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Petite Sirah: Stealth Grape Approaching Its Moment?

2012 August 28

July-Aug 2012 096
Fred Swan center with magnum of ’65 Concannon Petite, flanked by Jim and John Concannon

Petite Sirah has been in California since the 1880s, but its role until relatively recently was in Zinfandel and mixed black blends. The first varietal Petite Sirah bottling didn’t appear until the mid-1960s. The acreage devoted to the grape in California has gradually climbed over the past dozen years so that it’s now the state’s seventh most planted red wine grape, with 8,335 acres of vines as of 2011. Over 800 producers are making Petite these days, a dramatic increase since 2000 when there were only about 60.

I have tasted numerous excellent Petite bottlings, including some with 10 and 20 years of age on them that demonstrate how Petite’s typically strong acidity and tannic structure makes wonderfully ageworthy wine. Some Petites are made in a more simple, ripe, fruit forward style, with less acidity and tannin, and I personally don’t find these very interesting or varietally correct. At its best, however, Petite Sirah can produce wonderfully complex, rich, black fruited wines, often with floral, blueberry, tar, licorice and peppery dimensions, and can age into something really stellar, with rounded tannins and savory qualities, with at least five to 10 years of bottle age.

Petite Sirah Symposium
Petite Sirah Symposium

I learned from this year’s Petite Sirah Symposium, the tenth year of this event, that the 2010 vintage, bottlings of which are just starting to hit the market, is probably the grape’s best vintage since Petite debuted as a “soloist.” Maybe this California heritage variety, which has for so long been in relative stealth mode, is finally poised for its breakout moment.

As I wrote here recently about domestic Tempranillo, when you’re a newer grape variety on the scene, you need a support group. To be successful, growers and winemakers working with the grape ideally need a network of other growers and winemakers to share information with, so that what works and doesn’t work gets communicated and known. Ultimately, you need a critical mass of information about and experience with the grape under different conditions—e.g., climate, soils, exposures and altitudes, as well as different winemaking techniques—so that what favors the grape’s best expression gets tried and repeated.

2012 Historic Vineyards Tour
old vine “mixed black” vineyard (Sonoma’s Old Hill Ranch)

Of course, as mentioned above, Petite Sirah is hardly a new grape here, since plantings of it as part of the traditional “mixed black” California vineyards—along with Zinfandel, Alicante Bouschet, Grenache, Carignane, Cinsault and other black grapes—date back to the 1880s. But although it proved a valuable blending partner for Zinfandel– contributing color, richness, tannic structure and ageability–the identity and origin of the grape itself remained murky for many decades.

As I’ve written here before, it was not until Professor Carole Meredith’s study published in 1998 that it was conclusively established that about 90% of the old vines known as Petite Sirah in California are actually Durif. Durif is a cross between Syrah and Peloursin, an obscure French grape with resistance to powdery mildew. The 10% of vines previously thought to be Petite Sirah that aren’t Durif turn out to be misidentified vines of Syrah, Peloursin, or a crossing of Peloursin and Durif. Durif was originally marketed in France in the 1870s by Dr. Durif as a mildew resistant alternative to Syrah. Since its tightly bunched grapes turned out to attract bunch rot and botrytis in France’s fairly humid growing conditions, however, the grape proved to be a dud in France.

Durif’s relative anonymity when it got to California and became one of several background singers for frontman Zin gave growers here time to work with it and learn to appreciate the qualities it added to wine. The hot and dry conditions of many of California’s wine regions helped suppress the botrytis and bunch rot that afflicted the grape in France, but over time we’ve learned it is also prone to other unfortunate conditions, like eutypa and dead arm diseases. Growers have learned how to spot and react to those conditions, however, because the qualities the grape contributes to wines has led it to command something of a premium compared to other grapes they might be growing.

