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Petite Sirah

I never like to make blanket statements, but I have never really found much of a use for this grape. Every time I have been to a tasting room and had this, it has burned my mouth with its fierce tannins, and generally made my throat feel like it was full of chalk. Even when I've had bottles that had some the tannin tamed down, I found them pretty unimpressive.

So, if there are fans of this grape on here, is there something I am missing? What producers make a good one?

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  1. turley on the high end, rosenblum on the affordable end. the heritage clones from rosenblum comes in easily under $20. if you don't like it, it's ok. you don't have to like every grape. cheers!

    1. My favourite varietal currently! David Bruce-excellent, Bogle-very good. The grape is known as Durif in Australia and I highly recommend Nugan Estates. California and Australia seem to be the two areas where these are coming from and both are completely different, Californians being smoother and Australians being much bolder....

      1. i've liked fulton's petite sirah

        1. Foppiano (www.foppiano.com) is another winery with a long history of producing estate-bottled petite sirah.

          Also, check out www.psiloveyou.org

          Petite sirah is a grape with a lot of guts. It is often used to add some heft & body to other California red wines.

          1. It's okay, most people have a love-hate relationship with petite sirah. It's not for everyone. I'm one of those that love it. When I think of petite sirah, the first word that comes to mind is brooding. Whatever it may lack in finesse and subtlety, it definitely makes up for in brawn and intensity.

            Yet it should be balanced. I do think that a lot of these wines currently available are much too alchoholic. My favorite, the Stags Leap comes in usually at right under 15%, and I usually prefer wines that are not any higher than 14.5%. I just checked the petites on my racks for ABV. The David Bruce is at 13.9%. The 2005 Rosenblum Heritage Clones from SF Bay is at 14%. OTOH, this is somewhat made up for by the fact that Stags generally hold their vintages longer before releasing so the wine has a chance to calm down a little. Nevertheless, a decanter or 30 minutes in the glass is a good idea.

            Funny, I just posted something about using petite sirah as a pseudo-dessert wine. I see that you're in NY as well. The dessert place Chikalicious in the EV serves a Vinum Petite Sirah "Pets" from Clarksburg as one of their dessert wine options. I'm not a fan of this particular winery, but I see how it could work as an alternative to other dessert wines.

            The three that I've mentioned should be readily available in NYC. I agree that both Rosenblum and David Bruce are very good. You should also be able to find Concannon for less than $15. On the high end, Switchback Ridge supposedly makes an excellent petite, though I have no personal experience.

            1. NO grape is for everyone. This is no less true of Cabernet Sauvignon, for example, than it is of Petite Sirah.

              Ridge Vineyards (Santa Cruz Mountains winery - Spring Mountain AVA grapes), Freemark Abbey Winery (Napa Valley winery - Spring Mountain AVA grapes), and Burgess Cellars (Napa Valley winery - Napa Valley AVA grapes) were the three stellar producers of the 1970s.

              Today, my favorites are:

              -- Storrs Winery (Santa Cruz Mountains winery; Santa Cruz Mountains AVA grapes) http://www.storrswine.com/

              -- Ridge Vineyards (Santa Cruz Mountains winery; Spring Mountain AVA grapes) http://www.ridgewine.com/

              -- David Bruce Winery (Santa Cruz Mountains winery; Central Coast AVA grapes) http://www.davidbrucewinery.com/

              Also well-worth seeking out are the Petite Sirahs from:

              -- Cedarville Vineyard (Sierra Foothill winery; Sierra Foothills AVA grapes) http://www.cedarvillevineyard.com/

              -- Foppiano (Sonoma winery; Russian River AVA grapes; probably the winery with the *second* longest experience in producing Petite as a varietal wine) http://www.foppiano.com/

              -- Granite Springs (Sierra Foothills winery; Sierra Foothills AVA grapes) http://www.latcham.com/

              -- Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard (Santa Cruz Mountain winery; McDowell Valley AVA grapes) http://www.santacruzmountainvineyard....

              -- Stags' Leap Winery (Napa Valley winery; Napa Valley AVA grapes) http://www.stagsleap.com/

              and many others . . . .

              FWIW, Turley does produce an excellent -- albeit expensive -- wine from Petite Sirah. Bogle does a good and affordable job.

              * * * * *

              As an aside, although Petite Sirah/Durif has been planted in California for a considerable time, Jim Concannon was the first to actually produce Petite Sirah as a varietal wine, from the 1965 vintage.

              7 Replies
              1. re: zin1953

                Mengathon and Jason, have you had the Stag's Leap Winery PS lately? It seems about four vintages ago, they changed their fruit source, and the wine was quite disappointing. Wondering if the SLW PS has been returned to its former glory.

                1. re: maria lorraine


                  The last Stags Leap PS I had was the '02 back around Thanksgiving. I thought it was fairly representative of the ones I have had in the past. These include the '99 and the '01.

                  I was unaware they changed their grape source. If they changed it four vintages ago, that means the the '02 was different. Unfortunately, I have no basis for comparison with their earlier vintages. If and when I pick up the '03, I'll let you know.

                  Thanks for the headsup.

                2. re: zin1953

                  For my budget, I like the Bogle. It's actually one of my favorite wines... I love the bold ripeness of Petit Sirah. Most are also a very deep rich plum color making them look thick and luscious in the glass.

                  1. re: zin1953

                    Yeah, I'd recommend the Bogle as a way to an affordable Petite experience. I just tasted a ciuple of M2 wines (Sierra Foothills/Lodi) that had 20 Petite blended with 80 syrah and 30 Syrah/50Cab. The Petite adds a very deep dimension even at that smallish percentage.

                    BTW, just my opinon but, if you don't like Petite Sirah, don't go anywhere near anything that is dominated by Tannat. Wow! I'd never tried it until the other day. Mega-tannins that wiped out any other elements.

                    1. re: Midlife

                      Not all Tannat-dominated blends are super-tannic. I've had some from South America that were downright mellow.

                      Madiran can be harsh when young but it ages well. I've got a case of 2001 Peyros (80% Tannat, 20% Cab Franc) in my cellar I don't plan to touch for two years.

                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                        Good to know. The two I tried were French, one 65% & the other 80% Tannat and both hugely tannic. One was Chateau Bouscasse and the other Montus, which I think are both Madiran and both from properties owned by Alain Brumont. The variety is new to me and I was really taken aback by this introduction.

                      2. re: Midlife

                        regarding tannat, the guy at my local wine store called it petite sirah on steroids. he cracks me up

                    2. One of the difficulties with Petite Sirah is that I think it often requires a substantial amount of bottle aging to tame those big tannins. This is only more pronounced if you're tasting at the tasting room, where you will typically be getting a current release. Nonetheless this was one of the first wines that got me started as a wino, after tasting the Stag's Leap PS some 10-15 years ago at the winery. I liked (and still do) somewhat big, brash wines, Zin and well-made PS in particular did it for me.

                      So I second the Stag's Leap recommendations and also the Foppiano as a reasonably priced, reliable PS that is also pretty drinkable young.

                      1. If you like huge oaky fruit bombs, try Guenoc's Langtry Estate.

                        I've liked Sean Thackrey's the most.

                        1. Petite Sirah is the main component in Chateaux neuf du Pape. It needs to be oaked and
                          aged for a while for it to be palatable, but is very complex when done correctly. Shiraz is
                          a clone of the Petite Sirah grape.

                          46 Replies
                          1. re: kheper

                            Petite Sirah is Durif, a cross between Syrah and Peloursin.

                            Syrah is the only one of those three varieties permitted in Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Some CdPs have a lot, some have a little, some have none.

                            Shiraz is another name for Syrah.

