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The Petite Sirah Grape

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About Petite Sirah

(Synonyms: Duriff, Plant Durif, Plant Fourchu, Pinot de Romans, Pinot de l'Hermitage)


Petite Sirah grapes Map showing California's wine regions

Petite Sirah is a red-wine grape originating in relatively modern times (the 1860s) as a cross between the grape types Peloursin and Syrah (with which Petite Sirah should not be confused). The grape is commonly known outside the U.S. as the Durif, from the name of the botanist who created it, François Durif. The grape is today not much grown outside of the U.S. and Australia; almost none is grown in its native France, where it is a disdained type.

In its early days, Petite Sirah wine was chiefly produced by a few wineries in California's Livermore Valley, and had a reputation as a huge, dense, inky, profoundly tannic monster. More modern renditions, giving the grape some respect and care, have produced palatable wines of less brute force, but the type is still marked by the qualities of a very dark "squid-ink" coloration, medium to dense body, fairly high acidity, dark-fruit flavors (plum, blueberry), and above all the characteristic "black pepper" nose and flavor overtone. It is not a subtle wine, but is useful whenever a strong red is wanted.

Because most plantings were in the era when winemaking in the U.S. mainly wanted economical bulk production for jug "Burgundy", most of the vineyards containing Petite Sirah were and often still are planted with other varieties intermixed (a so-called "field blend"), and it is probable that most wine sold as Petite Sirah is actually some sort of blend impossible to exactly sort out. (Typical admixture types would be Alicante Bouschet, Carignan, Grenache, Mourvèdre, Peloursin, BÉClan, And Zinfandel.) Nonetheless, by now (because many of those old vineyards were torn out while Petite Sirah was in eclipse) most "Petite Sirah" from California is wholly or very largely monovarietal.

Petite Sirah takes well to oak-barrel aging, which can import a "chocolate-y" quality to it. Also, Petite Sirah being, as noted, highly tannic, can age for long periods, even decades. Not a few say that while the latest efforts are drinkable and pleasing now, a minimum of one decade, and ideally two or three, will much improve them.

Factoid: Petite Sirah has is own appreciation society, P.S. I Love You.

Some Descriptions of Petite Sirah Wines

  • Wikipedia

    "Petite Sirah produces dark, inky colored wines that are relatively acidic, with firm texture and mouth feel; the bouquet has herbal and black pepper overtones, and typically offers flavors of blue fruit, black fruit, plums, and especially blueberries. Compared to Syrah, the wine is noticeably more dark and purplish in color, and typically rounder and fuller in the mouth, and offers a brightness that Syrah lacks. The wines are very tannic, with aging ability that can exceed 20 years in the bottle. Petite Sirah can sometimes be rather "short", that is, the flavor does not linger in the mouth, hence the benefit of blending with another grape which may lack mid-palate depth, but add length and elegance."

  • Professional Friends of Wine

    "Petite Sirah has long been an important blending grape, prized primarily for its deep color and fairly intense tannin. It is the variety most often chosen to blend into zinfandel for added complexity, structure, and to tone down the tendency of zins toward "jammy" fruit. As a base wine or stand-alone varietal, vintners often introduce a small portion of white wine into Petite Sirah to calm the intensity with little effect on color. On its own, the appeal of Petite Sirah is more visceral than specifically-flavored. Usually high in pigment and tannin, young wines may show dark berry and plum fruit characteristics. On poor soils, when severely pruned and fully ripened, some black pepper spice may add to typical full body and meaty density. Mostly Petite Sirah can be described as "vinous" and, although agreeable, pleasant, and sometimes delicious, not highly distinctive. Nevertheless, wines made from Petite Sirah age slowly and can survive fairly long cellaring of ten years or more."

  • Wine Searcher

    "The high tannins and acidity present in Petite Sirah make it an excellent candidate for ageing. Primary flavors often associated with the wine are blackberry, chocolate and black pepper. Many other characteristics of Syrah can also be noted, like blueberry, licorice and various herbal elements."

  • Jason Wilson, Washington Post

    "Certainly the classic taste of tooth-staining, tannic petite sirah isn’t for everyone, but fans like me appreciate the deep, rich flavors and aromas of blueberry, spice, chocolate and sometimes even cedar or eucalyptus, markedly different from American zinfandel and cabernet sauvignon. Mark Oldman, in his Oldman’s Brave New World of Wine, calls petite sirah 'dark and intense as a dominatrix’s boot.' Even one of the producers . . . calls it 'blueberry motor oil' on its bottle and warns drinkers, 'Don’t spill it on your shirt.'"