It wasn’t until 1964 that a winery released a bottling of Petite Sirah on its own, as a standalone varietal wine. This was a 1961 vintage Petite from Livermore’s Concannon Vineyard, made after prodding by a Pasadena grocery store buyer who promised to take the whole production. (Thanks to my buddy Fred Swan, NorcalWine.com, we got to sample a magnum of the 1965 Concannon Petite over lunch. It was holding up rather well at 47 years, with good acidity and firm tannins yet.) It was therefore very fitting for Concannon to host the tenth annual Petite Sirah symposium at its winery this past July—a gathering primarily of growers and winemakers aimed at sharing information about growing the grape, marketing it and increasing consumer awareness.

older Petite Sirah bottlings

older Petite Sirah bottlings

The event consisted of a series of speakers throughout the morning, followed by an al fresco lunch and an afternoon tasting. Since it was over 100 degrees outside that day, the cool of Concannon’s cellars was very welcome for the tasting, although the temperature down there was really too cold to allow the wines’ aromatics to be displayed to their fullest advantage.

The speakers included both John Concannon and his father Jim; author and master sommelier Evan Goldstein; winemakers David Coffaro, David Mounts and Nils Venge; and Evan’s mother Joyce, a former restaurateur and consultant to restaurants and the food industry.

Evan summarized Petite Sirah’s current prospects by setting forth its weaknesses as well as what he sees as positives and opportunities. On the negative side, he acknowledged peoples’ tendency to confuse it with Syrah; the fact that it’s too big and too tannic a wine for some tastes; that it’s not one single grape (i.e., it’s mainly Durif, but there’s a collection of related grapes that get lumped in as Petite, as mentioned above); and the fact that its source country, France, is not behind it and therefore doesn’t produce examples that have inspired others. On the plus side, Evan noted it has a small, passionate following; goes well with food; is one of the few big reds that works with cheese; can claim underdog status; has a point of view and is not overexposed.

Joyce Goldstein echoed the food friendly nature of Petite in her talk, asserting it goes well not only with barbecue and roasted meats in general, but also with a variety of ethnic cuisines—from Turkish and Greek food, to Moroccan tagines, Brazillian churrasco, Persian stews and Korean short ribs. She suggested the spice flavors one gets on a variety of Petites–like anise, pepper and Chinese five-spice–should be accentuated in recipes meant to pair with it. She also urged those on the sales side to include ethnic restaurants in pitching Petite.

John Concannon reviewed historical documents he’d unearthed about Petite, including an 1885 ad from a Livermore paper offering Petite “Syrah” grape cuttings for sale, along with Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc; an 1890 Livermore Herald article mentioned one million cuttings of the grape being sent by Concannon to Mexico; and a 1976 edition of the Wine Spectator, back when it was only a four-page newspaper, saluted the 15th anniversary of Petite Sirah (dated from the 1961 bottling that Concannon sold in 1964). According to John, Petite Sirah is a “St. Bernard that wants to sit in your lap,” because it’s big and friendly.

Several of the assembled winemakers, including David Cafaro, opined that 2010 was going to be a breakthrough vintage for Petite—“my best vintage ever,” according to Cafaro.

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winemaker David Mounts

David Mounts, whose family has been growing Petite for 45 years in Dry Creek Valley, reported that hillside vineyards are ideal for Petite, since it really needs good drainage. He showed us a lopsided, “club foot” cluster he claimed was typical of deeper spots in the vineyard that tend to get excess moisture. He also feels that pruning is critical, and that it’s best to start early, before Thanksgiving. He explained that Petite vines are very dense, developing into hard wood. David believes that if you prune early when a lot of carbohydrates are moving downward, the wounds will bleed less and heal faster, leaving less of a window for development of the eutypa and dead arm diseases to which the vine is susceptible. David also reported that early pruning gets the season moving sooner, which is key to avoiding late fall rains, since Petite is very prone to botrytis.

David also explained that the clusters tend to be large and need room. He indicated that trellising, on T-stakes, has made a huge difference for his family’s vineyard, helping to bring in sunlight and counter Petite’s tendency toward rot. David and a couple of other growers recommended aiming for yields of three to three and a half tons an acre.

