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Feb 22, 2001 07:02 PM

Sirah / Syrah / Shiraz

  • g

I see Sirah, Syrah, and Shiraz on wines lately. Which is the one that everyone is raving about? Or are they all the same? The first two appear to be spelling variants, but the third seems a bit of a stretch.

And what is "Petite Sirah"?

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  1. I'm running to a Syrah/Shiraz tasting right now. Will fill you in on the differences and the latest DNA research on PS if you're interested.

    25 Replies
    1. re: Melanie Wong
      Gary Haarcourt

      What timing!

      Yes, I'm very interested...pls fill me in when you get back. Well, maybe after you get a chance to sober up first....

      I dunno what you mean by that DNA crack, but sure -- PS that on there as well.

      1. re: Gary Haarcourt

        Syrah and Shiraz are the same grape. The French call it Syrah,it's found in the Rhone Valley. Hermitage,Cote Rotie ,Cornas and Crozes Hermitage are French Syrah wines. It's also can be parts of blends like Chateauneuf du Pape. In Australia the grape is called Shiraz,which has something to do with it's supposed Persian origins. Besides straight Shiraz,Australia also is big on wine blends such as Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon etc.. There are many excellant Aussie Shiraz's at many different price points. I like Greg Norman . There are U.S. Shiraz's also. Petite Sirah is an entirely different grape.

        1. re: howard
          Gary Haarcourt

          So just French vs. Persian spelling, huh? Thanks for the clarification.

          I did notice the mixed versions in the store. When something is 60% Shiraz and 40% Cab, say, does that mean the grapes are cross-bred somehow? Or is it just some Sheila mixing 'em up in post-production? And why is it just done with Shirazes? I can't say as I've ever seen a bottle labeled "Merl-Beauj" or "Lieb-Ries", for example.

          And..."Greg Norman"....???? Is that a label? I thought that was a golf pro! Is this akin to Newman's spaghetti sauce?

          1. re: Gary Haarcourt

            Melanie's (Chowhounds kind and knowledgable wine expert) remark about DNA refers to DNA analysis to find what the relationship is (if any ) between Syrah and Petite Sirah. The Univ. Cal. at Davis found that 90% of the Petite Sirah in California is the Durif grape. Durif is a cross between Peloursin (never heard of it) and Syrah. The bottom line is Syrah and Petite Sirah taste different. The next project is to clone Syrah and Sheep.(Baa Baa Grange)

            1. re: howard

              What are the basic sensoral differences between Shiraz and Petite Shiraz?

              1. re: Jim Dorsch

                A little knowledge is a dangerous thing – but much easier to understand. The syrah/shiraz are identical, but growing conditions change the flavour profile. Most Australian show intense black fruit flavours, almost jammy at times with a hot peppery characteristic. The French versions ripen more slowly and don’t move as far in that direction, so the less intense flavours are more noticeable. They tend to be more ripe red fruit flavours with coffee or chocolate tones.
                The petite sirah is usually the durif – and is pretty much confined to Californian wines. But mistakes are made and it could be other varieties. This grape has been considered as ‘less-great’ but I have had a series of old petite sirahs that have been magnificent. They age strangely. The colour doesn’t seem to change – they are almost black throughout their life. The fruit flavours here are more subdued – you don’t get the big hit up front. The flavours are darker – coffee, cherry/plum and some bitter chocolate in the finish evolving to a meaty character.

                I’ve never seen/heard of sirah on its own.

                And to confuse everybody even more, in France there are two ‘syrah’ grape varieties. The ‘Grosse Syrah’ is also known as Mondeuse elsewhere, and the ‘Petite Syrah’ (note the ‘y’ in both, compared with the ‘i’ above) is the true grape known as Shiraz/Syrah on labels.

                As for drinking recommendations – try almost any Australian shiraz. Most exports are good, and represent good value. The French are often not labeled with the Syrah, but this is more common with the newer southern French wines (languedoc etc) and they are also good value. Give them a try and judge for yourself. Unfortunately almost all Californian prices have gone through the roof, so it’s tough to find a value petite sirah any more.

                1. re: Alan Gardner

                  Traditionally in California, the grape called petit sirah was added by old time Italian wine makers to California blended red wines (usually Zinfandel and Carignane and what else was around) to add a dark color and enhance aging. Guglielmo Vinyards in good years bottles a Zinfandel/Petit Sirah blend they call Claret--something they've been doing for 50 years--and I've had 15-20 year old bottles that are excellent. Personally I find recently bottled Petit Sirahs rather one dimensional and not especially interesting. But after about 10 years, something remarkable happens. The wines seem to gain in complexity and subtleness. I never drink a petit sirah at less than 10 years old anymore. I find they're a good wine for aging if you have a limited budget. Often a 14 year old petit sirah that you paid 8 bucks for ten years ago tastes like 40 dollar import. IMHO.

