HOME > Chowhound > Wine >

Discussion

Petite sirah deserves some love

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
Delete
  1. Adding my own personal thoughts . . .

    Petite Sirah has long been a favorite of mine -- going back to the Petites produced from the York Creek vineyard in the 1971 vintage by both Paul Draper at Ridge Vineyards and Jerry Luper at Freemark Abbey . . . let alone the (never-commercially-released) 1970 Beringer Petite Sirah that was as good or better than these other two.

    But Concannon Vineyards out in the Livermore Valley produced the first varietal wine from Petite Sirah -- at least in the post-Prohibition Era -- back in 1965, and therein lies at least part of the problem.

    Livermore -- to be blunt -- hasn't really been taken seriously as a top California wine region since the early 1970s by anyone other than the locals. Heck, Wente pushed for the "San Francisco Bay" AVA just to avoid putting "Livermore" on their label. Concannon's Petite was always spicy and flavorful, but it retained some elegance and finesse . . . this, as opposed to the full-blown, inky black, tannic wines made from Petite Sirah by producers like Ridge, Freemark, and other major producers.

    If one looks in any major book, article, review, it's that big, powerful model of Petite that defines the grape/wine. So the more elegant style fell (further) into the backwaters of California wine.

    As times have changed, and people progressed beyond the "so-tannic-as-to-rip-your-lungs-out" and wines like Cabernet Sauvignon -- the other tannic monster of the 1970s -- became fleshy and supple, Petite Sirah stubbornly remained big, tannic, spicy and low in fruit. Again, Petite Sirah fell deeper into the abyss.

    / / / / /

    NOTE: all this ignores the impact of Syrah in California, debuting in 1973 by Joseph Phelps, and how it further pushed Petite into obscurity . . . AND ignores the (deliberate) obfuscation of Fetzer, David Bruce, and others by spelling the grape "Petite Syrah."

    / / / / /

    Bogle may be credited with (almost) single-handedly preserving Petite Sirah, but at the cost of its varietal quality -- Bogle will never be considered a GREAT Petite Sirah, but it's a very good wine, offering great QPR (quality-price ratio).

    On the other hand, some truly EXCELLENT Petites *are* out there, and many get ignored due to the consumers' "stuck-in-a-time-warp" impression that Petite has to be big, bold, powerful, and overwhelmingly tannic. Concannon still makes a delicious estate Petite Sirah out in Livermore, and, my favorite -- Storrs Winery in Santa Cruz, CA -- makes an excellent Petite Sirah from an old vineyard in the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA. Indeed, coincidentally to this thread, I had the 2006 last week with a hangar steak and it was perfect . . .

    (In the FWIW Mode, it's a multiple Gold Medal winner over the years, and their 1994 took the "Best of Show" Award at the California State Fair -- the first time that a Petite Sirah won that award, *and* the first -- but not the last -- time a Santa Cruz Mtn. winery won.)

    Just my 2¢ . . . worth far less, no doubt . . . keep the change.

    22 Replies
    1. re: zin1953

      I don't know about obfuscation or their motives but what are those you mention bottling as Petite Syrah? IIRC there is actually a petite syrah in the Rhone which is actuallya small berry version of syrah. Much of what is Petite SIRAH in Cal is Durif or Peloursin.
      I like petite. I don't mind the tannin and think it tends to be pretty heavily tannic. I'd definitely agree that Concannon does really well with it, especially for the price. I really like old Rockland's, in addition to Ridge. We had a late 70s or very early 80s version of the Ridge for the SuperBowl and everyone guessed it was a 90s wine. The one thing I wonder though about Petite is whether it reall develops much in the way of secondary or tertiary flavors. It seems to moreso be frozen in time.
      I like the Stags' Leap version too, but my alltime favorite Petite might be the Switchback Ridge from the Peterson (family) Vineyard. It's a beast but wow is it good.

      1. re: john gonzales

        They are growing, and producing Durif -- NOT Serine (aka Petite Syrah).