In summary, David told us that Petite is hard to grow, and finicky due to its susceptibility to dead arm diseases and its relationship to botrytis. For growers, however, it does pull in a premium price.

My very favorite Petites of over 450 wines I’ve tasted to date have come from Charter Oak, Corté Riva, David Fulton, Freemark Abbey (their York Creek bottlings from the ‘70s), Gustafson Family, Robert Biale, Trueheart, Turley (their Hayne Vineyard bottling) and Varozza. For my favorites from the symposium’s afternoon tasting, see below.

10TH ANNUAL PETITE SIRAH SYMPOSIUM & TASTING – Martinelli Event Center & Concannon Vineyard, Livermore, California (7/31/2012)

The stars for me at this event, with wines I rated 91 points or higher, were Aver Family, Cougar’s Leap, Gustafson Family, Mounts Family, Robert Biale, Ruby Hill, Saddleback, Shoe Shine (for a rosé) and Trueheart. The superstar of the tasting, for me, was Robert Biale, with four Petites or Petite blends I rated 93 points or higher, including an advance look at their 2010 Royal Punishers, which bore out the strong claims a few winemakers were making for the high quality of the 2010 vintage for Petites.

The best of the Petites at this tasting for me, wines I rated 91 points or higher, were:
2008 Aver Family Blessings – 92 points
2009 Cougar’s Leap Black Rock Ranch – 91 points
2009 Gustafson Family East Ridge Block – 92 points
2007 Gustafson Family – 91+ points
2009 Mounts Family – 92 points
2008 Mounts Family Petasera – 91+ points
2009 Robert Biale Like Father Like Son – 93 points
2009 Robert Biale Thomann Station – 93 points
2010 Robert Biale Royal Punishers – 94+ points
2009 Robert Biale Palisades Vineyard – 93 points
2009 Ruby Hill Estate Reserve – 91 points
2009 Saddleback Cellars Barrel Select – 91+ points
2008 Shoe Shine Rosé of Petite Sirah – 91 points
2009 Trueheart Vineyard – 93 points

For my complete tasting notes, and a little more background on a few of the wineries represented, see below:

Aaron Jackson

July-Aug 2012 110

  • 2009 Aaron Jackson Wines Petite Sirah – USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
    Opaque purple red violet color; aromatic, pepper, roasted black fruit, tar nose; big, rich, roast black fruit, tar, pepper palate; long finish 90+ points (14.9% alcohol, pH3.79; 24 mos in French oak, 40% new, 6 mos in bottle) (90 pts.)

Artezin

  • 2010 Artezin Petite Sirah Mendocino County – USA, California, North Coast, Mendocino County
    Opaque purple red violet color; tart black fruit, apricot nose; juicy, tart black fruit, plum, light pepper palate; medium-plus finish (97% Petite Sirah, 3% Zinfandel; 14.3% alcohol, pH 3.67; aged in 100% once-used French oak) (87 pts.)
  • 2009 Artezin Petite Sirah Garzini Ranch Mendocino County – USA, California, North Coast, Mendocino County
    Very dark purple red violet color; ripe plum, black fruit nose; tart black fruit, roasted plum, tar palate; medium-plus finish 88+ points (14.2% alcohol, pH 3.94; aged in 100% once-used French oak) (88 pts.)

Aver Family

July-Aug 2012 109
John and Carolyn Aver are the owners here. They bought their 8.25 acre vineyard in the Uvas Valley, at the southern end of Santa Clara County, in 2005. The southwest facing vineyard had already been planted to Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah and Syrah, and they have since added Grenache and Mourvèdre. Their winemaker is Kian Tavakoli, whose previous stints were with Clos du Val and Opus One. Blessings is the name the Avers came up with for their Petite, after their vineyard managed to escape the fires that ravaged nearby properties in 2008.