  • Appellation America

    "Its small berries, and consequently high skin-to-juice ratio, allow Petite Sirah to produce wines with high tannin levels, surprisingly high acidity, and thus the ability to age. Characteristically, these wines have dense blackberry fruit character, mixed with black pepper notes. . . By any name, this variety has the ability to create rich, age worthy reds and is reestablishing itself as one California's great grapes."

  • The Wine Cellar Insider

    "Petite Sirah is one of the biggest, most powerful and tannic wines produced in America. Until the early 1960′s, Petite Sirah was one of the most popular grape varieties planted in California, or at least in the Napa Valley. Since that point in time, it’s fallen from favor, while the popularity of Cabernet Sauvignon continues to grow. However, over the past decade or so, there has been a resurgence in the popularity of Petite Sirah in California as plantings have continued to increase. Petite Sirah can age for decades. In fact, it often demands 2 decades or more of cellaring before it becomes civilized and fun to drink. I’ve had 40 year old bottles that were fresh, concentrated and vibrant. . . Today, several California producers make wines from 100% Petite Sirah while others use it as a blending grape with Zinfandel or Syrah. When blended, Petite Sirah adds structure, color and a tannic backbone. It can also help to reduce the overripe, jammy character often found in Zinfandel. Like many grape varietals, Petite Sirah is best when the fruit comes from old vines. .  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."

  • Stacy Slinkard, about.com

    "Petite Sirah produces some tannic red wines that give it an aging edge. The fruit character of a Petite Sirah center arround blackberry, black cherry, blueberry, plum and sometimes a smoky component and often a black pepper presence. Not known for fantastic finishes, this particular varietal does not typically sustain the fruit or elegance on a long-lasting finish."

  • Richard Jennings, Huffington Post

    "I have tasted numerous excellent Petite bottlings, including some with 10 and 20 years of age on them that demonstrate how Petite's typically strong acidity and tannic structure makes wonderfully ageworthy wine. Some Petites are made in a more simple, ripe, fruit forward style, with less acidity and tannin, and I personally don't find these very interesting or varietally correct. At its best, however, Petite Sirah can produce wonderfully complex, rich, black fruited wines, often with floral, blueberry, tar, licorice and peppery dimensions, and can age into something really stellar, with rounded tannins and savory qualities, with at least five to 10 years of bottle age."

  • Bill St. John, Chicago Tribune

    "If winemakers can tame petite sirah's formidable tannins, the wine can be a mouthful but in a blowsy way, "chewable," in a manner of thinking. But it's more like liquid meat than any red wine I've ever come across, with a savory aroma of blackberries and spice."

  • Patrick J. Comiskey, Wine and Spirits

    "It begins, usually, with an old wine. Let's say a Mount Veeder red from 1975, or a Freemark Abbey from the middle '70s, an '80s-era York Creek from Ridge, or a '68 Souverain. Your expectations are modest, but without fail the wine astonishes, still full of tension and grace, giving off aromas of cedar and tanbark, dried plum and fig, the tannins fine and supple and faintly redolent of turned soil, with a savory complexity that most California 30 year olds can’t muster, and a texture that rivals great Bordeaux in its elegance, balance and length. And inevitably, the first thought is: This can’t be petite sirah. . . Petite sirah is one of the great legacy grapes of the Napa Valley, and yet it is a variety often dismissed by all but a few of the wine loving public. (It is unequivocally reviled by sommeliers, who seem to want to reserve a circle of hell for the wine.) It’s castigated for being in every way mono: monolithic, monochromatic, monophonic, a purple monotone of flavor supported by textures so immense, so laced with extract and tannin, that it seems like the wine equivalent of an overstuffed pillow. But that’s young petite, and what goes in as a Clydesdale can emerge as a thoroughbred. The wine’s transformative properties have compelled a handful of young winemakers to devote time and creative energy toward making petite sirahs with the grace and longevity of their forebears, even as they endeavor to make these famously massive wines more accessible and dynamic in their youth."

Some Petite Sirahs to Try

(About this list.)