                            1. re: kheper

                              This is incorrect. Petite Sirah is not the same as Syrah. Syrah, not Petite Sirah, is a component of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. And as a southern Rhône wine, its main component is more often than not Grenache.

                              And Robert, I think you mean Syrah is one of the three main varieties, along with Grenache and Mourvèdre permitted in CDP. There are in fact 13 varieties permitted in CDP.

                              1. re: mengathon

                                I said "the only one of those three varieties." Syrah is among the 13 permitted, Durif and Peloursin are not.

                                1. re: mengathon

                                  There are actually 22 varietals permitted in the Rhone, of which 13 are red. What the prior post said is that of the three grapes related to Petite Sirah (Petite Sirah itself, and its "parents", Syrah and Peloursin), only Syrah is a permitted Rhone varietal.

                                  So I score it 3 right for RL (Petite Sirah is a cross of Syrah and Peloursin; Syrah, not PS, is a permitted CDP varietal; and Shiraz = Syrah); 2 wrong for KHeper (PS is not a main component of CDP; Shiraz is not a clone of PS).

                                  I was just going to ask if anyone had ever actually seen Peloursin bottled on its own and came acorss this interesting note on a website:

                                  "1996 - At the University of California at Davis, Dr. Carole Meredith and her colleagues determined by DNA comparisons that almost all (more than 90%) of the vines in Petite Sirah vineyards are Durif and the rest are Peloursin (the mother of Durif)"

                                  Somehow I don't think that Peloursin is getting bottled separately, rather is probably just getting thrown in with what's being bottled as PS.

                                  1. re: Frodnesor

                                    Just checked Wine-Searcher to answer my own question on Peloursin and the only thing that turned up were a few bottlings by David Coffaro which are blends, some of which have a pretty significant amount of Peloursin (the "Terre Melange" has 58% w/ the rest Syrah & Mourvedre).

                                    Followed that to Coffaro's website, which is pretty fascinating in its own right, including weather updates and a winemaker's diary that is updated at least weekly. Also a quite curious lineup of wines. Can anyone comment on the Coffaro PS or the blends? I've only had the zin.

                                    1. re: Frodnesor

                                      I've never seen a varietally labeled Peloursin, or a wine alleged to be 100% Peloursin.

                                      David Coffaro claims to have some some but he blends it all:


                                      1. re: Frodnesor

                                        Dr. Meredith actually discovered that a multitude of different varieties were planted and being grown in California underthe name, "Petite Sirah." Most (90%+) turned out to be Durif. The second-most was, in fact, Peloursin. A third grape was also identified, but several varieties did not match any DNA fingerprint Dr. Meredith had on file. These are clearly misidentified cultivars of some type, mistakenly identified as Petite Sirah/Durif, but their exact (and correct) identity remains a mystery.

                                        As others have already said, Durif (Petite Sirah) is a cross of Syrah and Peloursin. Durif was developed by Dr. Durif c. 1880, and is NOT one of the thirteen (or fourteen, or even fifteen)* permitted grape varieties that may be used in the making of Châteauneuf-du-Pape.


                                        * The 15 varieties are: Grenache (Noir), Syrah, Mourvèdre, Cinsault, Muscardin, Counoise, Vaccarèse, and Terret Noir, all of which are red; Grenache Blanc, Grenache Gris, Clairette,Bourboulenc, Roussanne, Picpoul, and Picardin. The list of thirteen only mentions Grenache once; the list of 15 mentions each clonal variant, and thus the increase in numbers to 15.

                                        1. re: zin1953

                                          That corresponds with what I once heard Sean Thackery say at a tasting, about how different farmers sold him completely different grapes as "petite sirah" and he wished he could label those wines "100% whatever's out there in that field."

                                            1. re: zin1953

                                              I always understood there were 22 total permitted in the Rhone ->

                                              Is CDP further restricted to the 15? And I've always been curious, who actually makes (and enforces) these rules? What would happen to a grower who (sacre bleu!) dared plant something else?

                                              1. re: Frodnesor

                                                French wine is simple to understand, and the "basic" label gives you a lot more specific information than, say, the "basic" label on a bottle of California wine.

                                                The basis of understanding a French wine is the 'appellation d'origine contrôlée," variously abbriviated as AOC, aoc, a/c, etc. The system, run by a quasi-governmental organization the Institut National d'Appellation d'Origine (INAO), governs -- among other things -- what types of grapes can be used in a particular wine, where those grapes can be grown (and where they cannot be), what the maximum yield of the vineyard can be*, and what the minimum level of ripeness must be prior to harvest.**

                                                Learn what is permitted, and you know all about French wines.

                                                / / / / /

                                                >>> I always understood there were 22 total permitted in the Rhone -
                                                http://www.hospicedurhone.org/resourc... <<<

                                                Why would you go to a website for a CALIFORNIA organization to learn about French wines???

                                                / / / / /

                                                Whether there are 15, 22, or 152 different grapes permitted in the Rhône is irrelevant. What is important is what specific grapes arepermitted in making THIS specific wine. In the case of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, 13 (15) grapes are permitted***. For a wine like, say, Condrieu, only one grape is permitted (Viognier).

                                                In the Northern Rhône . . .

                                                Côte-Rôtie -- red wine only: min. 80% Syrah; the wine may include anywhere from 0-20% Viognier.

                                                Hermitage -- red: Syrah; white: mostly Marsanne, some Roussanne.

                                                Crozes-Hermitage -- red: Syrah; white: Marsanne and Roussanne.

                                                Condrieu -- white wine only: Viognier.

                                                Château-Grillet -- white wine only: Viognier.

                                                Cornas -- red wine only: Syrah.

                                                St.-Joseph -- red: Syrah; white: Marsanne and Roussanne.

                                                St.-Péray -- white and sparkling wines: Marsanne and Roussanne.

                                                In the Southern Rhône . . .

                                                Châteauneuf-du-Pape -- Grenache [Noir], Syrah, Mourvèdre, Cinsault, Muscardin, Counoise, Vaccarèse, and Terret Noir -- all red wine grapes; Grenache [Blanc and Gris], Clairette, Bourboulenc, Roussanne, Picpoul, and Picardin -- all white wine grapes. All these varieties are permitted in making red wines; only the white varieties are permitted in making white wines; and the making of rosé is prohibited.

                                                Gigondas -- red: maximum of 80% Grenache Noir, and a minimum of 15% Syrah and Mourvèdre combined, with the balance being any grape permitted in the Southern Rhône; rosé: 75-80% Grenache Noir, with the balance being any grape permitted in the Southern Rhône.

                                                Lirac -- red & rosé: 60% maximum of Grenache Noir, with the balance being any or all of the permitted Southern Rhône varieties; white: minimum 33% Clairette, with the balance being any white Rhône variety.

                                                Tavel -- rosé wine only: Grenache [Noir and Gris], with a maximum of 15% permitted (in any combination) of Cinsault and Clairette, and a maximum of 10% permitted (in any combination) of Picpoul, Calitor, Bourboulenc, Mourvèdre, Syrah and Carignan.

                                                Vacqueyras -- red: 50% minimum Grenache Noir, 20% minimum of Syrah and Mourvèdre (any combination), 10% maximum other permitted Rhône grape varieties, excluding Carignan; rosé: 60% maximum Grenache Noir, with 15% minimum Mourvèdre and Cinsault; white: Clairette, Grenache Blanc, Bourboulenc, Roussanne, Marsanne and Viognier, with no single variety exceeding 80% of the blend.

                                                Beaumes-de-Venise -- red: 50% minimum Grenache Noir, Syrah 25%, 20% maximum of Mourvèdre and other grape varieties permitted in the Southern Rhône, with a 5% maximum white grape varieties.