  • 2008 Aver Family Vineyards Petite Sirah Blessings – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Clara County
    Opaque purple red violet color; violets, roasted black fruit, pepper, charcoal nose; supple, tart black fruit, charcoal, tar palate; needs 3 years; long finish 92+ points (96% Petite Sirah, 4% estate Syrah; 15% alcohol, pH 3.5; aged in French oak, 60% new) (92 pts.)

Barra of Mendocino

  • 2007 Barra of Mendocino Petite Sirah Mendocino – USA, California, North Coast, Mendocino
    Opaque purple red violet color; maturing, tobacco, tar nose; tasty, tar, tobacco, cedar palate; long finish (96% Petite Sirah, 4% Zinfandel; 100% French oak, 20% new; 13.5% alcohol) (89 pts.)
  • 2009 Barra of Mendocino Petite Sirah Mendocino – USA, California, North Coast, Mendocino
    Opaque purple red violet color; tar, tart black fruit nose; tasty, ripe black fruit, ripe berry palate; approachable now; medium-plus finish (18 mos in mainly neutral French oak) (89 pts.)
  • 2011 Barra of Mendocino Petite Sirah Mendocino – USA, California, North Coast, Mendocino
    Barrel sample – opaque black red violet color; primary, pepper, tart black fruit nose; tasty, pepper, tart black fruit, tar palate; long finish 90-92 points (aged mostly in French oak, some American) (90 pts.)

Bogle

  • 2009 Bogle Vineyards Petite Sirah – USA, California
    Opaque red violet color; ripe plum, baked plum nose; sweet, medium bodied, ripe plum, cedar palate; medium finish (13.5% alcohol, 3.61 pH; aged in American oak) (85 pts.)
  • 2011 Bogle Vineyards Petite Sirah Rosé – USA, California, Central Valley, Clarksburg
    Medium dark orange red color with .5 millimeter clear meniscus; ripe, juicy, baked strawberries, cherries nose; juicy, ripe red fruit, red currant palate; medium-plus finish (88 pts.)

Cantara

  • 2009 Cantara Cellars Petite Sirah – USA, California, Central Valley, Lodi
    Very dark red violet color; blackberry, berry, ripe black fruit nose; juicy, very ripe black fruit, plum, vanilla palate, a little cloying; medium-plus finish (aged 30 mos in oak, 60% French, 40% American; 13.9% alcohol) (86 pts.)

Clayhouse

Concannon

Cougar’s Leap

  • 2009 Cougar’s Leap Petite Sirah Black Rock Ranch – USA, California, North Coast, Red Hills Lake County
    Opaque black red violet color; intriguing, violets, ripe black fruit, French oak, mocha nose; tight, intense, black fruit, cedar, tar palate; needs 6-plus years; long finish (14.5% alcohol; aged 18 mos in French and American oak) (91 pts.)

Denier-Handal

  • 2009 Denier-Handal Petite Sirah – USA, California, Sonoma County, Alexander Valley
    Opaque purple red violet color; savory, tart black fruit, chocolate nose; ripe black fruit, tar, chocolate palate; long finish (14.8% alcohol, 3.32 pH; aged 18 mos in 2 yr old French oak) (89 pts.)

Diamond Ridge

  • 2010 Diamond Ridge Vineyards Petite Sirah – USA, California, North Coast, Red Hills Lake County
    Opaque purple red violet color; baked black fruit, chocolate nose; tight, tart black fruit, violets palate; medium-plus finish (14.1% alcohol, 3.78 pH; 17 mos in neutral French oak) (87 pts.)

Don Sebastiani

Envy

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Fenestra

  • 2008 Fenestra Petite Sirah Ghielmetti Vineyards – USA, California, San Francisco Bay, Livermore Valley
    Opaque purple red violet color; tart black fruit, light pepper, lavender nose; tart black fruit, berry, lavender palate; medium-plus finish (aged 27 mos in American oak, 20% new; 3.65 pH) (89 pts.)

