With winter’s grip continuing to hang on and snow in the forecast, it’s time to throw another log on the fire and select a wine that hugs you like your favorite blanket. You need something with substance - bolder and richer in style. Sure, you can go to your old familiar friend, Cabernet Sauvignon or Zinfandel, but why not try something less predictable. As they say, variety is the spice of life and Petite Sirah brings plenty of it. Petite Sirah is one of those lush reds you can easily cozy up to on a frigid night. Not only is it delicious, it’s also a rather unique, mysterious and often misunderstood grape variety.
There’s confusion around the name, it’s sometimes assumed that Petite Sirah is just a smaller version of the Syrah grape and that’s not an entirely false assumption. The complicated history of Petite Sirah began in 1880 when Dr. Francois Durif, a French nurseryman, grew a new variety from the seed material of an old French variety called Peloursin and gave the grape his name, Durif. Although Dr. Durif didn't know it at the time, the pollen source was Syrah, and in some parts of France Durif was also referred to as Petite Sirah. This new varieties produced small berries with saturated color, dense fruit and many of the same characteristics of Syrah. Just four years later, the Durif grape was introduced into California and some growers there also adopted the name Petite Sirah from the French. For nearly a century, it was often mixed in the vineyard with other vine types becoming what is known as a field blend. This evolved into a murky understanding of the grapes genuine identity and it wasn’t until the 1990s, through DNA testing, that it was proven Petite Sirah is France’s Durif grape. Hey, it’s not every day that you can say you’re opening a bottle with so much intrigue.
While Petite Sirah makes a wonderful blending grape for its density and color, it’s a powerhouse on its own. Growing in tight clusters with small berries, although it’s anything but petite, the resulting wine is fairly massive in weight and texture. Due to the petite size of the berries there is a high skin to juice ratio, creating a lot of tannins and very age worthy wines. Overall, Petite Sirah is full-bodied, with inky layers of dark fruit such as blueberries, blackberries and plum; peppery notes with a hint of black licorice and fairly big acidity complete the profile. It is built to compliment those hearty dishes we crave on a snowy winter day. Try it with a braised lamb shanks, white bean cassoulet or pork carnitas. Even with all of its masculinity, it’s not limited to big, meaty dishes, pair it with eggplant parmesan or a hard aged cheeses such as gouda or gruyere. So, if you find yourself contemplating what to open next while the snow continues to fall, take a small chance on Petite Sirah that pays off big. Cheers!