” = Durif.

    Nice work on the Parducci. Btw, I think any tasting of great Cali petite should include Turley, Carlisle, and Outpost! Also, Foley makes some Petite that could be used to strip paint off walls. Not my style but it is what it is!

    Best,

    Aaron

    Apr 27, 2009 at 1:10 AM


  • Joe Lange

    Great to see some Lodi Petite Sirahs on the list!

    Cheers,

    Joe Lange
    LangeTwins Winery and Vineyards

    Apr 27, 2009 at 2:35 AM


  • Snooth User: Adam Levin
    Hand of Snooth
    77280 1,757

    I tried a Chameleon PS this weekend. An interesting drink as it wasn't as inky as most PS are - http://www.snooth.com/wine/chameleo...

    Apr 27, 2009 at 8:31 AM


  • Snooth User: eclipse
    171267 61

    Thank you for that list. I just wrote a review for Stag's Leap's PANZA 2003 which was indeed a pleasure. I really don't know much about petite syrah but I tried this wine randomly and really thought it was a nice break from the usual.

    E.

    Apr 27, 2009 at 9:55 AM


  • Snooth User: hhotdog
    Hand of Snooth
    78705 465

    one of my first reds to bring me to the dark side…

    Apr 28, 2009 at 3:05 AM


  • Jo Diaz

    What a great story on PS. Thanks on behalf of the members of PS I Love You!

    This past weekend, in Sarasota, FL at the Florida Winefest I just had the best food and wine pairing imaginable… Michael~David's Petite Petit with home made Bakalavah, crafted by friends as a dessert to wrap up a four day extravaganza of food and wine tasting. I would never have guessed that this was going to be the case, but there was still a bit of wine left in the bottle from our dinner. Once everyone tasted the wine with the Bakalavah, there wasn't enough of either left over to satisfy us!

    And this after created and executing a panel of Big Reds and Chocolate… Bakalavah - for me - won the contest.

    - jo

    Apr 28, 2009 at 11:18 AM


  • Gregory

    Hey Aaron,

    Nice to see you around these parts. I think I taste better than i type!

    Thanks for the correction! I wish I could have included some classics like Carlisle and Outpost but do people really need any more proof that those wines rock?

    Check out the Mettler if you haven't, that's newsworthy!

    Apr 29, 2009 at 10:17 AM


  • Snooth User: Daniel Petroski
    Hand of Snooth
    30091 696

    If you can find it, please consider the Frog's Leap Petite. And the wines of Saracina/Atrea in Hopland, CA.

    Apr 29, 2009 at 12:29 PM


  • Snooth User: VegasOenophile
    Hand of Snooth
    202759 12,199

    I just opened the McManis and just reviewed it. Very nice!

    Nov 16, 2009 at 1:19 AM


  • Snooth User: CTwine
    155241 112

    I'm a big fan of the Girard and the Vina Robles. I just received some Stanton to try and along with some Ballantine. Wish we had a bigger selection of PS's in CT.

    Dec 15, 2009 at 1:17 AM


  • Snooth User: kdafamily
    238670 10

    Hmmm. Looks like a fun tasting. Would be interesting to see Concannon in the tasting as well as they were the originator to bottle this as a single varietal.

    Feb 01, 2010 at 6:21 PM


  • Snooth User: tonystro
    554776 26

    Thanks for the article on Petite Sirah. I'm amazed at that many wine enthusiasts I've met seem to have completely overlooked this varietal. It has literally been this old wino's "house red" for over three decades now.

    May 18, 2011 at 1:07 PM


  • Petite Sirah, at it's best, has a haunting, brooding sensuality of a pissed off Sophia Loren (in her prime) just after you've sprayed her with a garden hose; sexy, yes, but something deeper lurks.....
    There are some 1.5 Ltr. bottles of 2005 Concannon Petite Sirah on sale right now in SoCA. I recommend either decanting the wine, or using a Venturi of Instant Decantor to get that puppy opened up. Also, BevMo has both the '06 and '07 EOS Petite Sirah in their stores; the '06 is the bargain price of about $!0-$11, while the '07 is sold at about $14-$16. The EOS is better with some air, also. Both need a slight chill to be optimum. Thanks, Greg, for stamping a PS on our foreheads for when we're our shopping for wines to have with Bar-B-Que season kicking in.

    May 18, 2011 at 9:56 PM


  • Two Angels PS, made by Robert Pepi, Jr, is well worth a look.

    May 19, 2011 at 10:57 AM


  • Snooth User: Rich102
    478209 14

    There are some good inexpensive PSs around-- McManis seems to be reliably good although never great, and benefits from a little wood; lately I've had the '08 and '09 which were typical. The '08 and '09 Line 39 PSs have been good, as were the '08 Shannon Ridge and '09 Pennywise.

    Another reliable, a couple of points up on the quality scale, is Pedroncelli's Dry Creek Valley offering; the most recent I've tasted was the '05, which was very good. Also a step up from the basics (both price and quality) was the '08 Van Ruiten.

    I've long enjoyed Petite Syrahs, and found that vintages can be important. Several years ago Bogle had one that was excellent, but I've not been impressed with their more recent offerings. But Bogle has another interesting and very good, if very unusual, PS offering, a Petite Syrah Port-- definitely worth trying for those who like dessert wines.

    May 20, 2011 at 1:36 PM


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