Foppiano

  • 2009 Foppiano Petite Sirah Lot 96 – USA, California, Sonoma County
    Opaque red violet color; tart black fruit, cedar nose; tart black fruit, cedar, light pepper palate; medium finish (85 pts.)
  • 2009 Foppiano Petite Sirah Estate Bottled – USA, California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
    Very dark red violet color; tart black fruit, tar nose; tar, tart black fruit, roasted black fruit, mocha palate; medium-plus finish (15.2% alcohol, 3.67 pH; 25% new French oak, 5% new Hungarian oak, 70% neutral oak) (86 pts.)

Guglielmo Family

  • 2008 Guglielmo Family Winery Petite Sirah Private Reserve – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Clara Valley
    Dark purple red violet color; ripe black fruit, black currant, raisins nose; rich, porty, ripe black fruit, plum palate; medium-plus finish 88+ points (13.2% alcohol, 3.75 pH, total acidity 0.56 g) (88 pts.)

Gustafson Family

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The Gustafson Family vineyard is on the northwestern end of Dry Creek Valley, near Lake Sonoma. It’s an old sheep ranch, with red volcanic soil, at an elevation of 1800 feet. The entire property, purchased by Minnesota-based landscape architect and real estate developer Dan Gustafson in 2002, totals 247 acres. Much of that consists of old groves of madrone, oak, and redwood trees, including a 300-year-old madrone with a trunk diameter of eleven feet that is thought to be the largest madrone tree in Sonoma County. A small portion of the property was planted starting in 2002, and now totals about 20 acres of vineyards that include Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petite Verdot, Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling. Winemaker Emmett Reed previously worked with winemaker Kerry Damskey, who has also been consulting winemaker to Gustafson. Grapes are fermented in open-top bins with a cold soak of several days, manual punch-downs, and extended maceration. The beautifully designed winery and terrific views from their vineyards also make this a great destination for winetasting trips to Sonoma and Dry Creek.

  • 2009 Gustafson Family Vineyards Petite Sirah East Ridge Block – USA, California, Sonoma County, Dry Creek Valley
    Opaque black red violet color; redolent, savory, roast black fruit, pepper nose; pepper, Asian 5-spice, tart black fruit, roasted black fruit palate; long finish (18 mos in French and American oak, 40% new; 14.38% alcohol) (92 pts.)
  • 2007 Gustafson Family Vineyards Petite Sirah – USA, California, Sonoma County, Dry Creek Valley
    Opaque purple red violet color; redolent, cedar, tobacco nose; tobacco, tart black fruit, smoke palate; drinkable nose; medium-plus finish 91+ points (91 pts.)

Line 39

  • 2010 Line 39 Petite Sirah – USA, California, North Coast, Lake County
    Very dark purple red violet color; savory, roasted plum, light pepper nose; tar, tart black fruit, light pepper palate; medium finish (13.5% alcohol, 3.45 pH, SRP $10) (86 pts.)

Michael-David

Mounts Family
The Mounts have farmed in Dry Creek Valley for over 65 years and grown grapes for 45 years, but only recently ventured into winemaking. They currently have 90 acres planted to 10 different varieties. Son David graduated in ’98 from Fresno State with a degree in viticulture and worked at Sonoma-Cutrer for six years before moving on to manage multiple vineyard sites in Napa Valley. In 2005, David, his wife and parents launched Mounts Family Winery, and they’re up to 3,000 cases a year while still selling about 85% of their fruit to other local wineries.

  • 2009 Mounts Family Winery Petite Sirah Estate Grown – USA, California, Sonoma County, Dry Creek Valley
    Opaque purple red violet color; tar, tart black fruit nose with a sense of preserved plums; tasty, tart black fruit, plum, violets palate with medium acidity; medium-plus finish (23 mos in French and American oak, 30% new) (92 pts.)
  • 2008 Mounts Family Winery Petite Sirah Petasera – USA, California, Sonoma County, Dry Creek Valley
    Opaque purple red violet color; appealing, tart black fruit, roasted plum, cedar nose; baked black fruit, baked plum, cedar palate; long finish 91+ points (42 mos in new French oak) (91 pts.)

