Petite Sirah, aka Durif, is a highly tannic, intense red wine grape first identified in France. It is a cross between Syrah and Peloursin (a very obscure grape) in an attempt to develop a variety resistant to powdery mildew. It never gained esteem in France, and now can only legally be grown in one designated area within the country. In the late 1800’s, Petite Sirah somehow found its way to California, where a vast majority of its plantings worldwide are now located.
Now that we know about this history of the grape, I bet you’re asking how it differs from Syrah. Well, I recently got a winery club shipment that allowed me to do an excellent side by side comparison last weekend. I was lucky to have a bottle of each from the same vineyard, an opportunity I had to make the most of! First, this side by side, if you are not spitting the wine out, can be a bit rough as both varieties are quite high in alcohol (14% or higher). Since it was a work night, that wasn’t going to be a problem as I would need 14% or higher in alcohol to return to work the next morning! When I poured the glasses, side by side, they looked very similar. They were both opaque ruby with light ruby stained legs up the sides of the glasses. The only discernible difference came because the two bottles were a year apart in age. The Syrah was a tiny bit lighter near the rim. On the nose, the Petite Sirah had aromas of vanilla, blueberries, blackberries,and dried tobacco leaves while the Syrah had notes of eucalyptus, blackberry, and black plum. When I tasted them side by side, the Petite Sirah tasted of tar, dried tobacco leaves then as it finished, it evolved into black cherry, black currant, and dark chocolate. The Syrah tasted of black plum, blackberry, milk chocolate, and nutmeg. When alternating between the two, the Petite Sirah accentuated the eucalyptus notes in the Syrah. The Syrah was much more fruit forward but the petite is more complex in flavors. Other key differences include a significantly higher level of tannin in the Petite Sirah and a slightly higher alcohol content. After tasting them the first time, the differences were quite notable.
This week, I pulled a bottle of 2015 J Lohr Petite Sirah from Paso Robles from my cellar. As you can see, the wine is an opaque ruby. What the picture does not show is a bit of sediment at the bottom of the glass. With a wine as richly colored as this, and of this age, it is common to see sediment. The particles are the anthocyanins (the molecules that impart color in the wine) and tannins sticking to each other and falling out of suspension. This is one reason to decant older wines as it allows you to pour the wine off of the sediment and leave it in the decanter so it doesn’t make it to the glass. It’s not harmful, just unsightly. An interesting feature of this wine is at 6 years, the color is still as vibrant as it was when the grapes were pressed. As wines age, the color begins to evolve to a more brickish or tawny color. Petite Sirah, as alluded to above, is higher in alcohol than many other wine varieties. This bottle lists 14.9% but that number can vary by 1-1.5% (these are numbers allowed by law) depending on what the label lists. You might note how significant the legs on this wine are compared to others, a result of the alcohol percentage. Upon smelling the wine, I detected notes of blackberries, black currants, nutmeg, vanilla, prunes, dried tobacco leaves, and dark chocolate. Just like the Petite Syrah from St Francis, this wine is dry with moderate acid, high in tannins, and full bodied. It tastes of fresh ripe, wild blackberries, prunes, vanilla, dark chocolate, and black cherries. If you are looking for a healthy wine full of antioxidants, dark, tannin rich wines such as this, are 2-3% higher in these compounds than lighter red wines. Overall, this was a classic representation of Petite Sirah and very delightful! I decided to pair it with leftover bbq ribs for dinner! This would also pair nicely with grilled portobello mushrooms or a bowl of chili! (Just make sure the chili isn’t too spicy or it could increase the perceived ‘heat’ from the alcohol)