Que Sirah, Sirah: Wines earning well-deserved respect
Jan. 19, 2005
Louis Marmon




Petite Sirah is the Rodney Dangerfield of grapes. A big, bold wine with cherry and berry like fruit and a mild peppery spiciness, it is frequently added to other varietals for color, body and flavor. Seldom does Petite Sirah get the respect that it deserves. However, this perception is slowly changing as the number of California winemakers producing quality Petite Sirah steadily increases.

Initially planted in California in the 1800s, Petite Sirah (or Petite Syrah) is actually a French grape variety called "Durif," created by crossing the well-known Rhone varietal Syrah with the lesser-known Peloursin. Petite Sirah became one of the most plentiful varietals planted in California where it was blended with other red grapes to produce popular but undistinguished wines. By the mid-1970s, the increasingly popular Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot supplanted Petite Sirah, and only a few wineries were making single varietal Petite Sirah.

In 1964, Concannon released its 1961 Livermore Valley Petite Sirah. Since then, other wineries have joined in the resurgent interest in this varietal. The wines have become so good that some producers, such as Turley, sell out their entire production via mail order. And the grape even has its own support group PSILoveYou.org, with a mission to promote Petite Sirah and encourage further improvement in the quality of the wines.

Petite Sirah is not a wine for the timid. These are strong, assertive wines with notable tannins and deep dark color that can quite literally turn your lips purple. But the temporary color changes are worth the intense flavors and balance that the best examples of Petite Sirah offer. Most should be drunk within a few years of release, but some can benefit from 10 years of aging. As would be expected, Petite Sirah works well with robustly flavored foods such as beef, lamb and strongly flavored cheeses such as Parmigiano and Romano.

At a recent Petite Sirah tasting with wine writer Scott Greenberg, a number of the wines changed considerably after opening, becoming more mellow and softer after about an hour. Other writers have suggested that the wines be decanted and allowed to sit for as long as you can stand waiting. Regardless of the technique used, it is clear that these wines benefit from a bit of aeration before deciding if you like them.

Silkwood Petite Sirah 2001 is a deep rich wine that has soft cherry and plum flavors with beautiful balance, mild spiciness and nice finish. This really great Petite Sirah comes in an interestingly tactile bottle.

Robert Biale Vineyards Old Crane Ranch Petite Sirah 2002 is another excellent Petite Sirah. It has cedar/earth aromas and mouth-filling, spicy, dark cherry, berry and mild chocolate flavors with a long smooth finish.

Concannon Reserve Petite Sirah 2001 comes from a long-time producer of high-quality Petite Sirah. It has full dark fruit flavors and characteristic spiciness with a beautiful finish.

Parducci Petite Sirah 2001 has crisp cherry and berry notes with mild spiciness and nice finish.

Foppiano Bacigalupi Vineyard Petite Sirah 2002 has a lush cherry nose with bright blackberry flavors and moderate tannins. The Foppiano Russian River Petite Sirah 2001 is softer, with rich cherry and berry notes.

Guenoc Petite Sirah 2000 has blueberry and blackberry aromas with spicy, dark cherry and mild vanilla oak flavors.

Lolonis Orpheus Redwood Valley 2002 has an earthy, almost burgundy-like aroma with dark fruit and plum flavors. While it can be decanted and enjoyed now, it could support a few years of aging.

Field Stone Staten Family Reserve Petite Sirah 2001 is medium bodied and nicely balanced with cherry flavors and a good finish.

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