Petite Sirah has seen a recent jump in its "fashionableness"; consequently, while the handful of old classic low-price bottlings is still around, there are also a lot of newer expensive releases. The price spectrum clumps up around ten dollars, give or take a little, peters out in the $15 to $20 range, then slowly starts up again at the $25 level and accelerates in the $35-and-up range. Owing to our self-imposed upper price limit of $20 in these lists, those newer "hot" bottlings are not shown below (though see the "Splurge" section farther below).

Within our range there are still quite a few possibilities, and we have chosen by finding those mentioned favorably by multiple review sources. As it turns out, almost half of these are from the original old Petite Sirah source, Concannon in the Livermore Valley. It also turns out, unsurprisingly, that some of these "Petite Sirah" bottlings are blends, though all such are dominated by the PS contribution.

The quotations below are excerpts; we strenuously urge you to click on the green diamond symbol by each quoted review to see the full article.
  • Concannon "Selected Vineyards" Central Coast Petite Sirah, $6 - $17.
         ($11.34 at Saratoga Wine Exchange).

    Some quotations and facts:

    The 2011 Concannon Selected Vineyards Petite Sirah begins with a very fruity aroma of raspberry, vanilla and even a little mulberry. The medium-bodied wine tastes smooth with lots of red cherry, cranberry, raspberry and black cherry. Nice spice and vanilla notes flow into the dry finish. Soft tannins help make this wine very easy to drink. A definite crowd-pleaser and a great introduction to this excellent variety. Taste Rating: 7; Cost Rating: 10; Overall Rating: 7.8. Recommended Buy.

    The 2010 Petite Sirah, Selected Vineyards contains aromas of plum, blackberry and black cherry with subtle notes of chocolate and molasses. . . The 2010 Petite Sirah, Selected Vineyards has fantastic depth. It exhibits aromas of plum, blackberry and black cherry on the nose. Subtle notes of chocolate and molasses are complemented by carefully structured tannins and a lively finish.

    For 10 bucks, you get a dry, balanced, wonderfully food-friendly Syrah. The blackberry, mulberry and black cherry flavors have a rich streak of tobacco and nutmeg, with a bitter, espresso finish that grounds the wine. Small percentages of Petite Sirah and Malbec add flavor and structural complexity. 87 points.

    Deep garnet purple color. Aromas of chocolate graham cracker and raspberry tart, with a silky and fruity medium-to-full body and a long, juicy toasted-nut finish. A tasty crowd pleaser.

    Medium purple color. Aromas of plum cake, caramel and green peppercorns. The palate shows fine tannins and juicy raspberry and plum fruit. Creamy and jammy with a solid dose of oak. There’s bitterness to this wine, like the skins and pips of the berries or something, and the finish is short. For $10, you can’t really expect much more.

    This well-structured red wine offers plum, blackberry and black cherry aromas on the nose and firm tannins in the mouth.

    Concannon’s 2011 “Selected Vineyards” Petite Sirah from the Central Coast is a real bargain at $10, not especially complicated but deliciously fruity with bright raspberry and blueberry notes and a touch of mocha. Soft and accessible, it will pair well with lots of meat dishes, including roast pork loin and lamb, as well as a variety of chicken recipes. It’s an excellent wine for everyday drinking.

    Black cherry fruit is laced with a gamy character — this is not your everyday $10 wine! Dry, tannic structure.

    I’ve enjoyed several Petite Sirahs from Livermore’s Concannon Vineyards over the years, especially the entry-level California blend that runs $10-$12/bottle. Concannon is a legendary producer of Petite Sirah, bottling the grape as a varietal starting way back in 1961.

  • Bogle Petite Sirah, $7 - $11.
         ($9.54 at Saratoga Wine Exchange).

    Some quotations and facts:

    A few years ago, I held a blind tasting of petite Sirah. Everyone brought a wine in a brown bag, so we could rate them without seeing the labels. Eight out of 10 of the bottles turned out to be Bogle Petite Sirah. No surprise, because it is one of the most well-known in California, and the winery makes a spot-on version. If you've never tasted a petite Sirah, this is a must try.

