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Calaveras Wine Grape Varietal of the Month: Petite Sirah

[January 13, 2023 - Mark Silverstone]

(“Peh-teet sear-ah”) (aka Durif or Petite Syrah) was first found growing in France in the mid-1800’s. It’s loved for its extraordinary deep color and full-bodied flavors of blueberry, chocolate, plums and black pepper. Despite its popularity, Petite Sirah is an exceptionally rare grape with less than 10,000 planted acres worldwide, growing mainly in California.

Petite Sirah is the American name for the Durif grape. Durif takes its name from Dr. François Durif, who created the new grape variety when he successfully crossed Syrah with a grape called Peloursin.

Wine is a collaboration between humans and nature. The petite sirah grape offers a good reminder of that: it was born from an unexpected encounter between two grapes in a botanist’s nursery, then was brought across the Atlantic to find the perfect climate.

Petite Sirah makes a powerful, fruity, hardy, dense and often tannic wine which really pairs perfectly with a wide variety of big dishes. Meats, stews, braised and grilled meats are excellent food and wine matches for Petite Sirah. Short ribs, hamburgers and barbecue of all types served with Petite Sirah works as a food and wine pairing as well. Petite Sirah produces inky dark, purple colored wines that offer flavors of black pepper, blackberries, blueberries, spice and licorice.

Petite Sirah wines are often, massive, intense, chewy, masculine wines that when they are young, provide massive amounts of tannin and high levels of acidity. Wines made from Petite Sirah have the ability to age and improve for decades.

Over the years the popularity and agreed on spelling for the variety has changed. At various points in time, the wine sold as Petite Syrah and Petit Syrah. But today, the only recognized spelling for the grape is Petite Sirah.

The "petite" in the name of this grape refers to the size of its berries and not the vine, which is particularly vigorous. The leaves are large, with a bright green upper surface and paler green lower surface. The grape forms tightly packed clusters.

Petite Sirah can work wonders in a blend. Many producers use it, even in unnamed capacities, to lend darker color and greater richness to wines that are labeled as being produced from other grape varieties. Remember, in the United States, a wine only has to be made from 75% of a single grape variety to be called that grape on the label. For example, a bottle that's labeled as Zinfandel can have up to 25% of other grape varieties in there — Petite Sirah is not uncommon in that role.

CWA Member Wineries that offer Petite Sirah include:

Aloria, Broll Mountain, Hatcher, Hovey, Indian Rock, Ironstone, Jazz Cellars, Milliaire, Mineral, Newsome Harlow, School Street, Stevenot, Tanner, Twisted Oak, Val du Vino, and Vina Moda.

You can find winemaker notes and vintage descriptions here:


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