        1. re: zin1953

          Got it. That is silly. It doesn't seem like there would be much commercial benefit between the name Syrah vs. Sirah. It's not like Syrah is as big a seller as Cab Sauv or Chard, and that misnaming something "syrah" would gain any big benefit.

          1. re: john gonzales

            John, I would respectfully disagree. I think there was MUCH to be gained at the time they started . . .

            There's no doubt that Syrah is a more "prestigious" grape than Durif. This was especially so in the late-1970s and early-1980s, and it was commanding a higher price as well.

            1. re: zin1953

              I see. No doubt there would be a gain years back.
              Currently syrah has not proven to be a big seller; and since there is a lot more syrah, petite has a bit of novelty attached to it.

              1. re: john gonzales

                John, I did some extra digging. As I mentioned above, both Fetzer and David Bruce started this in the late-1970s or early-1980s.

                In 1980, according to the California Agricultural Statistics Service, Petite Sirah sold for an average price of $186.63/ton. Compare this to Syrah, which sold for an average of $477.88.

                1. re: zin1953

                  You didn't need to do the busy work on my account. Originally I was thinking about right now, not in the past.
                  I wonder how much Syrah there was back in the late 70s? Probably 1/20 of what there is now, and a lot less than there was of Petite.

                  This thread reminding me to look for some wine I have a few odds and ends from the early 2000s. Stags Leap has a field blend called Ne Cede Malis from a very old vineyard of theirs. It's mostly Petite, but IIRC also has Carignane, Grenache, Mouvedre, and a few others. It's really good. Big, nicely comples, but not as fiercely tannic as some Petite. Downside is that I think it's $50.

                  1. re: john gonzales

                    I liked the Ne Cede Malis a lot, but that was when Robert Brittain was making it. Is it still as good? Love the name, or the expression, too.

                    1. re: maria lorraine

                      I think it's still good, and the style hasn't changed a lot since the early 00s, at least through the 08 whihc is the last I tried. The 02 is (IIRC) the one that I really liked. As I said the issue is cost. Another wine that more than doubled in cost from 00 to 10. Though that increase is tame if compared to Figeac!

                      1. re: john gonzales

                        Ne Cede Malis is not listed as one of the wines on the Stag's Leap Winery website. They may no longer make it. Sad.

                        1. re: maria lorraine

                          They had the 2008 on their "current releases" page on March 23.

                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                            There is no "Current Releases" page now (just Featured Wines), but I know now -- not from the website -- that SLW did make a 2012 Ne Cede Malis. It IS a beautiful wine.

                    2. re: john gonzales

                      >>> I wonder how much Syrah there was back in the late 70s? Probably 1/20 of what there is now, and a lot less than there was of Petite. <<<

                      As of 2011, there was a total of 8,335 acres (3,373 hectares) of Petite Sirah planted in California; of these, 7,756 acres (3,138.75 ha) were in production.

                      Compare this to Syrah -- in 2011, there were 19,009 acres (7,692.7 hectares) of Syrah planted in the state, with 18,825 acres (7,618.2 ha) in production.

                      A decade earlier, in 2001, the figures were:
                      Petite Sirah -- 4,127 acres (1,670 ha.) total; 2,765 acres (1,119 ha.) bearing.
                      Syrah -- 14,735 acres (5,963 ha.) total; 9,573 acres (3,874 ha.) bearing.

                      And a decade before that, in 1991:
                      Petite Sirah -- 2,875 acres (1,163.5 ha.) total; 2,824 acres (1,142.8 ha.) bearing.
                      Syrah -- 413 acres (167.1 ha.) total; BUT ONLY 160 acres (64.75 ha.) bearing.

                      And, as of 1982, Petite Sirah overwhelmed Syrah, 2,779 acres (1,124.6 ha) vs. 89 acres (36 ha.) -- the last year I for which I can access the records . . . at the moment. I think I have figures from the 1970s somewhere . . .

                      (Note: all acreage figures obtained from CASS - California Agricultural Statistics Service, and are rounded.; I calculated the figure for hectares.)