Nottingham

Occasio

  • 2009 Occasio Petite Sirah del Arroyo – USA, California, San Francisco Bay, Livermore Valley
    Opaque purple red violet color; tart plum, roasted black fruit nose; plush, ripe black fruit, roasted black fruit palate with soft, ripe tannins; medium-plus finish 88+ points (18 mos in new French oak) (88 pts.)

PaZa

  • 2010 PaZa Petite Sirah – USA, California, Sierra Foothills
    Opaque purple red violet color; VA nose; VA, ethyl acetate palate; short medium finish (and the owners seemed to think this was fine) (NR/flawed)

Pedroncelli

  • 2009 Pedroncelli Petite Sirah – USA, California, Sonoma County, Dry Creek Valley
    Opaque purple red violet color; oak, tart black fruit nose; oak, tart black fruit palate; medium finish (17 mos in French and American oak; 14.3% alcohol, 3.67 pH, total acidity .600g) (83 pts.)

Ranchita Canyon

Roadrunner Ridge

  • 2010 Roadrunner Ridge Petite Sirah Rocky Hill – USA, California, South Coast, San Diego County
    Opaque red violet color; VA, tart black fruit nose; pepper, tart black fruit, charcoal palate; medium-plus finish (15.1% alcohol, 6 mos in new French oak, pH 3.7, total acidity 7.8 g/l) (88 pts.)
  • 2010 Roadrunner Ridge Petite Sirah Blue Petite Rocky Hill – USA, California, South Coast, San Diego County
    Very dark red violet color; pepper, blue fruit, tar nose; pepper, tart black fruit, tart blueberry palate; medium-plus finish (80% Petite Sirah and 20% Blueberry wine, co-fermented; 13.8% alcohol; 4 mos in new French oak) (86 pts.)
  • 2006 Roadrunner Ridge Petite Sirah Petite Sweetie Rocky Hill – USA, California, South Coast, San Diego County
    Dark red violet color; baked black fruit, chocolate, fig nose; tasty, chocolate, fig, ripe black fruit palate; long finish (14.5% alcohol, 12 mos in new French oak) (88 pts.)

Robert Biale

July-Aug 2012 105
The Robert Biale Petites, like their Zinfandels, are always remarkable wines–ripe and powerful, but also complex and balanced. This is truly a benchmark producer of Petite Sirah in California. They source their Petite Sirah grapes from three different vineyards. The Like Father Like Son bottling is a blend of roughly equal amounts of Petite Sirah and Syrah, with a dollop of 7% Zin. The name “Royal Punishers” is an anagram made up of the letters from the names of Petite’s two parents–Syrah and Peloursin. The winemaker is Steve Hall.

  • 2009 Robert Biale Like Father Like Son – USA, California, Napa Valley
    Very dark red violet color; appealing, ripe black fruit, chocolate, tar nose; tasty, chocolate, ripe black fruit, baked black fruit, tar, berry palate; long finish (equal amounts Petite Sirah and Syrah with 7% Zin) (93 pts.)
  • 2009 Robert Biale Petite Sirah Thomann Station – USA, California, Napa Valley
    Pre-release – Opaque purple red violet color; lifted, ripe berry, blackberry, chocolate nose; tasty, rich, black fruit, tar, tart blackberry palate; long finish (93 pts.)
  • 2010 Robert Biale Petite Sirah Royal Punishers – USA, California, Napa Valley
    Opaque purple red violet color; deep dark chocolate, ripe black fruit nose; tasty, rich, tart black fruit, tar, pepper palate with medium acidity; long finish 94+ points (aged 14 mos in French oak, 20% new; 15.7% alcohol) (94 pts.)
  • 2009 Robert Biale Petite Sirah Palisades Vineyard – USA, California, Napa Valley, Calistoga
    Opaque purple red violet color; appealing, violets, rich black fruit, blackberry nose; tasty, rich, blackberry, black fruit, tar palate with sweet, firm tannins; needs 4-5 years; long finish (93 pts.)

