Have you noticed that Petite Sirah is a well-known grape but not a popular one? I’ve never overheard anyone requesting a glass of Petite Sirah in a bar, and I rarely see it on a wine list. But I have seen it in many blends. In fact, Clark Smith, a leading authority on the enhancement of wine structure says, “the best Zinfandels have Petite Sirah in them.”
Why is a grape that is so popular as a blending grape not wildly popular as its own varietal?
There are clues to the answer. Notably, until 1997, it was a bit of a bastard grape, suffering from a lack of legitimately proved parentage. Luckily, a U.C. Davis researcher determined that indeed, Petite Sirah is in the same league as Cabernet Sauvignon and other grapes with French parents (important distinction in the wine world). PS parents are Peloursin and Syrah and another name for PS is Durif, which is French.
So now that its pedigree has been established, why is it still not a popular single varietal?
It seems that it’s just a matter of time. I’ve learned to appreciate that wine is an ancient craft so while the modern era rushes forward, there remains a pedantic commitment to prove a grape’s worthiness before collectors and oenophiles will embrace it.
It was only 1992, when California producers founded a trade association and started keeping records on Petite Sirah growers/producers. It doesn’t seem to matter that the grape was planted in California as early as 1878; it faces challenges similar to newly discovered varietals .
The exciting news is that there is a renaissance of intellectual curiosity about Petite Sirah. Growers in the hot, dry, California climes of Livermore Valley, Lake County and Lodi as well as some cooler areas are sharing information about their techniques, failures and successes. They are mostly making 500 cases or less and selling them directly to winery visitors and club members. Interesting, that the grape’s relative under-appreciation may just establish a cult following.
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