                      1. re: zin1953

                        Thanks. Pretty much as I imagined as far as the proposition that syrah has really expanded and that petite dominated it in 82 and prior.
                        I didn't realize that there was THAT little syrah in 91 or 82.
                        I am also a little surprised that petite plantings expanded so much fom 91 to 01 and then again to11.

                        1. re: john gonzales

                          Per the National Agricultural Statistics Service grape crush reports, almost 27,000 tons of Petite Sirah were crushed in California in 1975. It peaked at 59,000 in 1980, dropped to 7,000 in 1996, and was back to almost 59,000 in 2011.

                          Figures for Syrah go back to 86 tons in 1978, in 2009 it was 133,000.

            2. re: zin1953

              "Wine Grapes" says Sérine is a local Côte-Rôtie variety of or name for Syrah.

            3. re: john gonzales

              "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)."

              http://www.psiloveyou.org/about/about...

            4. re: zin1953

              Just curious, have you tried Concannon's Petite recently? If so, what do you think?

              1. re: JonDough

                Jeez, which one?!?!?

                I just went on their website, and they're offering SIXTEEN different Petite Sirahs! OMG!

                Thankfully, the answer is simple: no. I haven't had one of their Petites in several years -- probably the last one I tried was their 2004, which I (vaguely) recall as being quite good but not necessarily excellent.

                1. re: zin1953

                  Thanks. I haven't tasted one since '03. I didn't realize they had 16. Maybe I'll visit and see how they are.

            5. Agree about the 1971 York Creeks.

              Some of the most successful wines made here in Arizona have been those where Petite Sirah has been the major part of the blend.

              1. What's surprising to me about petite sirah is that it grows well in a lot of places.
                I bought a $12.50 bottle of petite sirah grown in Newcastle in Placer Country by a winery called Pescatore. I'm not going to rave about it, but it was well worth $12.50. A pretty decent bottle of wine. And it tasted like petite sirah.
                I've never been to that vineyard, but the area is good for agriculture. I'm guessing they'd have to work to stress the vines.
                But it also grows well in Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino and the Central Coast. About the only places I can think of that doesn't produce pretty good petite sirah are the Santa Cruz Mountains and Sonoma Coast.

                5 Replies
                1. re: SteveTimko

                  Uh, Steve . . . did you *read* my second post???

                  >>> . . . Concannon still makes a delicious estate Petite Sirah out in Livermore, and, my favorite -- Storrs Winery in Santa Cruz, CA -- makes an excellent Petite Sirah from an old vineyard in the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA. Indeed, coincidentally to this thread, I had the 2006 last week with a hangar steak and it was perfect . . .

                  (In the FWIW Mode, it's a multiple Gold Medal winner over the years, and their 1994 took the "Best of Show" Award at the California State Fair -- the first time that a Petite Sirah won that award, *and* the first -- but not the last -- time a Santa Cruz Mtn. winery won.) <<<

                  1. re: zin1953

                    My apologies. I missed that. I have never had Storrs pet. I will seek it out.

                    1. re: SteveTimko

                      JBL: Have you tried the 2008 Storrs pet? That was the smoke vintage. I don't know how they were affected.

                      1. re: SteveTimko

                        Steve, no -- haven't had the 2008.

                        A lot of people "miss" the Storrs, in that they expect it to be like the Ridge York Creek, or bigger -- some tannic, ink monster of the '70s -- instead of being in the more refined category . . . still good varietal character, but think "polished" rather than "rough-hewn." As far as "cool climate" is concerned, the vineyard is located on the Santa Clara side of the appellation, down near Gilroy . . . not as cool as, say, grapes from the Pleasant Valley area (let alone Bonny Doon).

                        1. re: zin1953

                          I corresponded with a vineyard owner/winemaker who has a vineyard in the general area and he said none of the smoke in 2008 came at a critical time in that area. So no smoke impact.

                2. Foppiano, in Sonoma County, also takes Petite Sirah seriously and has done so for decades. They produce both an estate bottled PS and a Sonoma appellation PS.

                  http://www.foppiano.com/our-wines
                  http://www.foppiano.com/petite-sirah

                  1. I tasted a Forlorn Hope the other day that was very nice.