Ruby Hill

July-Aug 2012 104

Saddleback

  • 2009 Saddleback Cellars Petite Sirah Barrel Select – USA, California, North Coast, Red Hills Lake County
    Opaque purple red violet color with deep red violet meniscus; lavender, tart berry, toast, tar nose; complex, tar, pepper, tart black fruit, clove palate; long finish 91+ points (91 pts.)

Shoe Shine

July-Aug 2012 115

  • 2008 Shoe Shine Rosé of Petite Sirah – USA, California, Central Coast, Edna Valley
    Light medium orange red color with pale meniscus; natural, ripe blood orange nose; tasty, fresh, tart blood orange palate with medium acidity; medium-plus finish (91 pts.)
  • 2007 Shoe Shine Petite Sirah Solano County – USA, California, North Coast, Solano County
    Opaque purple red violet color; lifted, chocolate, nutmeg nose with a little VA; tasty, fresh, tart black fruit, mocha, chocolate palate; medium-plus finish 90+ points (92% Petite Sirah, 4% Marsanne, 4% Mourvedre) (90 pts.)

Thomas Coyne

  • 2008 Thomas Coyne Petite Sirah Quartz Hill – USA, California, Sierra Foothills, El Dorado County
    Opaque purple red violet color; tart black fruit, tar nose; tart black fruit, tar, light pepper palate; medium-plus finish (87 pts.)
  • 2007 Thomas Coyne Petite Sirah – USA, California, San Francisco Bay, Livermore Valley
    Opaque red violet color; smoke, tart black fruit, tar nose; smoke, tart black fruit, tar, baked black fruit palate; medium-plus finish (20 mos in American oak) (87 pts.)

Trentadue

  • 2010 Trentadue Winery Petite Sirah La Storia – USA, California, Sonoma County, Alexander Valley
    Opaque purple red violet color; ripe black fruit, tart berry, blueberry, violets, vanilla nose; ripe berry, black fruit, blueberry, violets palate; ready now; medium-plus finish (90 pts.)

Trueheart

July-Aug 2012 101
Patrick Smith and Ligeia Polidora purchased a flat, tree-less piece of land near downtown Sonoma. They got a report from U.C. Davis as to what grapes would do well on the property, and selected one of the four recommendations, Petite Sirah, based on the fact that it was one that they already loved. In 2004, they planted two acres with two-year-old Petite Sirah vines. They decided to head prune, avoiding trellises and wires. They sold off their fruit in ’06 and ’07, but decided to start making their own wine in 2008. The winemaker is Alex Beloz, who served stints at MacRostie Winery and Caldwell Vineyards before becoming a partner in Obsidina Ridge Winery, while still serving as winemaking consultant for a handful of small producers.

  • 2009 Trueheart Vineyard Petite Sirah – USA, California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Valley
    Opaque black red violet color; dense black fruit, tart blackberry nose; deep, inky, tart black fruit, tar palate with sweet, firm tannins; needs 5 years; long finish (14.9% alcohol, pH 4.00; 20 mos in 100% French oak) (93 pts.)

Viña Robles

  • 2009 Viña Robles Petite Sirah Estate – USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
    Opaque purple red violet color; savory, tart black fruit, light pepper nose; tart black fruit, pepper, tar palate; medium-plus finish 88+ points (78% Petite Sirah, 22% Syrah; 16 mos in French oak; 15% alcohol, 3.59 pH, 6.7 g/L total acidity) (88 pts.)
  • 2008 Viña Robles Petite Sirah Creston Valley – USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
    Opaque black red violet color; oak, tar, tart black fruit nose; oak, tart black fruit palate; medium finish (88 pts.)
  • 2008 Viña Robles Petite Sirah Fore Jardine Vineyard – USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
    Opaque purple red violet color; tart black fruit, tar, savory nose; savory, tart black fruit, tar palate; medium-plus finish (89 pts.)
9 Responses leave one →
  1. August 28, 2012

    Very thorough and informative read. I’d really like to taste a stand alone grouping of Petite Sirah with aged versions like what you’ve profiled here. It’s a tough grape to get a read on because there are so few dedicated producers and it doesn’t exclusively identify in any one region. You can’t go somewhere and move from tasting room to tasting room tasting only PS, it’s always one among many. Hopefully more events like the symposium will come around.

