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Wayne on Wine: California Petite Sirah

By Wayne Crawford

California winemakers have a special niche for organizing varietal-focused wine groups to promote specific grapes or wine styles. The most notable include ZAP, Zinfandel Advocates & Producers, formed in 1991, and Meritage Alliance, 1988. Their goal is to make high quality Bordeaux blends with red and white Bordeaux varietal grapes – not surprisingly called Meritage.

More recently, in 2002, “PS I Love You” was established to promote petite sirah (PS), and, today, it has 100 member wineries. I also give high marks to California winegrowers for being the largest producers of both zinfandel and petite sirah in the world. I particularly enjoy both these grapes and the wines they produce, but many readers are less familiar with petite sirah.

Most red wine drinkers enjoy the medium-body, red Zinfandel wine with its strong aromas and flavors of blackberry, cinnamon and chocolate. It is often high in alcohol content and dark- red in color. Less well known is the petite sirah red grape, the natural offspring of the French syrah and peloursin grapes discovered by French amateur botanist, Dr. François Durif, in the 1860s in an experimental vineyard. This vine was given his name: Durif.

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The Big Canoe Wine Group discusses blind-tasting results: Dean Golden, left, Phil 

The grape – introduced into Alameda County, Calif., by Charles McIver in 1884 – was imported as petite sirah and marketed under that name. Primarily a blending grape, it has evolved into a full-bodied, single varietal or dominant blend among PS winegrowers in California.

The grape produces bold dark berry, plum, prune and dark chocolate aromas and flavors with high tannin and alcohol content. Considerable Petite Sirah is available in the $14 to $30 range, and there is some exceptional PS produced in Napa and Sonoma at prices ranging upward to $150 and more.

I particularly like the bold, black fruit flavors with hints of spice and chocolate and the complex aromas in a well-crafted PS. Most producers are aging this wine after fermentation in oak barrels, which helps to soften the tannins and add vanilla, hazelnut and cinnamon aromas to the wine. This grape grows well in hot, dry climates and has spread to vineyards in the state of Washington, Mexico, Brazil, Chile, Australia, South Africa and Israel. As you travel, look for this bold, fruit-forward red wine at very competitive prices.

Equally important, this wine pairs well with big-bodied food including steak, hamburgers, roasted pork, aged cheese, rich spice sauces, sauteed mushrooms, stuffed peppers and caramelized onion. I recommend Mexican food with beef and spice and wild game.

Notable producers include Concannon, Dashe, Guenoc, Ridge and Klinker Brick.

‘Wines Drinking Well Now

Rios-Lovell Estate Winery 2004 Petite Sirah, Livermore Valley, Calif., $30: Rios-Lovell Estate Winery is small – 64 acres – winery in the Livermore Valley. Dark-purple color with deep saturation, on the nose it brings blackberry and cherry aromas with hints of chocolate and anise. On the palate, it is dry and full-bodied, having aged wonderfully over 11 years to produce soft tannins with blackberry fruits. This is a smooth wine, balanced with a lingering fruit finish. It was rated first in our blind-tasting and is available in a 2011 vintage from the winery. Highly Recommended.

Michael David 2012 Petite Petit Petite Sirah, Lodi, Calif., $18: This is blend of 85 percent petite sirah and 15 percent petite verdot. The wine is dark-red with purple hues and has aromas of blackberry, prune, black cherry and spice. On the palate, the aroma is accented further by flavors of prune, plum, vanilla and black pepper, expressed in this full-bodied, dry wine that is well balanced, complex and rich in flavors. The bright circus label makes it easy to find in most wine shops. This is a recurring favorite wine of the Big Canoe Wine Group and is available locally at the IGA. Highly Recommended.

Keesha 2008 Petite Sirah, Lodi, Calif., $14: The color is a very dark purple. The nose is complex with blackberries, black plum, spice and vanilla. On the palate, it brings black fruit, plums, anise and chocolate. A well balanced, smooth, full-bodied red wine. Best Buy.

Other wines to consider: Mettler 2010 Petite Sirah, $17.60; Klinker Brick 2012, $20; Ridge 2012, $30; Parducci 2012, $14; Bogle Vineyards 2013, $14; and a highly rated Robert Biale Petite Sirah Thomann Station 2012, $48.

Wine books to consider: Occasionally I recommend a website or wine book for readers. One go-to website that I have referred readers to is www.winefolly.com. In 2013, Wine Folly was named Wine/Spirit Blogger of the year by the International Wine & Spirit Competition. In September 2015, the Wine Folly team came out with “Wine Folly: The Essential Guide To Wine,” by Madeline Puckette and Justin Hammack. I purchased a paperback copy from Amazon for $15.17; it lists for $25 and shipping. The book offers 230 pages of action-packed, simple-to-use wine fundamentals; profiles on the most popular wines; pairing food guides; and a regional section on world wines with exceptional colored maps on the main growing areas around the world. This is an extraordinary, quick reference guide, which makes great use of graphs and colored charts to make it easy to understand and use. Wine glass and serving temperatures are included. Highly Recommended.

‘Drink What You Like

In my next article, the focus will be on cabernet sauvignon, which at 717,000 acres, is the most planted wine grape in the world.

Wayne Crawford is a certified specialist of Wine CSW and a member of the Society of Wine Educators, American Wine Society and French Wine Society. 

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