Once again we had a fantastic Grape of the Night adventure at Valencia Wine Company. The varietal for this adventure was Petite Sirah. I was corrected by many of my readers for posting the incorrect spelling. I am glad to see so many detail oriented readers in our group actually read what I write.
Petite Sirah contrary to its name is far from being petite. It is a heavy hitter with lots of body, spicy, high tannins and very deep and intense colors. This wine is seldom jammy. In flavor, it fits between the syrah and zinfandel. The typical flavors of a petite shirah are plum, raspberry, blackberries and black pepper. The color is dark blue to purple. Because of high acids and tannins, these wines have the ability to age up to 20 years sometimes. The high tannin levels are the result of a high skin to juice ratio due to the small size of the grapes. This is really noticed in petite sirahs that undergo a long maceration period. Maceration is the process of leaching out tannins, color and flavor from the skins and seeds of the grapes. For those interested in learning a little chemistry these chemicals are known as phenols.
Let’s talk about the petite sirah grape. Why is it called petite? Those of us at the tasting will agree that these are not light weight wines. The petite in petite shirah actually refers to the size of grape berries which are smaller in size than most grapes. The grapes form tight clusters on the vine which leads to issues with rot if grown in rainy regions.
Petite sirah is primarily grown in California and Australia. The origin is somewhat confusing. Below is an excerpt from an article written by Friends of Wine on this dilemma.
Historically, the majority of vineyards plantings identified as Petite Sirah were actually mixed varieties of a dozen or more distinct types, but often including grapes with confusingly similar characteristics, such as Durif, Peloursin, and Syrah.
Just over 3,200 acres of grapes identified as Petite Sirah were planted in California as of year 2000. Although only a portion of these vineyards have been surveyed, recent DNA evidence from research led by Dr. Carole Meredith at the University of California at Davis has confirmed most plantings to be the same grape as Durif. About 10% however, is Peloursin, which, observed in the field, is practically indistinguishable from Durif, even by expert ampelographers.
It was long theorized this was the case, that Petite Sirah was the same as the lackluster French variety known as Durif, a cross of Peloursin, yet another unremarkable variety, with the true Syrah. A French nurseryman, Dr. François Durif, propagated the grape trying for resistance to powdery mildew and named it after himself, in the 1870s. The inability of Durif to produce distinguished, high quality wines in France effectively nullified the value of its mildew-free attribute, especially since the grape’s compact clusters left this variety particularly susceptible to bunch rot.
Here is the lists of the fine petite sirahs tasted at GOTN:
· 2008 Hobo – Santa Ynez – Light nose and short finish. Very drinkable even at its young age.
· 2008 Girard – Napa Valley – Earthy nose with blueberry and mocha flavors. Very smooth and not overly tannic. These wines will develop a chocolate or mocha aromas if they are processed in new oak barrels.
· 2005 Clayhouse Estate – Paso Robles – Barnyard nose and very smooth on the palate
· 2009 Turley – Paso Robles – Blueberry nose and taste with a tobacco finish.
· 2006 Consilience – Santa Barbara – Nothing but pure BLUEBERRIES!!!
As always, it was a fantastic night. Gino and Guy were at the top of their game attending to our every wish. I am really thankful for having such good friends to help spread the knowledge and passion about wines. The examples brought by everyone to this tasting was spectacular. I can’t wait for the next GOTN. The next GOTN will be on June 6, 2011 starting at 7PM and the varietal will be Tempranillo. Again, we are looking for pure varietals which means that the wine must have 85% or higher of Tempranillo.