                                                Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise -- white wine only: 80% minimum Muscat blanc à petits grains; 20% maximum Muscat noir à petits grains.

                                                Côtes-du-Rhône Villages -- red: 50% minimum Grenache Noir, 20% minimum of Syrah and/or Mourvèdre, 20% maximum other red varieties as permitted in the Rhône; rosé: 50% minimum Grenache Noir, 20% minimum Syrah and/or Mourvèdre, 20% maximum other grape varieties as permitted in the Rhône (including Grenache Blanc, Clairette, Marsanne, Roussanne, Bourboulenc and Viognier); white: 80% minimum (in any combination) Grenache Blanc, Clairette, Marsanne, Roussanne, Bourboulenc, Viognier white, with other white grape varieties not to exceed 20% maximum.

                                                Côtes-du-Rhône "generique" -- any and all grape varieties permitted anywhere in the Rhône can be used to produce CdR . . . HOWEVER, for red and rosé wines, Grenache must make up at least 40% of the grape variety mix (excluding Northern wines based on the Syrah grape variety); for whites, 80% of the blend must be comprised of: Grenache white, Clairette, Marsanne, Roussanne, Bourboulenc, and Viognier.


                                                * The maximum yield is measured in liquid volume per land mass (i.e.: hectoliters per hectare). The US, among other places, measures -- but does not control in any way -- the yield in terms of weight per land mass (i.e.: tons per acre).

                                                ** This is accomplished by insisting the grapes reach a minimum sugar level (i.e.: degrees of potential alcohol).

                                                *** No other appellation in France permits as many.

                                                1. re: zin1953

                                                  Thanks much. While I've been generally aware of many of these as typical varietal combos (i.e. Cornas being 100% syrah, Cote Rotie being syrah w/ small percentage of viognier, Gigondas being primary grenache) I never knew the %'s of varietals were as regulated by region as you've described.

                                                  Used Hospice du Rhone website b/c it was somewhat more wieldy than the Cote du Rhone website I came across, though I now see that too identifies the permitted percentages as you've described ->

                                                  I do have to disagree with the following:
                                                  "French wine is simple to understand, and the "basic" label gives you a lot more specific information than, say, the "basic" label on a bottle of California wine."

                                                  In fact the label gives you none of this information which you've described - it can only be gathered through external sources. Indeed, for wines that are blends it is pretty atypical for a French label to identify the components much less the percentages of the blend, whereas this is fairly common though not consistently followed for US labels.

                                                  1. re: Frodnesor


                                                    I know -- simply by virtue of the fact that this label in front of me says "Cornas" -- that I am drinking 100% Syrah. I know -- because the label says "Côte-Rôtie" -- that I'm drinking a wine made [almost] exclusively from Syrah, and perhaps a touch of Viognier. I know that my Charmes-Chambertin is 100% Pinot Noir; that my Musigny is almost all Pinot Noir but may contain a bit of Chardonnay; that my Chinon rouge is pure Cabernet Franc, and that Pouilly-Fumé is pure Sauvignon Blanc; and so on and so on and so on . . .

                                                    I also know EXACTLY WHERE my wine came from -- Cornas can only come from Cornas, and not from St.-Joseph; that my Pouilly-Fumé came from there, and not from Sancerre; that my Chinon didn't come from Bourgueil. AND, since Charmes-Chambertin and Musigny are single vineyards, I not onlyknow the exact area, but the specific vineyard as well.

                                                    * * * * *

                                                    Looking at the legally mandated FRONT label only (and not the optional back label that may or may not even be there), what is in my bottle of California wine? And where does it come from?

                                                    Label #1 reads:
                                                    Opus One
                                                    Napa Valley
                                                    Red Table Wine

                                                    Label #2 reads:
                                                    Herman Story
                                                    San Luis Obispo Co.

                                                    Label #3 reads:
                                                    San Francisco Bay

                                                    Label #4 reads:
                                                    Vintners' Reserve

                                                    Can you tell me what is in my wine and where the grapes were grown? (Note: all four are real wines, but I would prefer you not check out websites -- just go by what's on the front label, by the information provided above. It's all you need, and the only information I omitted is the vintage date, the abv percentage, and the P&B line -- not of which affects the questions of what is in my wine, and where did it come from.)

                                                    No tricks. I promise. I'll give you a chance to reply, but even if you don't, I'll respond directly in the morning.

                                                    1. re: zin1953

                                                      Jason - I know you spent a gazillion years in the industry, but... do you really have all this stuff just in your head??!?! How early on did you have it all in there? I might be able to remember one or two favorites, but I can't imagine having all those names and their associated grapes and percentages memorized!

                                                      So, I'm with Frodnesor in that while the name on the wine might instantly inform YOU of what's in the bottle, I would have to have your post with me in hand and look it up! :-)

                                                      1. re: abowes

                                                        I'll fess up . . . a LOT of it IS in my head, but I also either verified and/or got some of the specifics (in terms of percentages) from one of the many reference books I have.

                                                      2. re: zin1953

                                                        OK, I'll play along.
                                                        #1 - is a Bordeaux style blend (predominantly cab w/ some merlot, malbec, petit verdot) coming from vineyards in Napa Valley. They choose to play it all mysterious by just going primarily by brand name and, in mock humility, calling it "Red Table Wine" (and, perhaps, because they thought the "meritage" term coined by others in CA to describe their Bordeaux-style blends was silly) but other producers of Bordeaux-style blends in California and elsewhere in the US will list the contents and percentages of the blend on the bottle (something which is all but unheard of in France).
                                                        #2 - don't know this wine at all, but from the label I know that it has to be predominently syrah (there's a legally required percentage for it to be labelled as such, which I think is around 75%), and has to be predominantly from San Luis Obispo County (again for the label to say so it may be at least a certain percentage, I'm guessing 75-85?), which if I know my geography (which you need to know in order to "read" a French label) is down south toward Santa Maria.
                                                        #3 - same deal as #2, except here "San Francisco Bay" is an appellation designation rather than a county. Theoretically more specific than a county designation, though the San Francisco Bay appellation is preposterously large. Will be predominantly zin but could have other stuff in the blend.
                                                        #4 - has to be predominantly Chardonnay, and can come from anywhere in California. I'm pretty sure California law requires that if it says "California" it has to all be from California.

                                                        You need to know a little external information to know the rules, but they are pretty simple and intuitive and you could probably get by without knowing them - if the label says a varietal (and they usually do) it's got to be mostly that varietal; if the label designates a county, or an AVA, or a vineyard, that's pretty much where it comes from. (Now perhaps you'll prove me wrong with what I assume were some carefully chosen examples!)

                                                        That's a lot simpler than the wealth of external information you need to know in order to "know" a French wine, e.g. ->

                                                        "I know -- simply by virtue of the fact that this label in front of me says "Cornas" -- that I am drinking 100% Syrah. "

                                                        You don't know that from the label at all. In a million years you would never figure that out from looking at the label. You know that because you know, along with dozens of other various rules, that the only wines that may be produced in Cornas are Syrahs. So yes, once you acquire a substantial body of knowledge, perhaps you can then "read" a French wine label and know what's in the bottle, but there's quite a bit of hermeneutics involved.

                                                        Even so, there's a tremendous amount of undisclosed variation in the contents of, for instance, a CDP and even more so with something labeled as a Cote du Rhone. I've got in my cellar a St. Cosme CDP which is 60% grenache and 40% mourvedre; a Marcoux which is 80% grenache, 10%, mourvedre, 5% syrah and 5% other stuff; a Janasse "Chaupin" which is 100% grenache ... I'd never know that from the labels.