                  1. re: e.d.

                    Another Petite Sirah fan! The structure of Petite Sirah marries beautifully with Zinfandel and Carignane. Even just 5% PS in the blend can plump up the mid-palate and lengthen the wine. The old Italians which pioneered the North Coast wine regions understood this and interplanted these varieties in the same vineyards. In less politically correct times, they called these field blends, Dago reds.

                    I've had some very fine Pets from Guglielmo, although the last vintage I tried had a brett bloom that was way out there. Other reliable producers include,

                    Under $20
                    David Bruce Central Coast

                    Over $20
                    David Bruce "Shell Creek"
                    David Coffaro
                    Christopher Creek
                    Lolonis "Orpheus"
                    Rosenblum "Kenefick"
                    Stags Leap
                    Stags Leap
                    Turley (better than the Zins)

                    I was very happy to learn from my friend Richard Sauret (who grows single vineyard labelled Zin for Eberle and Rosenblum) that he's put in some new acreage of Petite Sirah on his Paso Robles area ranch. The success of David Bruce's wines from the region is encouraging other producers to try their hand with the variety.

                    1. re: Melanie Wong


                      Thanks for the nice words. As for Guglielmo, I always liked what they called Claret better than either the pets or zins by themselves.

                      Concannon, Foppiano, and Parducci are all favorites. But I will also buy close-out specials etc. whenever I can get a Petit Sirah and usually have had pretty good luck with them.

                      I never have tried a spendy Petit Sirah. Are they really that much better?

                      1. re: e.d.
                        Melanie Wong

                        Petite Sirah is nearly indestructible and not as sensisitve to mishandling. A good bet to buy on close-out.

                        The difference I find with the more expensive bottlings of Petite Sirah is more polished winemaking style. The wines are not as rustic with more concentrated fruit extract and better integration of tannins, and perhaps some new oak shadings. Of course Lou Foppiano Sr. in his day would have said that the only wood his wine saw was the redwood fermentation tank! I still see him around the winery sometimes - I think he's well into his 90s now.

                        We had the 95 Robert Biale Napa Valley Petite Sirah at Wednesday's Chowhound dinner. It was a bruiser weighing in with 16.1% alcohol. Taste and appearance seemed unmoved from my prior tasting on release. I'm sorry I won't have a bottle of this waiting in the cellar for me in 20 years.

                        1. re: Melanie Wong

                          How well did this and the other reds match up with the different foods?

                  2. re: Alan Gardner

                    Shiraz is the workhorse grape of Australia. Cool climate, warm climate, table wine, "port", and sparklers, it makes a palatable wine in nearly every setting. But at one time it was in danger of losing out to Cabernet Sauvingon. Today though, the Australians recognize that their old vine Shiraz plantings are a unique style and national treasure in the world of wine. As James Halliday has stated, the future of Australian wine is Shiraz.

                    Currently producing Shiraz vineyards are mostly planted in warm climate areas - Barossa, McLaren Vale, Hunter Valley - which produce the character you describe. These wines often make me think of Raisinettes (chocolate-covered raisins) in liquid form. Also, low-yielding, old vines help concentrate this character. However, the style of what we think of as Australian Shiraz will change dramatically over the next 10 years.

                    Australia's national wine vision for the first quarter of this century called for increased plantings in cooler climate areas (e.g., Margaret River and Western Australia), and set national goals for new vineyard acreage based on forecasts of global market demand. There has been so much new planting, I've heard (but have not verified the numbers yet) that they're within about 20% of hitting the 25-year target, even though we're barely into the year 2001. If this is true, we're in for a huge wine glut when these new vineyards come into production in the next 2 to 3 years. Not only will the wines produced have a less jammy, cooler climate character, the young vines will deliver far less intensity.

                    Your comments on Petite Sirah's aging profile and organoleptic descriptors are spot on. I would add that I often find a cracked black pepper aroma and flavors. PS grapes have some of the highest anthocyanin content of any red grapes and the wines have the highest resveratrol levels, good to know if you enjoy wine for the anti-oxidant health benefits. This explains the retention of the blue-black color well into maturity. The high tannin and high acidity structure in balance with higher alcohol and dense fruit extract of Petite enables them to age well too. As you say, 20 and 30 year old examples can be absolutely magnificent.