    • Richard Jennings permalink*
      August 29, 2012

      Matt,
      The best opportunity I’m aware of to do the kind of comparison you’re looking for is the annual PS I Love You consumer tasting event in the Bay Area called Dark & Delicious. I’ve written about it on this blog in the past. It’s usually held in February, and has been convened at the Rock Wall Winery in Alameda, California, the last few years. You can get on the mailing list for the event by going to the PS I Love You website here. Another opportunity is the annual Family Winemakers Events (in San Francisco, Pasadena and Corona del Mar) and just focusing on Petites there.
      Thanks for the kind words on the piece.
      Warm regards,
      Richard

  2. James Vineyard permalink
    August 29, 2012

    Enjoyed this report. Very informative. Thanks Richard.

    • Richard Jennings permalink*
      August 29, 2012

      James,
      That’s very kind of you. Thank you for reading.
      –Richard

  3. September 3, 2012

    Great post. Best summary of PS I’ve read. It is mind boggling how you do this. I often route for the underdog and have been a PS fan since the early 1970s when I went to my first PS tasting. They were emphasizing PS because so much attention was given back then to only Cabs. It is a varietal I have loved for years despite its many critics and those who think it only worthy of a blend with Zin. Concannon was one of the first and I seem to recall a very early wonderful Ridge. No idea what is ideal PS country but have had some wonderful recent Kent Rasmussen, Gustavo Thrace and Behrens Family. I’ve been disheartened by those weak, fruity so-called-Petite Sirahs without the tannin, acid, spice and other PS characteristics. We already have Australian fruit bomb Shiraz and fruit forward Zins. Why waste PS grapes by making it into something uninteresting? May as well make a rose out of it. That would be the ultimate insult to this lovely varietal that comes out roaring and mellows with age. It is the only varietal that is a big, interesting, pleasant to drink in its youth and also gets better with age. Those giant Cabs in their youth are only what we imagine. We taste them and know they will be great but don’t enjoy tasting them except for imagining what they will be like after they age. With PS we can enjoy a powerful wine in its youth and love it even more with age. PS is the most ‘dissed” varietal. I really appreciate your efforts to educate others on what an interesting and pleasurable varietal it can be when it is produced as a real PS with all of its varietal characteristics. Thanks. Cheers, TJ

    • Richard Jennings permalink*
      September 3, 2012

      TJ,

      Thank you for the immensely kind comments. As far as Petite Sirah goes, we’re clearly in complete agreement. I’ll have to check out the latest Kent Rasmussen and Gustavo Thrace offerings.
      Warmest regards,
      Richard

  4. Valerie Presten, Spring Creek Vineyard, St. Helena, CA permalink
    October 11, 2012

    Dear Mr. Jennings, Thank you for your article “Petite Sirah: Stealth Grape…” Most interesting and thought-provoking. However, I was disappointed to see that while you covered some Napa Valley Petite Sirah wines, missing was Rutherford Grove’s Spring Creek Vineyard Petite Sirah – which has been wildly popular both at the winery and in the market since the first vintage of 1997. I am undoubtedly partial because my husband and I grow the grapes, and have done so from 1997. I would encourage you to give it a try. Lucie Garrett identified our grapes as Durif, and I am happy to share their ‘history’ with you if you would like.

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  1. Richard Jennings: Petite Sirah: Stealth Grape Approaching Its Moment? | Rumors and News.com
  2. Richard Jennings: Petite Sirah: Stealth Grape Approaching Its Moment? | WestPenn Journal

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