Naomi Campbell’s ego. China’s Great Wall. Dolly Parton’s breasts.
There are some things that aren’t ashamed of being big. That’s my favorite thing about Petite Sirah, a monster of a grape that makes wines aptly described as “full throttle” by fans. Inky purple in color and loaded with ripe red and black fruit, spice, pepper, and healthy tannin, Petite Sirah is truly one of the wine world’s biggest wines.
A long misunderstood wine, Petite Sirah’s history is still something of a mystery to most people. And because I’ve seen it more and more on restaurant wine lists and in retail stores lately, I decided to do a little research into its history and makeup.
Until recently, it turns out, little was known about the stuff. Because it’s mostly grown in California, some thought it might be a grape variety unique to the state. Others speculated it was from France’s Rhone Valley, an area the so-called “noble” red grape variety Syrah calls home.
Turns out a late 90s DNA fingerprinting process at UC Davis revealed Petite Sirah is actually a grape called Durif that is the offspring of Syrah and Peloursin, two grape varieties hailing from France’s Rhone.
Fans of the stuff all breathed a collective sigh of relief when this was announced, as it means their favorite “pet,” as fans of Petite Sirah fondly refer to the stuff, comes from noble stock (Syrah). You can read more about the grape and its most enthusiastic fans at the site psiloveyou, which is dedicated to furthering the name and renown of the grape.
My research naturally led to drinking some of the stuff. I loved a version from California’s Sierra Nevada foothills from producer Lava Cap, something of a cult producer of Petite Sirah. I’m not sure if it’s from the many camping trips I took in the Sierras as a kid, but I swear I smelled Sierra campfire smoke in the wine.
Could it be that the granite soils in the Sierra foothills created this sensation? Our campfires used to be enclosed in circles of rocks—the same granite. If this is the case, the wine is doing an amazing job of transmitting terroir.
I also enjoyed a version from Norman Vineyards in the Paso Robles area. Its high alcohol was a little out of balance, but overall the wine was smooth and rich with the same ripe fruit, tobacco, and char aromas of the Lava Cap with less of its complexity.
I’d pair these wines with steaks and anything BBQ’d, as the smoke from the grill will be echoed in the smokiness of the wine, and its ripe tannin will cut through the sinews of beef like nobody’s business.
PS: definitely not a small wine.