    Years ago, I remember tasting light, fruity, altogether pleasant wines made from Petit Sirah. So I was surprised by the gorgeous, deep red-violet color of this one with its rich, voluptuous mouth feel and a bouquet full of what Carol Berman, Food Talk sommelier, calls "black fruit, including blueberry mingled with subtle spices that draws you right in." It's "full of lush fruit on the palate," she goes on to say, "and wonderfully balanced and held together by soft tannins." In short, it is a whole lot of very easy-drinking wine for the reasonable price of $9.99.

    Bogle’s Petite Sirah is full-bodied and loaded with tons of black fruit; black currants, plums, and blackberries. There is a smoky note on the palate with just a little bit of spice that I enjoy while drinking this wine. The finish is nice and smooth.

    Uncorked a nice Petite Sirah this dreary overcast afternoon to spice up the day. Lotsa spice and blackbery bramble flavors highlight this great wine from the folks at Bogle Vineyards. I loved the 2008 vintage back in 2010 . . . This one is just as good, maybe even better. Bogle has some great wines for $10 and under, including this one.

    Last year, after I recommended a $9.99 Bogle petite sirah as one of several inexpensive, widely available “gateway” bottles for young millennials just discovering wine beyond the Franzia box, a sommelier friend chided me. “Are you kidding me, dude? Petite sirah?” I was sufficiently shamed, for about 30 seconds. Then I asked him what else — from California, at that price point, as easy to find — he’d recommend. I was met with silence.

    The 2011 Bogle California Petit Sirah shows bright cherries and sloe flavors and some slight bourbon notes from it aging in American oak and was rated 83-84 points. With it's potent flavors and tannins, Bogle’s Petite Sirah is a perfect accompaniment to highly-flavored foods, pasta, pizzas and vegetables off the grill.

    Bogle Vineyards, a third generation, family-owned and -operated winery, owns 1,500 acres and isn’t beholden to a bank. That’s how they can sell high quality wine at a low price. That, and they’ve been making Petite Sirah a long time. That helps. Their 2008 Petite Sirah is ripe and fragrant with raspberries, blackberries, blueberry, brewed tea, soft leather and the sharp flavors of Chambord liqueur. High in acidity and tannins are restrained. 3½* / 5

    Vivid, juicy wild blackberry and dark fruit flavors are appealing, with thick tannins and plenty of punch to the flavors, accented by spice and tobacco notes.

  • Concannon "Conservancy" Petite Sirah, $9 - $21.
         ($13.74 at Saratoga Wine Exchange).

    Some quotations and facts:

    The 2008 Petite Sirah, Conservancy exhibits a rich nose of fresh blackberries, cassis and has a flavorful palate of cherries, plums and mocha. Subtle notes of cedar, cocoa and earth tone lead to a smooth, silky finish. . . The 2008 Petite Sirah, Conservancy has fantastic depth and character. It exhibits a rich nose of fresh berry fruit, and the flavorful palate shows blackberries, chocolate, mocha and plums. Subtle notes of molasses, cedarwood, and ripe mulberries are complemented by soft, creamy oak tones and a smooth, silky finish.

    Gobs of blackberries on the nose, red licorice, purple Gushers candy, along with mocha and toasted coconut. Juicy and full of red and black berry fruit, this wine is jammy and thick. High alcohol is evident over the creamy-smooth tannins. Inky, but not much in the way of secondary flavors. 85 points.

    For a step up [from their basic "Seleted Vineyards" bottling, listed farther above], try Concannon’s 2009 “Conservancy” Petite Sirah from the Livermore Valley. This is a bigger and more complex wine with plum, blackberry and blueberry notes along with a touch of vanilla and good deal of spice. There’s more tannic structure here and a bigger oak influence. This one is also an excellent value at just $15 and will work very well with heartier meat dishes, including steak, short ribs and barbecue.

    Dominant aromas of cassis and blackberry. Medium tannins, restrained fruit. Always one of my favorite bargain Petite Sirahs, and I'm glad to revisit it from time to time. Open this up some afternoon with leftover roast beef and horseradish sauce and enjoy a perfect wine/sandwich combination.

    Concannon is one of California's masters of petite sirah, one of the state's best but most underrated red wine grapes. This premium version, a step up from its high-value basic version, is exceptionally complex for its price. It's a full-bodied wine with intense flavors of chocolate, coffee, blackberry, herbs and that distinct dustiness that is characteristic of petite sirah. This wine is very easy to drink now but can age for a decade or more. This is one of those wines that can be a foundation of a wine cellar for a person of middling means.