                    To add to the confusion, the Mondeuse grape variety (and thank you for using the correct form of this word) may be referred to as Grosse Syrah in its home region of the Savoie but there are also fat-berried clonal types of true Syrah which are called Grosse Syrah. The Grosse clonal selection is allegedly more common in Australia. Both types are found in California, with recent plantings in prime growing regions leaning toward the Petite form, mostly what's called the Chapoutier clone. This makes a small olive-shaped berry with dark thick skin, and has a floral/bacon fat note when grown in Russian River Valley's cool climate that is very reminiscent of the Norther Rhone character.

                    The Languedoc has whole-heartedly embraced the Syrah variety as its noble grape. Including the VdPd'Oc areas as well as the AC's there is now nearly twice the amount of Syrah grown in the Languedoc as in the Northern Rhone. The appellations in this region with the highest quality are also those which have favored the Syrah variety - d'Aupihlac and l'Aiguillier (sp?) in Montpeyroux, Peyre-Rose, or the fine wines from the Faugeres region. Unfortunately, the price is really creeping up there and in many cases I'd rather buy a Northern Rhone wine for the same bucks. Vin de Pays d'Oc wines with the variety on the label can be very good values for every day drinking.

                  3. re: Jim Dorsch

                    Alan's tasting notes are very accurate. Try a bottle of Bogle Petite Sirah,it costs about $12. The more expensive Australian Shiraz is the less jammy it usually tastes.

                  4. re: howard

                    Durif is named after Dr. Durif, a French grape breeder. Apparently the Peloursin-Syrah was a natural cross, as he mentions only one parent in his writings and not the other, so it is assumed he did not know the "father".

                    There are some plantings of Durif in Australia, and locally, Santa Cruz Mountains Vineyards used to make a Durif-labelled wine.

                    Now that most Petite Sirah has been identified as Durif, the US BATF (only in America would wine be regulated by the same agency that oversees guns and ammo) is making noises that Petite Sirah should be banned from wine labels in favor of Durif. In recent years they have been concerned about consumer confusion between Syrah, Petite Syrah and Petite Sirah which is the same question that started this thread. Wineries such as David Bruce and Stags Leap which have been labeling their Pet as Petite Syrah since the late 70's had a grandfather clause to continue this practice. However, Turley adopted this spelling when it launched its first release in 1993 and other wineries have followed suit. Lots of confusion out there, although I don't think that changing to Durif is the answer either.

                    Durif is virtually unknown in its homeland. Same with Peloursin which is an old Rhone variety, and likewise considered a trash grape in France. This does make sense as both are late-ripening and more susceptible to mildew, a bad combination of traits in France which tends to have rain at harvest. Yet in Australia and California's Mediterranean climates, Durif can shine with a long dry growing season to reach full maturity. It finally found a home.

                    There are still some old mixed plantings of Calif. Petite Sirah that are neither Durif or Peloursin. The search for parentage continues.

                  5. re: Gary Haarcourt

                    French and American Syrah and Aussie Shiraz are the same type of grape with different names but you have to be aware that they don't taste exactly the same. Making wine is farming so factors such as weather, soil, temperture etc. all result in variations.Coffee from Kenya tastes different from coffee from Columbia. The grapes are not crossbred, these are mixtures.It's not just done with Shiraz,it's done with plenty of other types. Bordeaux for example is commonly a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc.The Italians blend Cabernet Sauvignon and Sangiovese.

                    1. re: howard
                      Gary Haarcourt

                      Hey, thanks for 3 great responses, howard. The obvious question to me, after reading the above, is:

                      What of French and American "shiraz" and Aussie "syrah"? Do they exist? Sure, Kenyan coffee and Columbia coffee taste different, but they don't switch to calling the latter "kaffe" (or whatever), every time they package some. In other words (sorta), does "shiraz" in and of itself tell you it's AUSSIE shiraz? Is "Aussie shiraz" then, in fact, redundant?

                      And what of "sirah". Is that just in the margin of spelling error, or is that in fact an Anglization of the French "syrah"?

                      In any case, why is UCal trying to "figure out" what's in a syrah? Are the people who planted it not around for comment? And is this such a hot topic that Melanie's comment fell on knowledgeable ears? I honestly thought she was referring to the earth-shattering genome-mapping done by CRA last weekend. Though I fail to see the connection with wine....