                                                        1. re: Frodnesor

                                                          No offense, Frodnesor, but you're wrong. And the reason you're wrong is that you are bringing in extra information which you KNOW (and are by-and-large correct) BUT is not known from looking on the label . . .

                                                          Bear with me . . . I'm not trying toargue; I'm trying to illustrate . . . .

                                                          * * * * *

                                                          Label #1 reads:
                                                          Opus One
                                                          Napa Valley
                                                          Red Table Wine

                                                          A) You are correct that it's a red Bordeaux-styled blend, predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon. But all you KNOW FROM THE LABEL is that it's a "Red Table Wine," a generic wine that legally could contain any grape or blend of grapes under the sun. This wine (Opus One) is legally the same category/classification of wine as the 4.0L jug or bag-in-the-box of red (or white) table wine for $8.99; even Gallo Hearty Burgundy or Chablis Blanc are defined as "semi-generic" wines, while Opus One is a "generic" example -- but while there is a legal distinction between "generic" and "semi-generic," there is no practical distinction in the real world. There is nothing on the label that tells you this is a Cabernet-based blend; you bring that knowledge with you from the outside. When I purchase a bottle labeled (e.g.) St.-Julien, I KNOW what grapes are allowed in that wine andwhich are not.

                                                          B) Because "Napa Valley" is an American Viticultural Area (AVA), its presence on the label tells me that 85% of the grapes were grown within that AVA. Where did the other 15% come from? I have no idea by looking at the label; do you? (Short of trusting the wienry's reputation, reading the back label, or checking out the winery's website, I mean.) That same bottle of St.-Julien? I know 100% of the grapes came from within the commune of St.-Julien.

                                                          * * * * *

                                                          Label #2 reads:
                                                          Herman Story
                                                          San Luis Obispo Co.

                                                          A) This is a varietal wine, and so I know that it MUST contain 75% Syrah. It maybe100%, but all I KNOW for certain is that it contains 75%. What's the other 25%? I have no idea. It could be Viognier, like in Côte-Rôtie (the only other grape permitted in a Côte-Rôtie), but it could be Cabernet, Zinfandel, Chenin Blanc, Colombard, whatever! To be fair, in the example of a Côte-Rôtie, I have no idea if the wine is 80-100% Syrah, but I know that any part of the wine that isn't Syrah MUST be Viognier . . .

                                                          B) "San Luis Obispo County" is apolitical appellation, rather than an AVA. That tells me that at least 75% of the grapes in the bottle were grown somewhere within San Luis Obispo Co., but I have no idea exactly where. In a Côte-Rôtie (or Cornas or St.-Joseph, etc.), I know the ALL the grapes came within a much smaller geographic area.

                                                          * * * * *

                                                          Label #3 reads:
                                                          San Francisco Bay

                                                          A) Again, a varietal wine; I know at least 75% of the grapes in the wine are Zinfandel, but what the rest is comprised of is anyone's guess. (Again, this is from the LABEL itself, using no outside sources -- only a knowledge of the terms found on the label itself.)

                                                          B) "San Francisco Bay" is an AVA, so I know that 85% came from within this region, but it's an area that stretches over 1.5 million acres, from the very edges of the Central Valley (high Region III) to the foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains (high Region I; low Region II), and includes parts of Santa Cruz and San Benio Counties --not on the SF Bay itself! (shrug)

                                                          * * * * *

                                                          Label #4 reads:
                                                          Vintners' Reserve

                                                          A) Again, a varietal wine, so atleast 75% is Chardonnay. The rest can be (and in this case, actually is) a blend of other, less expensive grapes -- including Muscat. I know that my bottle of Mâcon-Villages, Chablis, Meursault, or Bâtard-Montrachet is 100% Chardonnay.

                                                          B) It's Federal law, not California, law that says that 100% of the grapes in this wine were grown within the State of California. Clearly this is a much larger area geographically than any particular AVA or county within California, but at least I know that ALL the grapes came from California. I'm not left to wonder where the remaining 15% (AVA) or 25% (county) came from . . .

                                                          * * * * *

                                                          My point, Frodnesor, it that I'm left with far fewer questions from a French (or Italian, or Spanish, or Portuguese, or German, or Austrian, etc.) label than I am from the label on a bottle of California wine.

                                                          I should mention that California labels merely echo American labeling regulations, and so this applies [almost] to every other state. Oregon wine labeling regulations, for example, are more strict than Federal (and therefore, Californian) regulations. Also, the Federal requirement that a varietal wine must contain not less than 75% of that one grape variety applies ONLY to wines produced from Vitis vinifera, as well as V. aestivalis and so-called "French-American" hybrids. Wines produced from Vitis labrusca, however, need only contain 51% of that one variety.

                                                          C'est la vie . . .


                                                          1. re: zin1953

                                                            When I first started drinking wine seriously, I gravitated to the New World varietal-labeled wines because they were the only ones I understood. The Old World ones were difficult, and the French ones, especially from Rhône and Loire were completely beyond me.

                                                            With experience and background knowledge though, I now much prefer the French labeling regulations. With the exception of CDP, the specificity of the appellations tell me exactly what I am getting, even from an unfamiliar producer, something that I find lacking with the huge appellations of California.

                                                            1. re: zin1953

                                                              "And the reason you're wrong is that you are bringing in extra information which you KNOW (and are by-and-large correct) BUT is not known from looking on the label . . . "

                                                              That's exactly my point about French labeling. There's absolutely nothing on the label of a Cornas that says it's 100% syrah (or syrah at all, for that matter), nothing on a CDP that says that it's from any of 15 various varietals, much less how much of any one of them or which is predominant, nothing on a Cote-Rotie that says it's Syrah with potentially a percentage of Viognier, etc.

                                                              Every single one of these pieces of information comes not from the label, but from "extra information which you KNOW .. BUT is not known from looking at the label."

                                                              Undoubtedly YOU are left with fewer questions from a French label than from a California label, but that's because YOU already have this substantial body of external information. For the average consumer, they will understood a lot more about a wine that's labeled "San Luis Obispo County Syrah" (from that label alone), than they will understand what "Domaine de Marcoux Chateauneuf du Pape" is (from its label alone).

                                                              No doubt once you have the same body of knowledge that someone like you possesses of the rules on what wines may be produced where, these rules are often much more specific that the rules governing US labeling - but those rules aren't printed on the label.

                                                              1. re: Frodnesor

                                                                I should also add that just to explain the rules applicable to Rhone varietals alone took you about 50+ lines. All US bottles can be explained by a couple simple rules ->

                                                                (1) If a varietal is listed on the label it's at least 75% that varietal.
                                                                (2) If a county, AVA, or vineyard is listed on the label (in that order of specificity, generally), that's predominantely where the grapes were grown.

                                                                With those two rules I think you can successfully decode about 90% of US wine labels.

                                                                And the vagueness of, for instance, Opus One's "Red Table Wine" is the equivalent of the Super-Tuscans which - because they broke with similar rules requiring only certain grapes in certain regions - had to be labeled as "Vino da Tavola" (the contents of which can be equally mysterious).

                                                                1. re: Frodnesor

                                                                  >>> I should also add that just to explain the rules applicable to Rhone varietals alone took you about 50+ lines. <<<

                                                                  It's an unfair comparison because I listed some (and only some) of the regulations for several wines. That said, I will not deny that French AOC regs are much greater in length than American TTTB regs (though keep in mind, there is a lot more to CFR 27 than your two lines above).

                                                                  Why is that?

                                                                  Because one size does not fit all. So there are hundreds of different appellations, each with their own set of regs. YES, this is a much more complicated system. But it also controls so much more . . .