    The Livermore Valley master of Petite Sirah outpaces much of its competition with Conservancy, a wine that honors land conservancy and is priced fairly. Well-made and very balanced for a larger production endeavor, this Petite opens with a nose of pepper and mocha, stewed berry and plum and develops into a full body that’s lush and oaky but also shows plenty of minerality. 88 points.

    Petite sirah does not always have to be overly inky, dark and tannic; this wine is a good example. The Concannon family has been making wine since 1883, and was the first in America to bottle a petite sirah. A sip of this 2009 petite sirah brings on pronounced blueberry fruit flavor with a silky mouth feel, balanced alcohol and acidity. It is a nicely made wine and perfect for a picnic of cured meats and hard cheeses. If it is dinner you need a wine for, this petite sirah will pair well with so many things on the grill — spicy barbecued chicken, juicy steak — as well as slow-cooked beef or lamb stew. “Conservancy” on the label means that the vineyard land has been placed in a legal trust, forbidding any future development. Good wine, good practices.

    We’ve reviewed the 2007 Conservancy petite sirah and found it’s characteristics to be spot on the varietal, as well as somewhat spot on in exhibiting some of the challenges winemakers have with this varietal. We scored that wine an 87. Let’s see how the 2008 stacks up. The first thing you notice about this wine is the deep brilliant purple color. The wine just looks delicious. The nose offers deep berry with mild toast, and the mild alcohol is kept better in-check than the 2007. On the palate the wine is all petite sirah, showing lush deep berry with well-integrated toast and soft tannins, leading to a smooth finish. It’s a full-bodied wine but it doesn’t overwhelm with oak and tannin. This style of wine often serves as a good starter for wine-lovers looking to branch-out from full-bodied whites or light-bodied reds, to something with more power.

    In a word, the 2008 Concannon Vineyard Conservancy Petite Sirah was excellent. Sweet blackberries and a little chocolate and pepper on the nose. The palate showed blackberries and even a bit of mocha. There's some oak coming through but not overpowering at all. Nice tannins and a dry finish. Overall, just a really nicely balanced, full-bodied, fruity and very drinkable wine. We quite enjoyed it quite a bit and recommend you check it out! Definitely a wine that will find a spot in the next update of the Top 10 list. Taste Rating: 8; Cost Rating: 8; Overall Rating: 8.0. Recommended Buy

    I found the wine to be very enjoyable. It is definitely Petite Sirah, but it has a little less body than other examples of the variety, which makes it very easy to sip in spite of its boldness. It has intense aromas and flavors of blackberry, black cherry, blackcurrant, blueberry, plum, cocoa, and mocha.

  • The Crusher "Grower's Selection" Petite Sirah, $10 - $15.

    Some quotations and facts:

    The 2011 The Crusher Grower's Selection Petite Sirah begins with a really lovely aroma of blackberry, tart black cherry, black pepper and even a bit of bacon. The wine tastes smooth, silky and super easy to drink -- this is definitely a wine to break out at your next party or BBQ. The primary flavors are similar to the bouquet with some added spice and vanilla. It ends nicely with a medium length finish that invites you to take another sip. It was just as good on day two but I suspect you'll have trouble making the bottle last that long. Taste Rating: 9; Cost Rating: 7; Overall Rating: 8.5. Bulk Buy.

    Fresh and juicy, this throws out fresh berries, followed at a distance by deep black fruits. Tart berries are sweetened by cherries on the mid-palate. Deep black fruit, mulberry perhaps, pops up just as the other flavors begin to fade, showing the power in a small dollop of the Portuguese varietals. Mild tannins and bright acids make a food friendly wine. Drink with garlic and herb crusted pork loin. Recommended. 87 points.

    ♣ Wine Spectator (date unknown), 86 points.

    The Crusher Wine Series is a partnership between the Sebastiani family of Sonoma and the Wilson family grape growers of Clarksburg, Calif. A great line of wines, and very reasonably priced. The petite Sirah is actually 76 percent of the namesake grapes, 13 percent Merlot, 4 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 3 percent Tinta Cao, 2 percent Souza and 2 percent Touriga Nacional grapes. Sounds like the kitchen sink, but there is a method to the madness here. The other grapes act as a beautiful seasoning to bring out the flavors of the main attraction. .  While petite Sirah can get quite heavy, and very high in alcohol, this one keeps it all in balance. The cool nights in Clarksburg are responsible for the welcome tartness and mouthwatering finish. Characteristic notes of dark wild berries, a touch of peppery spice and a kick of cool mint all arrive in a smooth and easy-to-drink package that is a quick crowd-pleaser.

