02/12/08 – Petite Sirah (and Syrah too!)

By Jesse on February 11, 2008

Hello people,

First of all, good news — Jason has discovered a wine store that’s having an absurd sale.  In his words: I went to a wine store today in Pasadena called Le Petit Vendome. They are having a 20-30% off sale on a lot of their wines. Good selection and nice stuff. They had the Rose Protocolo, which I bought for $6, and an Auslese Riesling that I got for around $35 with the sale. The guy working there (owner?) is a bit of a character, but the place is worthwhile for a visit. Sale is on until they sell the inventory.  If you guys are interested in checking it out, it’s located at 906 Granite Drive, Pasadena, 91101.  Might be a great place to buy this week’s bottle!

This week we’ve got a few new members attending, which is great, because we’ll be addressing one of the most frequently-asked questions in the wide world of wine-tasting, and one that continues to baffle even some winos who think they really know their stuff: what is the difference between Syrah, Shiraz, and Petite Sirah?  I’ll give you the quick answer… for the details, you’ll have to come do some drinkin’.

Syrah is a red grape most famously utilized in France’s Rhone Valley, where it is used to make delicious wine from Hermitage as well as forming an important part of blends from Chateauneuf-du-Pape and Cotes-du-Rhone.  Here in the new world, it is made into single-varietal (100% Syrah) wines full of dark fruit and pepper characteristics, as well as being blended into California Meritage (Rhone-style) wines.  In the US, and more frequently in Australia and South America, the grape is often called Shiraz.  We’ll get into the nomenclature more at the meeting, but the important point to be aware of is that “Syrah” and “Shiraz” are the exact same grape.  Never doubt that.

Petite Sirah is a different grape; however, it’s very closely related to Syrah.  Petite Sirah is another 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 mouth-feel will be in heaven.  Petite Sirah grapes “make big, assertive red wine. Powerful tannins and dark, almost black color are characteristics that the diehard Petite Sirah fan seeks out. The flavors of pepper, nutmeg and clove spice dominate the fruit flavors of rich berry and boysenberry jam, finishing with rustic spiciness.”  In comparison, Syrah features medium to full body, “plum and blackberry fruit, smoke and leather, and pepper and spice.”  I’ve taken those descriptions from this website which I encourage all of you to read before Tuesday night.

For this meeting, you have three options:

1)  Bring a $10 donation to the Young Winos fund

2)  Go to a wine shop and ask for help finding a delicious Petite Sirah
3)  Buy a Syrah — or “Shiraz” — at a wine shop or grocery store (please plan to spend around $15 or more, because some cheap grocery store Syrahs can be pretty gnarly)

We’ll be meeting at Jason’s nautically-themed apartment in Brentwood. Grab yourself a delicious bottle of Syrah or Petite Sirah — or a $10 donation, which we love — and we’ll plan to see you all at 9pm on Tuesday!