                                                                  For example:

                                                                  -- all appellations regulate EXACTLY what grapes may be used to make the wine; there is no such equivalent in US regulations.

                                                                  -- all appellations regulate EXACTLY where these grapes may be grown to make the wine; there is a vague equivalent in US regs, but only when the appellation is a state is there 100% certainly of the grapes' origins (and then, you're looking at an entire state; anything smaller, and there are significantly sized loopholes).

                                                                  -- all appellations regulate EXACTLY how many grapes may be grown per hectare (HL/ha); there is no such equivalent in US regulations.

                                                                  -- all appellations regulate EXACTLY the minimum level of ripeness the grapes must achieve before they can be harvested; there is no such equivalent in US regulations.

                                                                  -- many appellations regulate EXACTLY how the grape vines must be pruned; there is no such equivalent in US regulations.

                                                                  -- many appellations regulate EXACTLY how long the wine must be aged prior to being released for sale; there is no such equivalent in US regulations.

                                                                  -- some appellations mandate the grapes be infected with Botrytis; there is no such equivalent in US regulations.

                                                                  and so on and so on . . .

                                                                  * * * * *

                                                                  Actually, many so-called "Super-Tuscans" are NOT vino da tavolas, but are actually IGTs.

                                                                2. re: Frodnesor

                                                                  So, I've been following this debate with some interest and I think you're both right and that you're both using the word "know" differently.

                                                                  What zin1953 means is that using both the label and his knowledge of wine, he can derive more facts about french wine than american wine, primarily because french rules about what can go in what bottle are more strict. So, using knowledge + the label, you can know 100% what is in the bottle you're drinking without any doubts when you're dealing with French wine. The same isn't true with American wine, where you'll only know approximately what's in the bottle because the rules are more variable.

                                                                  What Frodnesor is saying is that using no knowledge, and just reading the label, American labels are easier to decode because they give you more of a partial story. So looking at an American label, I'll likely know the varietal and the location, and even if it's general and doesn't cover 100% of what's in the bottle, it's a start. The same isn't true about French wine, where if you don't know a thing about AOC, you're left without much guidance.

                                                                  Hope this helps :)

                                                                  1. re: Frodnesor

                                                                    Again, and with respect . . .

                                                                    a1) You tell me that I know the Cornas is 100% Syrah not because of what is on the label, but because I know the French regs.

                                                                    a2) I tell you that YOU know Opus One is a red Bordeaux blend, not because of what is on the label, not because of the regulations, but because you know the specific wine.

                                                                    b1) I say that -- at some point -- you MUST MEMORIZE that "Cabernet Sauvignon" is a grape, "burgundy" is a generic; that Sonoma Valley" is an AVA, but Sonoma Co. is not; that to be a varietal wine, the wine must be at least 75% of that variety . . .

                                                                    b2) I say what's the difference between memorizing that an American varietal wine must contain 75% of that variety, and that Cornas must be 100% Syrah.

                                                                    And once you've memorized BOTH those facts, then the words "Appellation Cornas Controllée" on a label tells you a hell of a lot more than do the words "San Luis Obispo County Syrah."

                                                                    * * * * *

                                                                    >>> Undoubtedly YOU are left with fewer questions from a French label than from a California label, but that's because YOU already have this substantial body of external information. <<<

                                                                    But don't you ALSO have that same "substantial body of external information" re: American wine labels?

                                                                    >>> For the average consumer, they will understood a lot more about a wine that's labeled "San Luis Obispo County Syrah" (from that label alone), than they will understand what "Domaine de Marcoux Chateauneuf du Pape" is (from its label alone). <<<

                                                                    Only for the average consumer in California, who is more used to California wines than French ones. This would not be true for the average consumer in, say, France, or the UK, in the provinces of Ontario or Quebec, and so on.

                                                                    And if one is EQUALLY versed in the regulations, the Châteauneuf-du-Pape label tells you far more information (though to be fair, I'd compare Domaine de Marcoux with a wine such as Le Cigare Volant, or Rocks & Gravel, rather than a varietal wine).

                                                                    1. re: zin1953

                                                                      I think it's easier to learn about California wines because they have less variety. Learn half a dozen varietals and half a dozen AVA names and you've covered a high percentage of the good wine on the market.

                                                                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                        That may be, Robert, and how sad is that -- that the variety of the good wines from California in the market is that limited . . .

                                                                        1. re: zin1953

                                                                          Qutie sad. That's one reason I don't drink much of it.

                                                                      2. re: zin1953

                                                                        zin -

                                                                        You're always respectful, no need for the preface - just a fun dialogue (I'm a lawyer, it takes a lot for me to get offended).

                                                                        a1) - agree.
                                                                        a2) - guilty as charged. Though I would add that Opus One's labeling is not a model of clarity and is pretty atypical for a US wine label.
                                                                        b1) - I don't buy the "you have to know 'Cabernet Sauvignon' is a grape" argument. You have to know grape varietals to know what you're drinking, no matter if its French or American. It would be meaningless to know that "In Cornas they make 100% Syrah" if you didn't know what Syrah was.
                                                                        b2) - the difference is that once you learn these 2 basic rules (the grape on the label is the predominant grape in the bottle; the location on the label is the predominant source of those grapes), you can successfully identify the overwhelming majority of wines produced in just about any part of the US. On the other hand, once you learn that Cornas must be 100% syrah, you only have 16 more rules to go (from your fantastic list, which I will bookmark), just to master the Rhone valley!

                                                                        I think oolah's effort to mediate hits it on the head:
                                                                        - US wine labels give at least more basic information, with lesser external knowledge required, even if not comprehensively explanatory
                                                                        - French labels, once you have the external knowledge, are generally much more informative as to the bottle's contents.

                                                                  2. re: Frodnesor

                                                                    “#1 - is a Bordeaux style blend (predominantly cab w/ some merlot, malbec, petit verdot) coming from vineyards in Napa Valley. They choose to play it all mysterious by just going primarily by brand name and, in mock humility, calling it "Red Table Wine" (and, perhaps, because they thought the "meritage" term coined by others in CA to describe their Bordeaux-style blends was silly) but other producers of Bordeaux-style blends in California and elsewhere in the US will list the contents and percentages of the blend on the bottle (something which is all but unheard of in France).”

                                                                    There are a few erroneous assumptions in this paragraph. First the term “Meritage,” is trademarked and to use it, one MUST be a member of the organization and then pay to use it.

                                                                    Cab Franc is also a possibility.

                                                                    Some winemakers do choose to specify the exact blend in each release of their wine. Some do not. The ATF (nee BATF) mandates that the term “Red Table Wine” be used when the percentages of not meet their specifications. If one calls a wine Cabernet, then it must be at least 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, and the other grapes can be anything that the winemaker deems beneficial to the blend. As with many Bdx. properties, the exact percentage (within the five specified varietals), the blend might change, year to year, though “house styles” usually keep these pretty close to what has been planted on the property for centuries. Personally, I’d like to see the exact percentage per vintage. Back in ‘99 [?], Cain Five was actually “Cain Four,” as the Merlot was deemed to NOT be beneficial to the traditional blend. The label did not list this, but the winery did not, otherwise, keep it a secret.

                                                                    Some small points, but significant, when comparing US Red Table Wine and Bdx. reds.


                                                                    1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                                      Bill -
                                                                      Thx. Yes, Meritage is trademarked, my point was only that Opus One obviously has chosen not to use the term (which they presumably could get a license to do from the holder of the tm if they wanted).

                                                                      Yes also that a bdx blend may have Cab Franc, I have no clue whether Opus One does or not.

