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Thursday Thorns
The Fall and Rise of Petite Sirah
    ~~How Finishing School Has Tamed The Beast

By Stephen Eliot

I once regarded Petite Sirah as a wine best approached with a chair, a whip and a gun; an impossibly tannic beast that defied taming. It was a grape favored by home winemakers during Prohibition for its ability to withstand the rigors of a lengthy train trip back east, and most “modern” versions offered an opportunity to see just how much punishment you could endure.

There was a time, in fact, a generation or so back when Petite Sirah had been pretty much ignored by us and most everyone else, and, I might argue, with good cause. Oh, there had been some remarkable examples made in the 1970s, and we recall fondly the sturdy standouts from the likes of Ridge, Freemark Abbey and Mount Veeder as well as the singularly temperate early versions from Concannon, but, for the most part, Petite Sirah was a brutally astringent, tooth-staining beast loved only by unrepentant fans of tongue-numbing tannin. To be sure, some of these wines have survived remarkably in tact, but forty years to tame the beast is a lot to ask in my view.

Times, of course, have changed. Petite Sirah is back and is better than ever. It would be wrong, however, to think that it is a different grape than the one that made your fathers’ Petites; it is not inherently changed. It is still tannic stuff, but it has been sent to finishing school, and it seems to be getting winemaker respect and attention it rarely received way back when.

It has been fascinating to watch its re-emergence in the last decade or so, and, even more, to see the divergence of styles now available. To be sure, there are sturdy, tannin-bound throwbacks to another age, but the best such examples such as the new Parducci’s 2010 True Grit Reserve and the big-boned Ancient Peaks 2010 are wonderfully deep in fruit. Then there are wines, such as the 2011 offerings from Ridge, Clayhouse and Peachy Canyon, that convey an altogether unexpected degree of refinement and polish along with a real sense of complexity. More surprising still is that there are a good many bottlings that, while hale and hearty, are entirely enjoyable in their youths.

Now, we do not think that latter-day Petite Sirah is about to challenge Cabernet Sauvignon in terms of reach and range, and we cannot imagine that it might ever achieve the grace of great Pinot Noir, but, as our recent survey of new releases can attest, it has found a very comfortable niche of its own and needs to make no apologies for what it is not.

If, like many, myself included, you have been slow to warm to 21st Century Petite and still regard it as a black sheep best left outside the fold, I humbly suggest that it is time to think again.


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No Subject
by William Goetz
Posted on:4/1/2014 10:33:54 PM

I absolutely loved the D Cubed 2008 PS.  First PS I ever put in my cellar to see what happens!

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