    Inky in color. Initial aromas of blackberries and violets. Black fruit flavors- blackberry, plum, and black cherry – dominate the palate, while more subtle notes of vanilla and oak linger through the finish. This is a silky smooth, yet complex wine that can be drank alone or paired with food.

    A dark, jammy explosion of baked red fruit and blackberry, this is marked by its toasty oak and its subtle hint of bacon, benefitting from breathing for 10–20 minutes before drinking. Full in body and tannin, it has a vanilla-infused finish. 86 points.

    The wine is a saturated inky purple. Aromas and flavors were predominantly dark jammy plums and red liquorice but there was also an intriguing white pepper note. The intensity of aromas was a little shy of medium, even after letting the wine warm up some from cellar temperature. The texture on the palate was medium-bodied and soft finished by a small amount of drying tannins.

    The ‘grower’s selection’ Petite Sirah had the beautiful dark purple of Petite along with the ripe plum, licorice, chocolate and a hint of herbs. The alcohol is in check at 13.5 percent. The wine did not have a lot of finish and would not have enough tannin for some drinkers. One man’s loss is another man or woman’s gain. The Crusher is pretty easy to drink wine. If you’ve never had Petite Sirah it would be a good introduction to the grape. .  I had the wine on night one, when the fruit was more pronounced, with some beef roast and was excellent. The second night the wine had really leveled out with the fruit going a little softer and finish softer yet. That was ok with a quick pan of pasta with seasoned tomatoes. The Crusher would be a killer selection for easy drinking or the Petite Sirah novice. Highly recommended.

    Clear, deep purple inky core moving to a thin ruby rim with medium, even legs. In this wine, Petite Sirah comprises 76% and Merlot makes up the remaining 24%. Clean, medium plus intensity, developing with medium plus intensity aromas of boysenberry, strawberry and very dark chocolate overtones. On the palate, dry, medium acidity, medium plus tannin, medium plus alcohol with medium plus body, medium plus intensity flavours of dark black fruit, damson plum, ripe blackberries and fig with a black pepper’ish profile. The finish is a little short for what I’d expect at medium. Slightly unbalanced between the grippy tannins, alcohol and concentrated fruit flavours. A ‘good’ wine;’ drink now, but may improve slightly with a couple of years ageing given tannin and acidity.

    Heavy cherry taste, with a fruity nose. Smooth tannins, full body. Slight hint of vanilla.

  • Foppiano "Estate Bottled Russian River Valley" Petite Sirah, $11 - $22.
         ($19.34 at Saratoga Wine Exchange).

    Some quotations and facts:

    This wine is a tremendous bargain, delivering excellent quality which exceeds it's price point. Just as it did, way back when. Not to be confused with Syrah, Petite Sirah is its own grape. Typically, "Petites" can be big, brawny, bruising tannic wines. But this one comes from the Russian River Valley area of Sonoma and is more elegant. Still, it's a deep, dark purple. The nose is full of blackberries, slight cocoa and spice. In the mouth, the wine is balanced and full bodied, with wild berry flavors, slight espresso character and a long finish. . . Will go great with autumn and winter beef and lamb roasts. 91 points.

    The color, as one would expect is extremely inky and dark purple. The barrel regimen is as follows: 25% new French oak, 5% new Hungarian oak, 70% neutral oak. On the nose I get brilliant aromas of deliciously ripe black currant, blueberry, wild flowers, and subtle hints of vanilla bean and savory dark chocolate. Very pretty...... On the palate the wine is quite spicy and displays a unique array of flavors such as blueberry, blackberry, white pepper, graham cracker, and vanilla. I like how the wine doesn't have an over-cloying texture like many Petite Sirah's often do. The wine finishes with some really nice firm tannin and a sweet black cherry note that lingers for around 30 seconds. The only thing I could be critical about with this wine is the slight touch of heat on the finish. The alcohol is stated as 15.2% on the label, but it's not something that entirely distracts from the overall experience of the wine. Perhaps with a few years in bottle this wine will become even more balanced and I would guess that the bouquet will only get better over the years. Killer wine fore the price ($18-20) 89+ points

    ♣ Wine Spectator (date unknown), 88 points.