                                                                      Perhaps I should not have been so snarky about the "Red Table Wine" designation, though I am pretty sure I have seen many US blends that go by a "trade name" and just list the varietals and percentages on the bottle; pretty sure I've also seen just "red wine". Tablas Creek's Cote de Tablas comes to mind, as does Copain's "Les Copains," which calls itself "Paso Robles Vin Rouge" (both rhone-style blends). I have buried a bottle of Phelps Insignia somewhere deep in my wine fridge or I'd check how it's labeled too.

                                                                      1. re: Frodnesor

                                                                        Don't know about Insignia, but Phelps labels its Rhône blend, Le Mistral, [Red/California/Napa] Table Wine.

                                                                        Other prominent California wineries that come to mind include Dominus; Beaulieu with Tapestry and Dulcet; Rubicon Estate with Rubicon and Blancaneaux. And the BV ones are also "Reserve," whatever that means. Come on, BV! At least get creative and stick a "Benchland Select" or "Special Selection" on your labels!!

                                                                        Now that I think about it some more, it's a bit annoying. I guess the vintners figure their consumer can identify the blend by the shape of the bottles...

                                                                        1. re: Frodnesor

                                                                          With Insignia, it is even more simple, "Red Wine."

                                                                          Besides a royalty for the use of "Meritage," membership in the organization is also required. They are fairly strict on the varietals (for both red and white), and were initially set up to counter the "Red Table Wine" designation. I do not recall the exact list of members (have it someplace from a "Meritage vs Bordeaux" tasting that I hosted some time back - actually, no "Meritage" wine was served, IIRC), but none of the really heavy-hitters are members. This is not to diminish their membership, but I do not think that the whole program has worked, as the original planners had invisioned. Instead of membership and use of the term, far too many have chosen the propriatery name and just taken the "Red Table Wine" designation. One also sees a bit of this in Italy, as I think you mentioned earlier.

                                                                          Personally, I do like the liner notes on the back of the bottle, when they tell of the percentages, but many do not list these, for their own reasons. I'd even like to see the vineyards utilized. Opus One and Insignia usually have some distinct vineyard additions, depending on the vintage. OTOH, most of the winery folk are more than happy to share these details during a tasting, or maybe even on the Web site. Still, one has to do a bit of research to uncover this info.

                                                                          As much of the international (read non-US) market seems to be embracing varietal designations, the US seems to be moving away from it. However, there are some, in the US, who are busy listing the vineyard, the block and even the clones used. Personally, I do not mind the extra detail, though I read enough complaints about "too much data... "

                                                                          Good discussion though,

                                                                          1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                                            Here's a list of Meritage Assn. members:


                                                                            Dunno what you mean by "heavy hitters" but the list includes both big companies and big Parker scores.

                                                                            1. re: Robert Lauriston


                                                                              The Meritage Association, aside from being asilly name, serves little purpose. Relatively few wineries -- especially in California -- actually use the term. Dominus, Rubicon, Phelps' Ingisnia, Opus One, Hyde de Villane, Benziger's Tribute, Lail, Rudd, Merryvale, Cain Five, Clos du Bois' Marlstone, Spring Mountain's Elivette, St. Clement's Oppras, Chateau St. Jean's Cinq Cépages . . . none belong to the Meritage Society.

                                                                              St.-Supéry does, as does Cosentino, Geyser Peak, Dry Creek . . . but many members -- including Flora Springs (Trilogy) and Fife (Scarlet) don't use the word "Meritage" on their labels. Gallo also belongs to the Meritage Society, but I'm not sure they evenmake one. Anyone know for sure?

                                                                              Just my 2¢, and as usual, worth far less.

                                                                              1. re: zin1953

                                                                                My god, this is one great thread...the detour has been astounding...
                                                                                Zin1953, you're a friggin' powerhouse.

                                                                                1. re: maria lorraine

                                                                                  There HAS been considerable "thread drift," hasn't there? ;^)

                                                                                  Thank you, Maria.


                                                                                  1. re: zin1953

                                                                                    Definitely! About three days ago, I was reading n' writing, and had to pause, scroll up the thread, just to see what we were initially talking about...

                                                                                    The tangent might not be true to the laws of a Web board, but the discussions are true to the spirit.

                                                                                    I call it a good thread, but that's only one vote.


                                                                              2. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                What I mean by that is that there is no Joseph Phelps, no Opus One, no Beaulieu Vineyards, no Cain, etc.. Yes, some of the wineries in the membership are large, i.e. Kendall-Jackson. Some are known for their Meritage, i.e. Flora Springs' Trilogy. They have, however, never gotten the universal membership, that they anticipated. When I think of the "heavy-hitters" in the Bdx. blend field, I do not see them represented. Now, if one looked solely at volumn, then they could argue.

                                                                                Which "heavy-hitters" do you see on the list? Maybe I'm missing something, or maybe some new members joined, since my last publication on the Meritage Society - about a year and a half ago.


                                                                              3. re: Bill Hunt


                                                                                As much as I like the "liner notes," too, I see little reason for them on the label. Call me old-fashioned, call me a traditionalist, but one has always been abe to "discover" the blend(s) of this or that château -- either through books (the percentage of vines as planted in the vineyard) or on the internet (ditto, or in some cases, the precise blend vintage-to-vintage). Many New World wineries include "Winemaker's Notes," or the equivalent, on their website.

                                                                                I readily confess I am a classicist (or traditionalist, or old-fashioned), in that I like the purity of a (e.g.) Château Lafite label, or even that of Opus One. [I dislike "cutsie" names like featured on many Australian wines ("Ball Buster," Miss Harry," etc.), let alone wines like "Fat Bastard," and virtually everything SQN makes, too. But I digress.] Since nearly everyone is on the internet these days, finding out the precise bend of this or that cuvée is pretty easy.

                                                                                There is a part of me, of course, that fights the losing battle: I don't see what difference it makes, much of the time. Does it really matter if this year's Opus One is 91% Cabernet Sauvignon or 94%? Personally, I don't think so. Only one vintage of Phelps' Insignia was predominantly Merlot (their second one); all others have relied heavily on Cabernet Sauvignon. People don't seek out wines like Insignia or Opus One based upon their Cab content; they're out to buy Insignia! (or Opus.)

                                                                                Don't mind me, I'm just tilting at windmills . . . .

                                                                                1. re: zin1953

                                                                                  Jason, I have to jump in here regarding the labeling issue. As a wine retailer I would be very pleased to have all wine labels reflect the varieties/% in the bottle. It may be my gray hair but I have a devil of a time remembering what's in these wines when I'm trying to help someone with a selection and they want to relate to flavors they are familiar with by variety.

                                                                                  I think, too, that the same thing is the difficulty most Americnas may have with French labels. I think I undertsand your point, but the average person just hasn't committed enough detail to memory about what's grown where in France or Italy. I've always thought that if I had been able to spend a lot of time in France (or had been exposed to more French wine) over the years that this would be less of a problem. I also think that a variety name is enough of a descriptor to make most Americans feel comfortable that they have some understanding of a wine on the shelf or list. I do understand that that there is more to explain the bottle on a French label, but most wine drinkers I encounter don't have or feel they need to delve that deeply.

                                                                                  When we describe California wines in tastings we bring in a lot about the geography, weather and growing conditions in the designated AVA, which should help explain why the wine is the way it is. To me French wine labels 'force' you to know more of that detail (though I can't disagree wuth your point that it's really much the same)...... and that's a good thing if you can master the information. To a degree, I think that Americans just don't feel the need to go that far when we have thousands of wines available that don't seem to require that much interpretation. But then I've read that Americans are among the least likely people to be fluent in other languages, so it's not surprising.

                                                                                  This has been agreat topic BTW. Thanks for all the input.

