The Pleasures of Petite Sirah

2009Lot 96 bottle shotFor a change of wine pace at your next party, put aside the usual suspects—Cabernet Sauvignon,  Merlot,  Syrah and the rest of the common cru—and uncork a bottle of California Petite Sirah or petty sir as the old timers called it.

The back story on Petite Sirah is a little complicated.  It was developed in the 19th century in southern France by Dr. Francois Durif after he found it growing unannounced in his vineyard. Turns out the grapes is a naturally-occurring hybrid of an old French variety, Peloursin and Syrah.

 When the grape was introduced into California in the 1880s, it changed its name, not unusual for an immigrant in those days, and became Petite Sirah. The new name was based on the mistaken belief that the grape was a clone of Syrah, rather than a hybrid.  (The real puzzle is why didn’t they just call it Petite Syrah?)

 Petite Sirah was often planted as a field blend with Zinfandel, among other varieties, and was widely regarded as a blending grape, not a grape to stand alone.  However, a few wineries have always taking it seriously, notably Concannon in Livermore and, more recently Stags’ Leap in Napa.

 In the right hands, it makes an excellent every day drinking wine, often selling for between $10 and $15 a bottle.  It has a rich, inky black color, black pepper tones and a full and lingering mouthfeel. True, Petite Sirah is not for the faint hearted. The flavors are robust and dense. Did someone say pizza?  And did someone else say tacos?  Right both times.  It would also be a great quaff for a casual wedding barbecue.



Some of my current favorites include Bogle,  Clayhouse, Concannon, Foppiano, Lava Cap, Parducci, Tres Sabores and Wilson Vineyards.

 If you want to know more about Petite Sirah and taste dozens of them, the Eighth Annual Dark & Delicious Petite Sirah tasting (with food to match) will be held at Rock Wall Wine Company in Alameda February 21. For more information check out and for tickets go to

Here’s a cool thing—there are discounts for designated drivers.

Check it out.