                      1. re: Gary Haarcourt

                        Australians call this wine type Shiraz. The French and Americans call it Syrah. On French labels the name of the geographical place it comes from will be present commonly, not the name of the grape.I.E. St. Joseph or Cornas.If a French wine has the name of the grape on the label it usually is inexpensive with the exception of Alsace. DNA is found in genes and by breaking down and comparing it you can find structural similarities and differences between people,vegetables,animals etc.

                        1. re: howard

                          With the exception of Alsace, which you mention, varietal labeling is forbidden by nearly all French appellation controls. The appellation rules in Cornas, St. Joseph and Hermitage require 100% Syrah content, which is how you know what you are getting. Cotie Rotie allows up to 20% blending of Viognier into Syrah if it is picked at the same time and co-fermented. In actually, most Cotie Rotie wines are 90-100% Syrah.

                          On the other hand, Australian varietal labelling requires only 85% Syrah, and California, 75%.

                        2. re: Gary Haarcourt

                          Syrah is called Shiraz in South Africa too. But you need to say these with the appropriate SA/Aussie accent, more like SHEE-razz.

                          There's interest in finding the genetic origins of Petite Sirah because there don't seem to be any known plantings in the Old World (where all vitis vinifera comes from). Petite Sirah is also planted in Latin America - Argentina, Brazil and Baja California, Mexico. I recently had a PS from L.A. Cetto, a Baja producer, that was about $6 and very good for the price. Probably worth about double that.

                        3. re: howard

                          I just had an interesting disagreement with the worker/owner? of a small winery in Michigan. He informed me that the 2 grapes are not the same and gave me the story about how they are of Persian descent. How is it that a person who makes there living from the selling of wines can be ignorant of such a topic.

                        4. re: Gary Haarcourt

                          Aussies love to blend grape types, especially reds. They put out a Chardonnay Semillon blend that makes for good drinking. They have all sorts of red blends, the grapes are listed in order of the highest percentage first.Even though Greg Norman chokes in golf the winery that puts out their product with his name on it represents good value at an affordable price.Unlike Newman I doubt he gives all the profit to charity. (He spends it on funny hats and tanning salons) Rosemount makes a good Shiraz which is very easily available.People like Shiraz because it is a user friendly food wine that is a dependable good value from inexpensive to very high end.

                          1. re: howard

                            Two good examples of Australia Shiraz blends that should be pretty widely available are Penfolds Bin 389 and Rosemount Mudgee.

                          2. re: Gary Haarcourt

                            Cabernet Sauvignon is often faulted for being hollow in the middle palate, also called the "do-nut effect". Blending a Cab-based wine with Syrah, which has a plump mid-palate, fills out the wine and also makes it more approachable.

                            Besides in Australia, there are Cab-Syrah blends in Provence and Languedoc, both regions in southern France. Syrah is also gaining a foothold in Tuscany where it is found to be a better blending partner for Sangiovese than the Cabernet Sauvignon used in many Super Tuscan style wines. Some of the Tuscan Syrahs bottled on their own are very sumptuous.

                          3. re: howard

                            Syrah was brought from the Northern Rhone Valley to the Southern Rhone for planting by the proprietor of La Nerthe in Chateauneuf-du-Pape in 1830. Today La Nerthe has about 20% Syrah in its cepage, among the highest in the region. Gives it much darker color and a firmer backbone.

                            For the most part, claims that Syrah originated in Persia, hence, the name Shiraz, have mostly been discounted. However, Oz Clarke did a stupendous talk on the origins of Syrah and revived the Persian history at January's Boston Wine Expo. Unfortunately, my friend lost her notes. I hope that someone on this board may have been in attendance and can fill us in.

                            What is known is that Syrah was planted in South Africa more than 200 years ago. The original Australian plant material came from these vines.

                          4. re: Gary Haarcourt

                            Hi Gary,

                            Yes, it was indeed very timely. Thursday's blind tasting featured examples of Australian Shiraz from Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale (both hot climates), CA Russian River Valley Syrah, a beautiful Mendoza Argentina example (Luca) and a Shiraz from Stellenbosch South Africa (Kevin Arnold) that was one of the best I've tried from that country.

                            You've got some super responses here. Sorry to throw you off with my "PS" abbreviation for Petite Sirah. Growers of the stuff also call it "Pet", "Petite", and my favorite, "Petta Serra", which you must say with a lyrical Italian accent the way the oldtimers do.

                        5. shiraz. for good value get a 1998 0r 1999 black opal, or rosemount(both austaralians)