06/06/07 – Petite Sirah (vs. Syrah)

By Jesse on June 4, 2007


Let me tell you — Wednesday’s meeting is going to be interesting for a lot of reasons.  First of all, don’t anticipate any amicability between Andrew and I.  The Cubs are playing the Brewers this week, and their three-game series wraps up on Wednesday, a few hours before the meeting.  Whoever wins the series will come decked out to the nines in the official garb of their respective team, so that all of you will know what’s up.  (Loser can only wear the hat.)

This week we’re tasting Petite Sirah, an increasingly popular California varietal that can be confused with Syrah, and for good reason.  Petite Sirah is the anglicized name for the French varietal Durif, created in the 1870’s as a cross between Syrah and a minor French blending grape.  Some wine texts have said as recently as the 90’s that Petite Sirah and Syrah are not related, but more recent genetic testing proves that Syrah is, as had been speculated, one of Petite Sirah’s true parents.  The whole story can be read on this page, which is provided by the “Petite Sirah Advocacy Organization.”  In 2002, the name “Durif” was approved as a label for Petite Sirah to help alleviate the confusion, but I haven’t yet seen the grape’s original name used on any labels.

Why call it “petite” — is it less spicy and full-bodied than Syrah?  No, in fact it may even be more so.  The word “petite” refers to the size of the grape, which is smaller than Syrah, and thus often produces a fuller, more concentrated wine.  Those of you who like big, jammy California structure will be in heaven.  The winemaker at Stag’s Leap in Napa describes the difference between Syrah and Petite Sirah as follows: “when done well, Syrahs are more forward, with violets and sometimes a gamy note, but then they can be hard and short in the finish,” he says, distinguishing his flagship Petite Sirah as “a more delicate wine than its deep color or flavor intensity would imply, giving off big aromas of blackberry, mocha and forest floor, and similar flavors that have a blackberry-syrup kind of richness, heavier and denser flavors than Syrah. I also find that Petite Sirah has a longer finish than Syrah.”

A couple months ago, Jason and I had the remarkable foresight to jump on a woot-dot-com sale of three bottles of Kent Rasmussen single-vineyard Petite Sirah from 2000, 2001, and 2002, so everyone who attends will have the unique experience of tasting three consecutive offerings of an excellent varietal from a top producer (read about these bottles on this page).  Also, because we already have three bottles lined up, we do not need everyone to bring a bottle.  Since we want to compare Petite Sirah to its parent Syrah — and because good bottles of Petite Sirah aren’t cheap — please do one of the following two things:

1.  Bring a $10 donation
2.  Bring a bottle of Petite Sirah priced at $20 or more (please feel free to split this bottle with a friend… if you can’t find someone to split with, you can just take someone else’s $10 donation when you get there to offset the balance)
3.  Bring a bottle of Syrah priced at $20 or more for comparison (again, please plan to split with someone)

This will assure that we have a smaller number of excellent bottles to compare with the Rasmussen.  It’s going to be a really interesting tasting — happy shopping!

We’ll be meeting at Jason’s nautically-themed apartment in Brentwood.  Pair up with a friend for a good bottle of Petite or regular Syrah — or buy your own good bottle and plan to reimbursed — or bring a $10 donation.  We’ll see you on Wednesday night at 9:00.