                                                                                  1. re: Midlife

                                                                                    For me, as I think with ALL wine retailers, and consumers too, is that one is most comfortable with what one is most familiar.

                                                                                    * * * * *

                                                                                    Starting off with a BLANK slate . . .

                                                                                    On the face of it, it is no more difficult to "memorize" that red Bordeaux wines are blends of, principally, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot than it is to memorize that red "Meritage" wines are blends of, principally, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. On the face of it, it is no more difficult to "memorie" that red Burgundies are, principally, Pinot Noir and white Burgundies are, principally, Chardonnay than it is to memorize that Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are the names of grape varieties.

                                                                                    My point is you learn in chronological order. If you learn about French (or German or Italian or Spanish or Portuguese) labels first, then American labels are confusing. If, OTOH, one first learms America's system of labeling, then French (or German or Italian or Spanish or Portuguese) labels are confusing.

                                                                                    Thus, one is most familiar (and therefore comfortable) with what comes first. In the case of most American consumers, it's the US system of varietal labeling.

                                                                                    Wine, like anything, is up to the consumer: he or she learns as much or as little about the topic as he or she wants to learn. The "serious" (whatever that means) wine drinker will learn more about it than the casual imbiber, just as the individual content with drinking Budweiser will (probably) never take the time to learn about what makes a Lambic Ale different than an Indian Pale Ale or a Trappist Ale, or a Wheat Beer different from a Steam Beer . . . but the individual who gets "into" beer and "explores" the range of what's available, will learn more.

                                                                        2. re: zin1953

                                                                          German labels are actually the most informative. For better wines they usually spell out the varietal and location, and also carry a classification that often tells the informed reader the residual sugar level.

                                                                          The labels of French AOC wines imply a lot of information, but you need to memorize or look up the permitted grape varieties. And in the case of relatively loose appelations such as Châteauneuf du Pape, the labels usually don't spell out the percentages.

                                                                          California labels don't tell you a whole lot. If a varietal is specified, the wine must be at least 75% that grape. If an AVA is specified, all that grapes have to come from that area. If the trademark "Meritage" appears on the label, the wine must be a blend of two or more of the following, none of which may constitute more than 90%: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Petit Verdot, St. Macaire, Gros Verdot, and Carmenere for reds, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, and Sauvignon Vert for whites.

                                                                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                            Only 85% of the grapes need to come from the AVA? I always thought it was 100%. Tacky.

                                                                            1. re: Robert Lauriston


                                                                              On an American -- as California merely echoes US regs -- wine label, how do you know that "Cabernet Sauvignon" is the name of a specific grape, and "Burgundy" is a semi-generic wine; that "Insignia" is a proprietary wine, or that "Meritage"¹ means that the wine must contain . . .

                                                                              You had to -- at some point -- memorize it. You had to learn that "Cabernet Sauvignon" is a grape, that "Sonoma Valley" is an AVA and "Sonoma County" is not, etc., etc., etc.

                                                                              How is this different than memorizing that the term "Côte-Rôtie" means the wine is Syrah, and may or may not have some Viognier in it? Or that "Cornas" means the wine is only Syrah, and nothing else? How is this different than memorizing that Sancerre is made from Sauvignon Blanc, or that a white Bordeaux may be a blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Sêmillon and Muscadelle de Bordelais?

                                                                              AND . . . for me . . . at least I know that IF there are any grapes used in making that Côte-Rôtie that aren't Syrah, that it can only be Viognier and nothing else! What is in that bottle of American-made Syrah? Is it 100% Syrah, and if not, what other grape (or grapes) are in the wine? I have no idea . . .

                                                                              One more thing . . . OK, two.

                                                                              >>> And in the case of relatively loose appelations such as Châteauneuf du Pape, the labels usually don't spell out the percentages. <<<

                                                                              I'm not sure what you mean by "relatively loose."

                                                                              -- If you are referring to the multiplicity of permitted varieties, no other specific appellation in France allows that many different varieties.

                                                                              -- If you are referring to the fact that, unlike some other appellations, no minimum or maximum percentages are specified, and therefore the actual blend is left up to the producer (from the restricted list of permitted grape varieties), I would point out that Châteauneuf-du-Pape is far from unique in this regard. Red and white Bordeaux appellations are not specific; neither is the appellation of Champagne. Bergerac, Monbazillac, Irouléguy, and others. There is a restriction to the TYPE of grapes which can be used, but no min/max percentages.

                                                                              IMHO, this still provides more information than a US label, where I know nothing whatsoever about what is actually in a generic, semi-generic or proprietary wine FROM THE LABEL itself.² Neither do I know what other grapes may be in a varietal wine, nor where they come from, above and beyond the 75/85% requirements.

                                                                              Oh, and yes -- you're quite right about German labels.


                                                                              ¹ Keep in mind, by the way, that the definition of "Meritage" is controlled by the trademark holder, The Meritage Society, and notby the Feds.

                                                                              ² Again, to be clear, I am talking only of those front labels which contain the Federally required information and no more. I readily admit that some wineries provide extra [non-mandatory] information on their front-, side-, or back-labels -- or on their websites -- above and beyond what is required. This is true, however, of wines produced everywhere around the world. To keep, as they say, "the playing field level," I am only talking about what is required on the labels regardless of origin, and not any extra-but-not-mandated information.

                                                                3. re: mengathon

                                                                  I read it as "of Petite Sirah, Peloursin, and Syrah, Syrah is the only one allowed in CdP".

                                                                4. Personally, I don't think you're missing much of anything. I've had some of these as far back as the 80's and you're pretty much right on as far as the California versions are concerned. Thankfully most CA producers have moved on to other varietals.

                                                                  6 Replies
                                                                  1. re: mlgb

                                                                    Other than California versions is there anywhere else where Petite Sirah is bottled on its own?

                                                                      1. re: Frodnesor

                                                                        Nugan Estates out of Australia

                                                                        It has been described as follows:

                                                                        "Lifted but plush plum and blueberry fruit on the palate, with chocolate aromas. Tannins are moderate but textured; a good match for savory dishes with sweeter sauces (think braised rabbit or venison with a fruit-based accompaniment)." WE

                                                                        1. re: Frodnesor

                                                                          Yes - I've had PS from LA Cetto in Mexico

                                                                      2. Jewell has a nice Petit Sirah at Trader Joe's and World Market 10-$12. I picked up a Parducci for $7.99 at Trader Joe's that I have yet to try.

                                                                        1. http://www.wineloverspage.com/winegue...

                                                                          'Recent research has determined that the parents of this variety are most likely to be Mondeuse Blanche x Dureza.'

                                                                          'In southern France some regard the grape as taking two forms, the Grosse Syrah and Petite
                                                                          Syrah, distinguished only by berry size. Experts reject this distinction but it has in the past led
                                                                          some wine producers in North and South America to mistake California vineyard plantings of Petite Sirah, which produces a very dark red and tannic wine judged simple in comparison to
                                                                          the true Rhone Syrah, as the latter grape. DNA analysis has now shown there is in fact a
                                                                          probable cross-variety relationship.'

                                                                          'Local lore has it that a (presumed) clone 877 of N. Rhone provenance, once known as the Scyras, was grown very successfully in cooler regions of Australia and now is known as the popular Shiraz variety.'

                                                                          4 Replies
                                                                          1. re: kheper

                                                                            You have TOTALLY misread this . . . .

                                                                            SYRAH (not Petite Sirah) is probably a cross between Mondeuse Blanche and Dureza. See http://www.wineloverspage.com/winegue...

                                                                            PETITE SIRAH was developed by Dr. Durif sometime around 1880, and is a cross of Syrah and Peloursin. See: http://www.wineloverspage.com/winegue...

