Reviews of several Petite Sirah wines from California.
By Lou Marmon
Gazette Newspapers April 10, 2013
Petite Sirah has seen dramatic changes since our last look at this underappreciated varietal several years ago. Its classic dark berry and cherry flavors accented with mild peppery spiciness make it easy to praise as an ideal wine for grilled foods and hearty winter fare. But for many years Petite Sirah was either relegated to a blending role or, if bottled solo, required at least an hour of aeration before consuming to allow the wine to become enjoyable.
The latest releases of Petite Sirah show a considerable refinement in structure and approachability. The enticing flavor profile remains intact and, in many cases, has expanded. The majority of the current offerings lack the imposing harshness that necessitated decanting or a long wait in the glass and these former issues have been controlled without sacrificing the varietal’s bold nature. Those that have maintained the older, more rustic format open sooner than their predecessors. And since Petite Sirah remains somewhat undiscovered, many remain a reasonably priced, good value wine.
Petite Sirah (or Petite Syrah) is actually a French grape called “Durif” that is a product of crossing Syrah and Peloursin. It was first planted in California in the 1800s and quickly became important as a blending grape to supplement structure and flavors. It fell into disfavor as other red grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon became popular, and by the mid-1970s only a few wineries still bottled a single varietal Petite Sirah. Some winemakers continued to wave the Petite Sirah flag and the ensuing years saw a slowly growing rebirth of interest. There are now more than 800 California wineries creating Petite Sirah with some so popular that they are only available via a limited mailing list.
Nearly every one of the more than 50 Petite Sirahs tasted for this column were appealingly flavorful, well-made wines with good balance and structure. Their overall quality suggests that it might be difficult to find a badly made California Petite Sirah. Some might require a bit of aeration, while others will open immediately in the glass. But they are certainly worth trying especially for those looking to expand beyond Merlot, Cabernet and Zinfandel. Space does not permit recommendations for all the deserving wines so feel free to try some random selections. It is unlikely that you will be disappointed.
Concannon was the first to release a single varietal Petite Sirah in 1964, and they have remained at the forefront of Petite Sirah producers. The Concannon Central Coast Selected Vineyards 2009 ($10) is a great value with its dark berry, mineral and earthy flavors while their deliciously deep, award-winning Concannon Polo Field Vineyard Reserve Petite Sirah 2008 ($36) has dark fruit, blueberry, roasted meat and earthy notes accented with minerals and spice.
Other value-priced offerings include the Line 39 North Coast Petite Sirah 2010 ($10) that shows some anise, herbal and red fruit flavors on dark berry frame and the Bogle Petite Sirah 2010 ($11) with chocolate, cranberry and berries lasting throughout the finish. The Crusher Grower’s Selection Petite Sirah 2010 ($14) is also very good with jammy blueberry, coffee and smoked meat flavors along with some hints of citrus and vanilla.
The Girard Petite Sirah 2010 ($28) is a fine example of the softer side of Petite Sirah. It opens with jammy black and blueberry aromas and flavors that continue into a bacon-, pepper- and spice-laden, satisfying finish.
Others producers worth exploring include Biale, Gustafson, Artezin, Barra (try the Port-style Petite Sirah), Foppiano, Stanton, Etude, Madrigal, Rosenblum’s Rockpile Road, Pedroncelli, Grgich Hills, Etude, McCay and Field Stone (including the Petite Sirah Rose).