Saturday, February 9, 2013

Petite Sirah

I just posted on facebook, "Who would have thought Petite Sirah would be so popular?".  Last night's California wine tasting here featured two Petites along with a Cabernet, Barbera, and two whites.  Two Petites in a tasting, itself, is kind of freakish in my opinion, but apparently it was just fine for the attendees who gobbled it up!

Because my tastes lie with the Europeans, this event could have proved disturbing to me except that California Petite Sirah really is "best of kind" wine.  It's far from noble, lacking race and breed, not to mention length in its flavors, but it certainly surpasses similar efforts from elsewhere around the world.  By the way I have tasted the great ones too, the ones that improve for twenty years in the bottle.  Just a few months ago I was offered Helen Turley Petite from that distributor but as a merchant I just don't think I can sell $80 or $100 Petite where I am.

Here is some history so you don't think I am just another opinionated wine butt.  The other name for Petite Sirah is Durif which was discovered and named in 1880 by French botanist Francois Durif.  Apparently a vine in a Peloursin vineyard near Montpellier became pollinated by Syrah resulting in the new hybrid which was opportune because Durif proved to be resistant to the common Rhone region downy mildew problem.  Unfortunately the grape itself didn't show any special tasting assets and because the grape is small (petite) and closely bunched, gray (bunch) rot presented as a new problem.  Durif grapes are now practically nonexistent in France.

A while back we wrote about California Barbera and how those Italian immigrants in the 1800's carried their vine cuttings on their backs from Italy to their destinations in California.  Durif's history is similar with French immigrants being the carriers this time.  Also we wrote here about Carmenere in Chile where labelling problems caused the misidentification of that vine for a century.  Today it is believed Petite Sirah vineyards are only 90% accurately composed of Petite Sirah with the remaining 10% being Syrah, Peloursin, or Beclan (?) which leads to what I think is the ultimate truth about Petite.

Petite Sirah is or should be a blending grape which it was for the first eighty years of its California existence.  Concannon and Souverain were the first varietal labellers of Petite in the 1960's.  Before that it was strictly a blender into jug red wine, which unapologetically was California's claim to fame up until the modern era.  Now Petite continues to be blended primarily with Zinfandel but also with Barbera and others where it adds a dimension to the blend that otherwise would be lacking.

Petite Sirah has a high skin to pulp ratio, offering flavorful tannins (and color) to a red wine that may be weak in the middle.  In Zinfandel it cuts into excessive jamminess and adds firm texture to the mouthfeel.  The Petite flavor profile is spicy plum primarily with black and blue berries, licorice, tar, and smoke.  The bouquet is black pepper and herbal.  The color is inky dark and the wine is tannic and acidic.  You begin to see what this would add to a lesser red wine and, yes, this is definitely a red meat lover's wine.

Next Friday David Rimmer with Artisan Vines joins us here from 5 to 7pm with an outstanding selection of new samples for us to try.  David has a long history in this business and should fill everyone's entertainment quotient for the evening.


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