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Friday Fishwrap
Looking Behind The Remarkable Resurgence In Petite Sirah

By Stephen Eliot

It does not get a great deal of play in the press and is all but ignored by the legions of bloggers who are quick to tell us about the lighter, lower-alcohol wines that the millennial generation really wants, but Petite Sirah is clearly finding new popularity in the world of real wine drinkers. We think we know why.

Now, we admit that there was time when we simply turned our backs on what was an opaque, crudely tannic, tooth-staining bunch, and years went by without Petite Sirah working its way into our reviews. Most were unruly brutes and impressed as wines best approached with a gun, a whip and a chair much as one would with a large and easily irritated carnivore. We have, however, been struck by both the number and the quality of the Petites coming our way over the past several years, and as we begin tasting new releases for our July issue, our shelves are starting to groan under the weight of a host of recently arrived bottlings. We have work to do.

It appears that what is going on is far more than a resurgence. It is an entirely new movement with an ethos all its own. It is driven in part by better winemaking and a new sensibility of the winemakers who seek more than color and sinew. They are clearly beginning to tame the grape without losing its unique varietal voice, and we have seen more than few that are serious offerings of real richness and range. Much of Petite Sirah’s new success can be traced to the tireless efforts of such promotional organizations as P.S I Love You, but however much you promote, success is never secured by slogans alone. The message needs to be backed up by substance, and it is there that new Petite shines.

What is most striking to me is that there clearly seems to be an enthusiastic and thriving market for Petite in a time when the popular press so regularly touts smaller as better. There seems to be a great many folks who have not gotten the word. Or, maybe, just maybe, there are plenty of people who actually like gutsy, powerful red wines and do not give a hoot about low-alcohol, high acid and subtle nuance. Good for them. They pursue flavor first and foremost, and therein lies Petite Sirah’s greatest gift. There are times and settings where I want wines of refinement, but there are others when nothing less than unbridled power and strength will do, and, when the urge hits, I know that Petite Sirahs from the likes Frank Family, Stanton, Ridge, JC Cellars and Retro, to name but a few, are certain to please.

I do not claim to be a dyed-in-the-wool convert, and I am not close to becoming an uncritical, unblinking evangelist for the grape, but there are enough interesting Petites that I find myself approaching our upcoming tastings with something perilously close to excited anticipation rather than the looming dread I remember once feeling.


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by TomHill
Posted on:5/13/2013 5:42:00 PM

Awwwwright, Steve...somebody's gotta respond to a post on PetiteSirah. Otherwise you'll think only bloggers are reading  your stuff. :-)

   I guess I'm unaware in any "resurgence" in PS. It's always been kind of a hick 2'nd cousin to Zinfandel. I've not noticed any proliferation of PS's on the shelf...but I have no figures to back up my suspicion. There has always been a quiet band of vintners who are true believers and have continued to craft mighty fine ones over the yrs.

   My main problem w/ PS is I find it ages kinda erratically. Some huge/black PS just never seem to mature into anything of much interest...they just remain stumble-bums for their entire lives. Others...just transform into something magically. And I just don't have the experience to predict which is which.

    But the Ridge YC '71, Ridge YC '73, Ridge YC '75, CarnerosCreek Marston '75, MtVeeder Marston '75....them's the stuff of legends.



Petite Sirah numbers
by Jo Diaz
Posted on:5/14/2013 10:23:35 AM

Petite Sirah numbers for you, Tom Hill.

In 2002, when I started the Petite Sirah Symposium at Foppiano Vineyards, I had 62 gorwers and producers combined that were producing Petite Sirah - as a database from which to invite. On July 23, 2013, I can now send to 895 producers and another 165 growers = 1,060 companies that I can invite to the Concannon 11th Annual PS Symposium... Look what's happened.

You won't see about 90 percent of these brands on the shelves or on wine lists, becuase production is very limited... mostly limited to 400 cases, and limited to tasting room sales, wine club shipments, winemaker dinners at the winery, etc.

There's no use for these people to send out their wines to wine critics, either. Scores help to sell wine. They don't need help selling it. Their fans buy it before the next vintage is released.

And now... as Paul Harvey was famous for saying... you know the rest of the story.

by TomHill
Posted on:5/14/2013 11:13:35 AM

Thanks for those numbers, Jo. Are those numbers also reflected in the acres planted as well?? You don't hear a lot about growers hot-to-trot for putting in PS. Least not the ones I hear.

   And thanks for putting Dick in touch w/ me.



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