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Powerful Petite Sirah

Northside Staff Tasters: Dave Pohl, ed., Dana Malley, Alice Peters, Chris Coronel, Kelley O'Neill

When purchasing a bottle of Petite Sirah wine, just what are you getting? Many consumers likely think they are buying a Syrah bearing a slightly different name. And there are probably some who believe they are getting a “smaller” or lighter version of Syrah. The truth is a bit confusing.

Use of the name Petite Sirah began in California in the late nineteenth century, referring to red grape varieties thought to be related to Syrah, the noble grape of France’s Rhone Valley. During the 1990’s, DNA profiling revealed that the name was actually referring to four grape varieties: Durif, Syrah, Peloursin, and a crossing of Peloursin and Durif.

It is now widely agreed that Petite Sirah should properly refer to the grape Durif, a crossing of Syrah and the dark skinned Peloursin. Durif is today uncommon in French vineyards, but as Petite Sirah it is widely cultivated in the Americas.

The staff at Northside Wine & Spirits recently conducted a blind tasting of 21 Petite Sirahs, and generally found the wines to be true to type: deeply colored, full bodied, flavorful, and somewhat tannic. Poorer examples were a bit rough, possessing too much tannin, while the best examples displayed rich, blackberryish fruit, and were warm and satisfying.

The top wine of the tasting was the Robert Biale 2006 “Royal Punishers” Petite Sirah (Napa Valley), an extremely full bodied, yet polished, red wine. Its tannins are soft and mouthfilling, balanced by some awesomely intense dark fruit. With air the wine becomes more complex, revealing hints of vanilla and various brown spices. Some staff members felt it was even better when retasted 24 hours later! For a memorable bottle to serve with a special meal, its $40 price is fully warranted. “Royal Punishers,” by the way, is an anagram of Syrah and Peloursin [Sku 11983].*

The tasting also unearthed two fine values. The McManis Family 2007 Petite Sirah (CA), $11 per bottle [Sku 9162],* and the Marietta 2005 Petite Sirah (Alexander Valley), $15 per bottle [Sku 8650],* were both characterful, balanced, and flavorful. Serve any of these wines with game or beef, grilled meats, or flavorful dishes with mushrooms.

"Top Wine Picks" as seen in The Ithaca Journal 4/6/2009.

*To Purchase this wine, simply type its "Sku" into the "Find" field at the top of the page, then click "Go."

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