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Syrah vs. Petite Sirah

Posted on by Still Waters Vineyards

Throughout history, mankind has faced a myriad of questions in which the mind reels and boggles with the enormity of said idea. About this time one would assume man also learned how to make alcohol to help with those hard to take facts of life. Today we’ll explore one such question…What is the difference between a Syrah and a Petite Sirah? If you’re anything like the rest of us, you’ll have grappled with this question time and time again when presented with a choice between the two. Why are there two? Is one smaller? Why is it spelled differently? Were you drunk when you wrote this? As we said earlier… hard hitting questions. So, without further ado, let’s start our exploration.

Syrah and Petite Sirah are two different varietals with very different flavor compositions. Syrah is the older of the two grapes and originates from the northern Rhone region in France. Syrah has a bit of an old, murky past dating back (predating even!) to the Roman times. Pliny the Elder may or may not have written about Syrah in his Naturalis Historia but DNA testing being what is was back then, we can’t know for sure. Syrah is the product of two obscure and now relatively defunct varietals Dureza (father) and Mondeuse blanc (mother), both native to areas close to the northern Rhone region. Syrah flavor composition is heavily dependent on the climate in which is it grown. Syrah does best in a warm (but not too hot) climate, and on well-drained, rocky soils; it buds relatively late and ripens relatively early; is not prone to disease or rot, making it a hearty yet valuable varietal. Paso Robles offers a warmer climate and varied soil conditions that generally impart flavors of dark fruits, sometimes smoke, meat (particularly bacon), leather and a white pepper finish. Syrah will benefit from being laid down for about 5 years and will make you forget about Bordeauxs. You’ll probably have heard of Shiraz, which is what the Australians and South Africans generally label their version of Syrah. The climate is hot and dry and gives forth a markedly younger, jammier Syrah. For that reason, a distinction is made, but is not legally enforced in the United States. Syrah has a lengthy and illustrious history, it is worthy of our admiration for its durability and adaptability.

Petite Sirah has a much younger history. Also commonly known as Durif, Petite is a cross between Syrah (father) and Peloursin (mother), another red grape from the Rhone region. Sometime in the 1880’s French botanist Francois Durif found that his Peloursin had been pollinated by his Syrah and had produced a vine marked by saturated color (the skin is nearly black) and very dense fruit clusters. In 1884 Petite Sirah was introduced in Alameda County (East Bay) and has steadily grown in popularity ever since. Petite Sirah is a very late ripening grape with a thin skin and is hence susceptible to the ravages of late season rains common in the Rhone region. Today Petite Sirah is virtually nonexistent in its native France but thrives in the United States, Australia, Israel, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, and Mexico. Petite Sirah is a big bold red that you can remember by noting that there really is nothing Petite about this wine. The grapes are small and concentrated, but the flavor they impart is huge. The tannins are strong, the color a deep inky red and the flavor fairly acidic with firm texture and mouth feel. The bouquet has herbal and black pepper overtones and typically offers flavors of blue fruit, black fruit, and plums.

So what have we learned? Syrah and Petite Sirah are their own varietals. Never again will you have to gaze confused at a tasting menu wondering if you should just pick the Syrah because why would you want a smaller version? In fact both varietals offer a lot, whether you want to just open a bottle to share with friends or pair it with something particularly delicious for dinner. The fun about wine is that it is ever evolving and the flavors always will show you something new. Don’t be afraid to try new things and don’t worry that you’re not a “wine connoisseur”. If you like it, drink it. And you won’t ever know if you like it, until you try it…am I right or am I right?

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