Description 1 of 2

 

Name of varietal: Petite Sirah
 
Common synonyms: Durif, Petit Syrah, Petit Sirah, Petite Syrah (and other combinations thereof)
 
Parentage of the grape: Peloursin and Syrah from Rhone, France
 
History of the grape: Petite Syrah is often confused with its parent grape, Syrah, but it has been identified as a separate descendant. It was developed in the 1870s by a French horticulturalist, Francois Durif, who crossed Peloursin and Syrah in attempts to create a hybrid that was resistant to the powdery mildew (Oidium) epidemic. But it failed to meet quality standards and was still susceptible to bunch rot so it never quite caught on except as a blending grape. In the 1880s, California wine-maker Charles Melver planted it in his Mission San José vineyard and is credited as being the first to change its name from Durif to Petite Syrah. From there, the grape gained local popularity, particularly in the 1940s when efforts were made to produce wines with bolder flavor characteristics. But because varietal identity didn’t take precedence, Petite Syrah was planted with other vines as a field blend with grapes such as Carignan, Grenache and Zinfandel. For this reason, California wines labeled as Petite Syrah or Durif often contain percentages of these grapes, though efforts from many vineyards have been made to make the purest possible releases since it has so many fans. 
 
Characteristics of the grape: full-bodied, very dark, dark tannins, slightly acidic, dark plum, blackberry, dark cherries, blueberry, earthy, cloves. 
 
Regions where the grape currently is important: Rhone, France. California, Washingon, Chile, Baja, Australia, Israel, Ontario. 
 
Type or types of wines the grape produces: dry red
– Description from Amanda Schuster

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Description 2 of 2

(aka. Durif, Petite Syrah)

Developed in the 1870s in France’s Rhône region where it is known as Durif or Petite Syrah, this grape variety is more commonly known by its slightly anglicized synonym, Petite Sirah -- particularly in California.

The result of a cross between the noble Syrah and a relatively minor Rhône variety, Peloursin, Durif was developed to resist Powdery Mildew, to which Syrah is susceptible. Although mildew-resistant, the tightly-bunched variety was vulnerable to gray rot in the humid southern Rhône. Fortunately, the grape has adapted well to the drier climates of California, and to those of northeastern Victoria, in Australia. In fact, the grape has succeeded better abroad than in its south of France birthplace, where it is now almost extinct.

Its small berries, and consequently high skin-to-juice ratio, allow Petite Sirah to produce wines with high tannin levels, surprisingly high acidity, and thus the ability to age. Characteristically, these wines have dense blackberry fruit character, mixed with black pepper notes. The grape’s similarity to parent Syrah became confusing for early planters in California. Starting in the 1880s, some of the original Durif vines were confused for a clone of Syrah and subsequently named Petite Sirah.

Until the push for varietally-labeled wines came to the fore in the 1960s and 1970s, little thought was given to the actual name of this variety in California. It was often added to provide color and body to California’s bulk wine production, or used to add richness to North Coast Zinfandel and Barbera. Recent research by Doctor Carole Meredith, at U. C. Davis, has confirmed many of California’s Petite Sirah vines to be Durif. Still, other vineyards thought to be planted to Petite Sirah have been identified as Syrah, Pinot Noir, and even Peloursin, with other plots a mixture of many varieties. "While winemakers may be content to live with the genetic heterogeneity that is Petite Sirah today, varietal labeling regulations may eventually force the issue,” C. Meredith says. “One day, the winemakers may be asked to agree upon a single variety that can bear the name Petite Sirah. Which one will they choose? What is Petite Sirah?” Recent amendments by the TTB (BATF) allow wines to be labeled either Durif or any of the many different spellings of Petite Sirah. By any name, this variety has the ability to create rich, age worthy reds and is reestablishing itself as one California's great grapes.

Highly recommended for further information on Petite Sirah, is the P.S. I Love You site, with its mission to promote, educate, and legitimize Petite Sirah as a noble variety, with a special emphasis on its California terroir uniqueness.

Do you need some vinous inspiration...
How about a wine with glorious sensation?

As you’re grillin’ your steak this Fourth of July,
And suggesting to friends what wine they should buy,
Please think of a wine with American roots,
And give your party a drink for which you can toot.

Sirah with an “i” is all that I ask,
While swimmers are swimmin’, and sunbathers bask.
Some dads will be firin’ up their new grills,
All shiny and bright, with lots of the frills.

A heritage day and a heritage wine,
A big slab o’beef with some fruit of the vine.
For the sake of our past, please hold this thought tight…
A scrumptious Petite with your steak… morning, noon or night!

Varietal Character by Jo Diaz – Description from Appellation America (view original content)

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