Dr. Francois Durif, a grape nurseryman working in France’s Southern Rhone region, developed Petite Sirah in the 1870’s. Petite Sirah or Durif is a cross between the noble grape Syrah and the relatively unknown grape Peloursin. The resulting grape was unique for its resistance to powdery mildew, dense fruit clusters, and a deeply, saturated color. Although Petite Sirah is resistant to powdery mildew, the tight clusters easily succumbed to gray rot in the humid, Rhone climate. By 1884, Petite Sirah had made its way to California and to Victoria, Australia. The grape has done much better abroad than in its Rhone home, where it is virtually extinct today.
Now people get easily confused about Syrah and Petite Sirah. Syrah was introduced to California in 1878. Growers made the simple differentiation of the low yielding type of Syrah as “Petite Sirah.” Well, these were actually two completely different types of grapes. During the 1890’s, phylloxera destroyed virtually all of the true Californian Syrah vines. Petite Sirah was not affected, and by 1900, it became a popular variety in California. Syrah and Petite Sirah would now be planted in different vineyard blocks. By 1976, Petite Sirah plantings topped out at 14,000 acres. There are now small plantings in Oregon and Washington as well.
Petite Sirah has small berries, and thus a high skin-to-juice ratio. The finished wines show high tannin levels, high acidity, and the ability to be aged for a long time. Petite Sirah has dense, blackberry or crushed fruit character and a dry, spicy or black pepper finish. Check out the P.S I Love You website to learn more about this misunderstood grape. Remember, Petite Sirah is spelled with an “I”. So, when you’re thinkin of what to be pairin with this rich, age worthy red, think about firin and grillin a big slab o’beef.
Oswego Hills Petite Sirah
Petite Sirah is hard to find, especially in the Pacific Northwest. We were lucky to source a beautiful block of Petite Sirah in the Rattlesnake Hills of Zillah, Washington. Our fruit had amazing ripeness and intense flavors. During fermentation, we actually press the grapes a bit earlier than normal to help minimize the tannin extraction and promote the lush blackberry and marionberry flavors. There is still a nice balance of firm tannins with a rich, zesty finish. This wine will have a long cellar life and will pair well with all meats, pasta and stews. If you’re looking for something different to try, Petite Sirah may be the answer. Petite Sirah really has quite a following and we have also discovered that it makes a wonderful Port-style wine.