    A firm, robust wine, with plenty of ripe wild berry flavors and touches of beef bouillon, bay leaf and red licorice. The intensity of the flavors is matched with the density of the tannins. A beefy wine in more ways than one.

    Tooth-coating tannins sidle up to ripe plum, maple syrup and blackberry. A new, gentle de-stemming process, along with whole-berry, open-top (and some closed-top) fermentation, a ration of new French oak and a small percentage of Hungarian oak create an avenue for a chocolate, smoky intensity without any herbal or coconut influence. "The former Foppiano style would try to get as much tonnage of Petite Sirah as we could get ripe," explains Foppiano. "Now, we are purposefully getting smaller yields and therefore more balanced fruit from our mature vineyards."

    Foppiano of Napa Valley must pick their PS grapes at the right time, because the bottle of Estate Bottled Petite Sirah, Russian River Valley, vintage 2008 they sent me is delicious in that distinctly PS way: rich, black as a sinner's heart, aromatic, with intense black-fruit flavors and a long smooth finish. The tasting notes claim that winemaker Natalie West handles her PS winemaking more like Pinot Noir than like Cab, with a gentle press and fermentation in open-topped barrels. To manage tannins, she uses only 30% new oak. This is a tasty example of Foppiano's flagship wine, retailing at a bargain $20, and I recommend it.

    Foppiano is one of California's stars when it comes to the underappreciated petite sirah grape, which fares far better in that state's soils than it ever did in its native France. This estate-bottled petite sirah is a burly wine with a gentle soul. It combines full-bodied fruit and high alcohol (a heady 15.2 percent) with a silky-smooth texture. It delivers as much complexity as many a three-figure cabernet — with flavors of blackberry, blueberry, vanilla, chocolate, white pepper and earth. Though the tannins are soft, it has the backbone to improve for at least 5-10 years. Frugal collectors might want to lay down a case.

    Although it is deep, dark and delicious, Foppiano’s “Pets” is crafted with a light touch giving it impeccable balance. It has flavors of dark stone fruits and vanilla bean, a hint of smoke on the finish and well integrated soft tannins.

    The nose says plum and violets, but the body takes us to the woodshop: Fresh cut lumber, sawdust, and steel, plus underbrush, chocolate, more plums, and a tightly wound core of fruit. The tannin is surprisingly manageable here, and this Petite becomes fairly easy drinking within minutes of opening and aerating. Petite Sirah can so often be rough and obscenely tannic. Thank God someone knows what they’re doing.

    A wine as dark as India ink. An alcoholic nose (15.2%) with lots of intriguing aromas of anise, dark chocolate, and blackberries. Somewhat tannic, but the fruit comes around; just seems to take longer to emerge. Some black coffee and vanilla flavors in the black fruit. The Russian River character comes out: nice to have something from RR Valley other than Pinot Noir. Rich finish. This will benefit from some aging to harmonize. I had with an Indian curry and it worked nicely. Highly recommended.

    Foppiano Vineyards has been growing and bottling Petite Sirah in the Russian River Valley since 1964, so they’ve had a few years to get it right. They thankfully know how to tame the beastly tannins, crafting an elegant, full-bodied, raspberry jammy wine with spicy cinnamon, cherry cola, cassis, concentrated blueberry and sweet tobacco. On the finish is toasty oak and a swath of soft leather. Lots going on and this was a huge crowd pleaser at a recent blind tasting. Rating: 4 stars out of 5.

  • J. Lohr "Tower Road Vineyard" Petite Sirah, $16 - $23.
    (Blended with a splash of Syrah & Zinfandel.)
         ($22.34 at Saratoga Wine Exchange).

    Some quotations and facts:

    [I]intense, but with something approaching elegance. It’s all baked goods: warm pie, chocolate, cinnamon, and even some cloud-soft whipped cream on top. Enough spine that I’d love to drink it five years from now, too.

    At nearly 15% alcohol, this big boy exhibit’s a nearly opaque purple red color with a well-defined magenta rim. The aromas reveal the use of American oak (coconut) with a hint of rosemary. The American oak settles on the palate, bringing that characteristic coconut extract character into focus. Dried dark fruits (blackberry) and firm but juicy tannins complete the palate experience, with the American oak character running throughout. The finish is long and the tannins tend to dominate. High alcohol shows a bit, but rich foods take care of that. Open and decant vigorously (splashing) if planning this for dinner tonight.

