Petite Sirah a big wine with diminutive name

By Andy Perdue and Eric Degerman, Northwest Wine February 8, 2012 

Fans of California red wines no doubt have run across a Petite Sirah or two, but the wine is a fairly new -- and rare -- variety in the Pacific Northwest.

If you are a fan of big, bold red wines, then you will want to track down and try Petite Sirah, and we hope this week's column will serve to introduce or further educate you on the grape.

First, the name. The wine is neither petite, nor is it Syrah. In fact, the name refers to the size of the grape, which is small.

Because there is less juice in each grape, the resulting wine tends to be bolder and more tannic.

The grape was discovered by Dr. Francois Durif, a Frenchman who found the rare Peloursin grape crossed with Syrah in the 1880s.

Durif named the grape after himself, but it also was called "Petite Sirah."

It did not take long for the grape to travel across the Atlantic and find a happy home in California, where the vast majority of the world's plantings of Petite Sirah are today.

In the past decade, a few acres of Petite Sirah have been planted in Washington, Oregon and Idaho, and the resulting wines have shown great promise.

Petite Sirah shines as the vines mature, so we will have a better idea just how good Northwest versions can be in the next decade or so.

Because Northwest Petite Sirahs can be difficult to find and we want you to have a good baseline for understanding the wine, we recommend the following California producers: Bogle, Lava Cap, Parducci, Concannon, Michael David and Cycles Gladiator. In addition to the wines below, Northwest producers of Petite Sirah to search out include Thurston Wolfe in Washington and Spangler Vineyards in Oregon.

Want to learn more about this fascinating grape? Go to www.psiloveyou.org.

Here are some Petite Sirahs we've tasted in the past few weeks. Contact your favorite wine merchant or call the winery directly.

Angel Vine 2009 StoneTree Vineyard Petite Sirah, Columbia Valley, $21: There is plenty of fruit to support that brawn, starting with the nose of blueberry and boysenberry with black pepper, sage, juniper berry and some meatiness. Those same berries blend on the rich and dense palate with black olive, bittersweet chocolate and tannins akin to espresso grounds and graphite.

Fraser Vineyards 2009 Petite Sirah, Snake River Valley, $24: This is a dense and rich wine that's packed full of dark plums, blackberry, fresh fig and pomegranate, spiced up biy pink peppercorns. The tannin structure brings the power of a cruiserweight rather than that of a heavyweight.

Latah Creek Wine Cellars 2008 Monarch Petite Sirah, Wahluke Slope, $30: This big red starts with a dense nose of figs, dates and plums, backed by malted milk balls and cracked black pepper. The flavors features black currant, Van cherry and bittersweet chocolate. And while the tannins are taut, they are not burdensome as the finish is reminiscent of fine espresso grounds.

Arbor Crest Wine Cellars 2009 Wahluke Slope Vineyard Petite Sirah, Wahluke Slope, $32: This brings a gamy nose, backed by Queen Anne cherry, vanilla extract, toasted marshmallow and a malted milk ball. As one should expect, it's a powerful wine and it follows through with its cherry flavors. Complexity shows with Marionberrry and blueberry on the midpalate, finished by Aussie black licorice and chocolate covered espresso beans.

Zerba Cellars 2009 Petite Sirah, Walla Walla Valley, $50: This is a fairly new variety for winemaker Doug Nierman, and even with fruit from young vines, he is crafting a delicious wine. It opens with aromas of bold black fruit, including blackberries and plums. On the palate, it shows off rich, dark flavors of boysenberries and Baker's chocolate, all backed with intimate tannins.

*Andy Perdue and Eric Degerman are the editors of Wine Press Northwest. For the freshest reviews, go to www.winepressnw.com/freshpress.

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