                                                                            What does COMPLICATE the issue is the synonyms for these two varieties.

                                                                            The first varietal wine made in California from "PS" was Concannon's 1965 Livermore Valley Estate Petite Sirah. Prior to that, the grape variety was known and spelled as Petite Sirah*; its acreage was tracked by the California Agricultural Statistical Service (CASS) as Petite Sirah (and still is!); and every major wine writer -- from Jerry Mead, Robert Lawrance Balzer and Norm Roby to Leon D. Adams, Anthony Dias Blue and Bob Thompson -- spelled the cultivar Petite Sirah.

                                                                            IIRC, David Bruce first produced wine from this grape variety in 1970. It was labeled Petite Sirah. Ridge Vineyards, Freemark Abbey, Burgess Cellars, Gemello, Trentadue, Foppiano, Stags' Leap Vineyard [later Stags' Leap Winery], Souverain, Fetzer, Veedercrest, Mirassou, Robert Mondavi(!) -- all labeled their wine Petite Sirah.

                                                                            The first varietal wine produced in California from the grape variety known as "Syrah" in the Rhône Valley of France was Joseph Phelps' 1973 Napa Valley Syrah. Other California wineries soon followed.

                                                                            Jancis Robinson, writing on page 90 of Vines, Grapes and Wines (©1986, by Mitchell Beazley Publications; text ©1986 by Jancis Robinson; ISBN 0-394-55598-8), cites, among others, as synonyms for Syrah: Serène, Sereine, Serine and Petite Syrah (France); Shiraz (Australia and South Africa); Balsamina (Argentina).

                                                                            David Bruce and Fetzer were the first (to my knowledge) to change the spelling of "Petite Sirah" on their labels to "Petite Syrah" in the mid-1980s, and -- as a retailer -- I will tell you massive confusion ensued on the sales floor among customers, as well as among the less well-versed retail employees and wholesale reps. Petitions were filed with ATF to accept "Petite Syrah" as a variant spelling NOT of Syrah, but of "Petite Sirah"!

                                                                            In what I consider one of the five worst decisions made by ATF -- indeed, perhaps the #1 worst decision -- ATF agreed to approve the petition and accept "Petite Syrah" as a variant spelling of "Petite Sirah." (BTW, it cannot be used as a synonym for "true" Syrah, despite the fact that it is an accepted synonym for Syrah in France.


                                                                            * * * * *

                                                                            1. I once asked David why he changed the spelling on his labels. I asked if it didn't confuse the consumers. He shrugged and said, "Maybe."

                                                                            End of discussion.

                                                                            2. I asked Paul Dolan at Fetzer if it didn't confuse customers. His reply was something about Fetzer and brand loyalty, and that Fetzer's customers wouldn't care about the spelling.

                                                                            End of discussion.

                                                                            * * * * *

                                                                            There is no doubt, however, that Syrah (Serine/Shiraz) is a different cultivar than Petite Sirah (Durif).


                                                                            1. re: zin1953

                                                                              Wow, thanks for the history lesson and the personal anecdotes. I had no idea of that there was such a petition and such petition was approved. That's just terrible.

                                                                              Any idea or guesses on why it was approved? Excessive lobbying? Personal friendships with the winemakers? Surely the ATF knew of that syrah and PS were distinct grapes and the ensuing confusion it would cause. And they went ahead and did it anyway? I suppose it's too late to petition them to re-label everything durif...

                                                                              1. re: mengathon

                                                                                Wine companies, particularly big ones, are always petitioning for changes that would allow them to confuse consumers.

                                                                                Sometimes they get away with it, e.g. the absurd and enormous "North Coast" and "Central Coast" AVAs, which include hot inland vineyards with little or no maritime effect.

                                                                            2. re: kheper

                                                                              --'In southern France some regard the grape as taking two forms, the Grosse Syrah and Petite Syrah, distinguished only by berry size.'

                                                                              The distinction, if still made in Rhône between Grosse (fat) syrah and Petite (small) syrah, is almost certainly only in reference to the size of the grapes of particular clones. The "Petite Syrah" used in this context has no relationship to the grape now planted in California known as Petite Sirah other than the confusion it causes. Some wineries, including my favored Stags Leap, for what I can only believe to be marketing reasons or stubborn tradition, still insist on labeling their wine "Petite Syrah" to the detriment and confusion of consumers everywhere. I seriously think this needs to be stopped.

                                                                              As an aside, while I appreciate the efforts of Mr. Hawkins in providing a very comprehensive list and description of many obscure grapes, a decent amount of the information he has provided on that page is either confusing (Syrah) or outdated/absurd. Of cabernet sauvignon: "It helps make wines of classic breed, intensity and complexity that often need to bottle-age for at least 5-10 years in order to reach peak flavor condition. The most successful plantings in North America are mainly on Long Island (N.Y.) and the cooler regions of northern California."

                                                                            3. I think Behrens and Hitchcock makes a good one. Turley used to, but I haven't tried one since the '99 vintage... I think their Zins have gone downhill since that vintage, though. Ridge and Rosenblum. Also, maybe Fife, but I haven't had that one in YEARS!

                                                                              1 Reply
                                                                              1. re: whiner

                                                                                I haven't had a Petite Sirah I didn't like. From Bogle to Turley and lately I've enjoyed Stags Leap. But I'm surprised no one mentioned one of my top favorites, Lolonis.

                                                                              2. For the next thread can we do Carmenere and Merlot? Or Melon and Pinot Gris?

                                                                                1. I find the last few vintages of the Girard Petit Sirah to be winners............

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                                                                                  1. re: Gastronomic

                                                                                    Yes, Girard is very good. I also like Victor Hugo (Paso Robles if I remember correctly).

                                                                                  2. My favorites are Consilience from Santa Barbara and the Hard to find but great, Estrella creek 3 M's, if you can't find it, they have it at Gourmet Cheese and wine bar/mkt in the south bay galleria, Hawthorne and Artesia.

                                                                                    1. For those in the greater LA area, Boneyard Bistro in Sherman Oaks has five Petite Sirahs on its wine list, including the '03 Spellbound, '04 Sextant from Paso Robles, '03 Trentadue La Storia, '04 Titus Estate and the '04 Turley Hayne Vineyard. I have tasted most of them, and they really go well with the bbq there, which is served with the sauce(s) on the side. Smoking of meats on premises, btw! Good place to try some if convenient.

                                                                                      4 Replies
                                                                                      1. re: carter

                                                                                        Just tried what has to be the most intense petite sirah I've ever had last week- Scholium Project Tenbrink Vineyards Babylon '05. Truly unique stuff. Only 572 cases produced, just outside of Napa. Absolutely opaque, syrupy, ridiculously extracted, full of sweet oak (20 months in barrel), but balanced with gripping tannin and acidity. Not for everyone, just an infant,and pricy ($80) but a seriously compelling wine. Really interesting website as well- www.scholiumwines.com

                                                                                        1. re: Erk877

                                                                                          I'm sure it's a wonderful wine, but I have to say that it SOUNDS precisely like the kind of Petite I absolutely hate! ;^)

                                                                                          1. re: Erk877


                                                                                            If Jason won't help you drink this one, you can count on me to fill his seat!


                                                                                        2. in my opinon....best petie sirah from calif are:

                                                                                          switchback ridge
                                                                                          bob foley
                                                                                          pride (last one was 03')
                                                                                          vincent arroyo
                                                                                          neal family
                                                                                          turley hayne vyd

                                                                                          1. i'm suprised no one mentioned la jota. the vineyard on howell mountain. At least in Napa Valley, it's the one I think of for PS.