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Petite Sirah

by Staff Writer - B. Scottenberg | December 11, 2010

Petite Sirah is a bold and flavorful rich red wine with robust tannins. The Petite Sirah grape creates the rich red wine. The Petite Sirah grape comes from the Durif Rhone grape of France, although it is separate from the Syrah/Shiraz grape of the similar name.

Even though the origins of the Petite Sirah grape are in France, California is where the grape does very well. The petite in the name refers to the size of the grapes, and not to the size of the vines. The high skin to juice ratio that accompanies the small berries allows Petite Sirah to produce wines with high tannins and acidity. These components give the wine the ability to age well. Petite Sirah yields are quite high and are usually between four to eight tons per acre. The vines are sturdy, can live long and thrive in many types of soil. The grapes are somewhat prone to sunburn. Their tight grape clusters are also subject to rot when damp or rained upon. Petite Sirah grapes typically ripen midseason, which is usually not a problem in California.

Petite Sirah's genetic identity was discovered in 2003. The Petite Sirah grape had been something of a puzzle before it was proven to be genetically identical to the Durif varietal. Durif was developed in France during the 1870s by Dr. Francois Durif. The grape was first developed in the 1870s in France's Rhône region, the result of a cross between Syrah and a relatively minor Rhône variety, Peloursin. This motivation for this cross was to give Syrah a greater ability to resist mildew, but the resulting grape never really caught on in France. Part of the problem was the tendency to mildew was replaced by susceptibility to gray rot in the humid Rhône region. Petite Sirah was never very successful in France and was a complicated varietal to grow. The grape clusters are very compact and quite susceptible to rot and too much direct sun exposure can make Petite Sirah wines taste baked. California's climate is considerably drier, and the grape tends to thrive there, from Mendocino all the way down to the border of Mexico.

For most of its early history, Petite Sirah was only used to blend into other wines. The reason it was used primarily for blending was because of its deep color and fairly intense tannins. The grape gained a lot of attention in the 1970s because of the general red wine push, and because of its full, tannic taste. Petite Sirah is frequently blended into Zinfandel for added complexity and body. More recently, the grape has been bottled as a single varietal wine. On its own, Petite Sirah forms wines with dense blackberry fruit character, mixed with black pepper tones, licorice, smoked meats and tar.

Typical flavors of the Petite Sirah wine include plum, raspberry, blackberries, and black pepper. The wine should be served at around 59F. The wine tends to go well with stronger meats such as game, beef, lamb, and spicy sauces. Petite Sirah can be drunk fresh from the bottle or aged for a more mellow flavor. Petite Sirah's high tannin content makes long aging worthwhile.

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