    Rich, smoky, concentrated and port-like, it bursts out currant, plum, bittersweet chocolate, blackberries and cedar. High in alcohol and astringent tannins so not for guzzling, but contemplative sipping. Rating: 4 stars out of 5.

    Petite Sirah is known for one thing: fruity power. It is an inky, intense, heavy-handed wine. The J. Lohr winery makes an impressive effort, and while staying true to the bold nature of the grape, they manage to pull in some acid and structure by blending in just a touch of several other grapes. Their key amount of blending could very well bring this Petite Sirah to the next level.

    What a nose of spices and berries, tannic and concentrated, rich and ripe, a big wine with a come-taste-me-now character.

    This is an inky black glass stainer. Aromas and flavors gush forth, showing fresh blackberries and blueberries, mixed with browned butter and nutty characteristics. A creamy mouthfeel leads to a fruit-driven, lightly silty finish. Wine Lines rating: 90.

    There are lots of gamy, meaty notes in this dry, full-bodied Petite Sirah. That’s in addition to the blackberries, blueberries and mocha that make it so tasty. With a few drops of Syrah and Zinfandel, it shows a nice approach to the art of the blend. 90 points.

    I recently judged 50 petite sirahs priced at $20 or more at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, the world’s largest competition of American wines. Paso Robles petite sirahs performed extremely well. Two of the wines we evaluated received double gold medals, meaning that all the judges on the panel agreed that the wine deserved gold. [One of those was] the 2007 J. Lohr Tower Road Petite Sirah ($35), a wine that’s big, ripe, dense and glass-coating, with loads of bright berry fruit.

  • Clayhouse Estate "Red Cedar Vineyard Old Vine" Petite Sirah, $17 - $23.

    Some quotations and facts:

    Leading the way for others to follow, this Petite Sirah was the belle of the ball at our recent tasting with its balance of complex fruit and just enough oak influence to provide structure and additional complexity. Tasters exclaimed over its aromas of blackberry and plum with notes of white pepper, spice and toast. The palate follows the nose with additional flavors of mint, cocoa and smoky bacon.

    Most Petite Sirahs used to be mouth puckering because tight and astringent in their youth. These days, though, modern tannin-management techniques make more and more wines produced from this grape variety much softer and so easier to drink. This particular example is a case in point. Full of fruity flavors with echoes of supporting savory spice, it was a great partner for our picadillo. It not only tasted good at first sip, but also became gradually smoother and even more compelling in the finish.

    ♣ International Wine Cellar (December 2011), 89 points.

    Clayhouse's Old Vine Petite Sirah comes from some of the oldest plantings in the region. The wine has a solid tannin core, white pepper, plum, toast and blackberry aromas, with a hint of cranberry. Elegant and rich, this Petite has chewy mouthfeel and finishes with cleansing, firm tannins. It [2009 vintage] should improve in the bottle through at least 2014-2015.

    92 points, with a nose of sweet spice, earth, and cedar, I'm already reminded of how much I love their wines. Flavors are mirrors of the aroma, carried on a near full body of strong acidity and intense, but drinkable tannin (Drink now and just maybe for years to come). In addition, loads of smoky black fruit and licorice compliment this red wine of intensity, followed by a long persistent finish of spice (VERY DRY RED WINE).

    You’ll find flavors of blackberry, black pepper and spice with medium+ body and firm, chalky tannins. Recommended.

    Very dark purple red violet color; tart black fruit, tart currant nose; tart black fruit, tart currant palate; medium-plus finish. 86 points.

    Almost black in the glass, the wine is characterized by black fruits, pepper, smoke and a hint of brown sugar. Structured to go the distance, the tannins are well managed.

    Violets, mild, plum, blackberry. Light, low tannins, and a pleasant finish.

For a Splurge

While there are many Petite Sirah wines in the "splurge" price range, even staying with widely praised ones, most seem (from the wine-search engines) to be somewhat scarce. Of what seems widely available, we suggest a couple of wines from the Robert Biale Vineyards: their "Royal Punishers" bottling ($32 to $60) and their "Thomann Station" bottling ($36 to $60).

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