Petite Sirah - A Journey Into The Dark Side


I've been a long-time fan of Petite Sirah with fond memories of the wines from the late 70's and early 80's on which I cut my teeth. Back then the wines struck me as something different, neither modern nor traditional but rather a bit of a brute that was slowly being tamed in its adopted homeland.

Parducci Mendocino Petite Sirah 2006 - 13.5%
Inky and extracted up front then turning refreshingly lighter bodied with a lovely brisk mineral note on the finish that accents the lurking blackberry fruits. A restrained yet eminently drinkable style perfect for your next backyard barbecue!

Mettler Lodi Petite Sirah 2005 - 14.2%
The deep nose of this wine offers up great nuanced crushed currant fruit with compelling notes of clay, curing tobacco and spicy, medicinal tree bark tones. In the mouth the currant and mulberry fruit is framed with licorice and milk chocolate notes in a wonderfully fresh and precise balanced style!

Well, a lot has changed since then but the inimitable character of Petite has remained virtually unchanged. What an odd wine this is, in many ways a true outlier. It's dark, almost black, with the ability to remain so for decades. Yet the wines tend to be very well balanced at around 14% alcohol, which by today's standards is relatively modest. The wines have big tannins but they are well matched by bright acids and a mouthfeel that tends toward inky but only becomes cloying in the most extreme examples.

And there is the fruit of Petite, rich with black fruit tones of plum, boysenberry and blackberries that can recall Zinfandel at times with their brambly edge yet there is something that sets them apart. There is a common note of almost vegetal floral tones that I find in young examples and of course the notes of white and black pepper that add such seductive spice notes to these wines. And then one finds the inky, earthy soul at the very core of these wines, a sort of framework or foundation that pushes the fruit out and gives it such depth and persistence.

Sophisticated Expressions of Petite Sirah at affordable pricing

Eos Estate Petite Sirah 2005 - 13.5%
This offers lots of complexity in a fresh, clean style with notes of white pepper, cured meats and chocolate on the nose that are followed by a real polished mouthful of fresh black cherry and black currant fruit. The finish is a bit inky right now but the nuanced hints of tea, candied orange peel and licorice bode well for the future.

Berryessa Gap Reserve Yolo 2005 - 13.7%
Wonderfully vinous and spicy on the nose with nicely integrated oak and mocha notes against a really fine cherry backdrop. Bright and super juicy with black grape and plum fruit that is rich yet light on the palate. This is refreshing and just lots of fun!

Clayhouse Petite Sirah 2005
This offers really intense classic aromatics of white pepper, grilled gamy meat, freshly roasted coffee beans and red currant jam. This is absolutely packed with fresh, vibrant boysenberry and black plum fruit. Rich and chewy but very well balanced with a nice roasted herb note on the long finish. Exuberant to drink!

So when I think of Petite Sirah it's not the complexity that strikes me, and that is simply not why I reach for a bottle of Petite. It's that rich fruit and subtle spicy character that I find so attractive. If I am to be completely honest I have to admit that it's the modest alcohol too. These are big wines that can handle the flavors and richness of a slab of smoky ribs yet they clock in at 14% and remain impeccably balanced! So do yourself a favor this summer and track down one of these great treats and see how much Petite Sirah, our own 'indigenous' Rhone varietal, has to offer!

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