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FRIDAY GETAWAY DAY
06/15/2012
Friday Fishwrap
Move Over Zinfandel—Petite Sirah Is Coming Through

By Stephen Eliot

Zinfandel is often called California’s unique claim to fame, but I am beginning to wonder if it might soon have to move over a bit and share the stage with Petite Sirah.

Yes, I know that Petite actually has Gallic roots and owes its very life to one Monsieur François Durif, but it is more or less a failed grape in France, and precious little of the stuff is even grown there. There is a smattering to be found down under in Australia, but absolutely nowhere can you find as many Petite Sirahs of intent and real interest as you can in California, and the number is on the rise.

It is far from a routine occurrence, but every now and then I find myself craving a big, downright swaggering, unabashed red wine with unfettered tannins and a real sense of grip, the kind of wine whose authority derives from great inner strength rather than from nuance and hypercritical analysis. Nothing masquerading as fine and fancy, and nothing with lilting complexities and reasoned nuance that compel me to think in those times that I would prefer to neither lilt nor think. A wine to which you react without hesitation when it says step out of the car and put your hands over your head. Ah, that would be Petite Sirah, and, if I confess to some overstatement here, it is only by degrees, not by direction.

It used to be that I would hold my head in my hands as the time to review new Petite Sirahs grew near, but I admit that circumstances have changed. Other than a few iconic, fondly remembered bottlings of the late 1960s and early 1970s from Ridge, Freemark Abbey, Mount Veeder and Carneros Creek wineries and the singularly temperate examples from Concannon, Petite Sirah more often than not came closer to being a version of vinous assault than an exercise in thoughtfully crafted musculature. I wondered if the key tools in making Petite Sirah might not be a gun, a whip and a chair.

I have been slow to warm to Petite Sirah, and I am not close to declaring my undying allegiance and calling it my favorite grape, but I think it is no exaggeration to say that there are more interesting Petites to be had than at any time in the past, and they come in all shapes and sizes. There are those “classic” examples that ripple with sinewy tannins. There are those whose ripeness has pushed them to the brink, and there are those that hit the gas and go joyously right over the cliff. There are, however, a good many that exhibit real winemaking polish, and Petite Sirah winemakers as a group seem to have learned how to tame an unruly beast without breaking its spirit.

We have just finished with our last-minute edits of the upcoming July issue of CGCW wherein Petite Sirah and Rhône varietals are featured, and it is the surprisingly strong performance of Petite that has me thinking over this morning’s coffee. It is well worth making the acquaintance with names like Frank Family, Gusftason, Miro, Priest Ranch, Vagabond and Stanton if, like me, you at times crave a well-made red wine that speaks with a roar rather than a whimper. And lest I forget, Ridge and Concannon have maintained their standings as leaders of the pack going on now for four decades and counting.


 

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Comments

Petite Sirah
by Jo Diaz
Posted on:6/16/2012 1:01:07 PM

Bravo! Pleae tell Charlie, Stephen, I said that I like your style. It will make him smile.

Petite Sirah
by Jo Diaz
Posted on:6/16/2012 1:05:29 PM

That would be "please."

 

Petite Sirah
by Fred Schroeder
Posted on:6/18/2012 10:36:03 PM

PS is a genuine success in delivering a good and bold wine that actually ages well. It will never be a Zinfandel, a great wine in my estimation. Zin is a wine that can rise to the hights. I know that the European and Cab crowd won't admit, but Zin delivers the goods more often than any American wine. I have spoken t many a "CabMan" who will admit secretly, that Zin really is the equal of their overpriced joy. Alas, Petite Sirah is a very good wine which gives you a Rhone style thrill, but will never match a good Syrah or Grenache. At the right price, it is a joy to drink and California deserves credit for discovering that it can make a really good wine. But it never rises to the level of a really good Zin.

Petite Sirah
by Robin Renken
Posted on:7/14/2012 2:34:51 PM

The joy of wine in this time is that there are so many variations based on terroir weather winemaker style even a growers style.  I had not enjoyed petite sirah, I found it too inky.  Then one day I tasted one and found it to be amazing!  Bursting with blueberry and outgoingly charming.  In California at least, we are past the point where you can be sure that you dislike a variety.  In fact when tasting you can only be sure that you like or dislike the glass that you are drinking in that moment.  That's what makes it exciting!

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