Petite Syrah grapes grown on the vine at Michael David Winery.
While many American wine lovers are familiar with Syrah — often sold as Shiraz on bottles imported from Australia — the popularity of this grape as a varietal red wine has been on a notable wane in recent years. Petite Sirah, on the other hand, has become more popular than ever.
Petite Sirah is not the same grape as Syrah. It is a crossing of Syrah and a far more obscure grape called Peloursin, originally developed in Southern France during the 1880s by a botanist named François Durif. In fact, the true name of the grape has always been Durif. When Durif was first introduced into the U.S. — probably during the 1890s — it was commonly confused with Syrah. Hence, the Americanized name for the grape: Petite Sirah (or sometimes, “Petite Syrah”).
Although wine connoisseurs have always considered Syrah to be the far greater of the two grapes, many American consumers now prefer Petite Sirah over Syrah, despite the fact that even your average Syrah is far more aromatic, complex and flavorful than most Petite Sirahs. What Petite Sirahs have going for them, however, is a feel on the palate that is full bodied, generous, often thickly textured, yet at the same time round, almost soft, and invitingly plush.
Out of the 8,300 or so acres of Petite Sirah planted in California, over 2,000 acres are in Lodi — the most in the state. This may be a far cry from grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon (over 80,000 acres planted in California), Zinfandel (over 47,000 acres) or Pinot Noir (nearly 40,000 acres); but as sales of Petite Sirah as a varietal red wine steadily increased, its acreage in California has also been on the rise.
Petite Sirah even has a producer/consumer advocacy group of its own, called PS I Love You (visit psiloveyou.org). According to the group’s founding director, Jo Diaz, when PS I Love You started up in 2002, there were 67 wineries producing varietal bottlings of Petite Sirah. Today there are over 850 brands of Petite Sirah on the market.
In Lodi, few wineries have parlayed the recent popularity of Petite Sirah as successfully as Michael David Winery. In the wine competition circuit, Michael David’s Earthquake brand of Petite Sirah has become like the Lindsey Vonn of Petite Sirahs: it is always the inevitable winner; walking off with not just a Gold or Double-Gold Medal, but also “Best of Class” or even “Best of Show” honors. It’s that consistently good.
The multi-award winning 2012 Earthquake Lodi Petite Sirah ($26) is typically black, almost inky colored; with a full, broad, opulent body filled with lush, blueberry and peppery/smoky nuanced fruit. On the softer, smoother, medium bodied side, the 2012 Lodi Michael David Petite Petit ($18) rounds out the blueberryish Petite Sirah varietal character with a generous dose of more compact, zestier wine made from the Petit Verdot grape.
More recently, Lodi’s Anaya family — growing grapes in their Viñedos Aurora estate located on the east side, closer to Clements — have also been garnering considerable attention for their Petite Sirah. Like Michael David, they utilize Petite Sirah as an ideal blender for their Cabernet Sauvignon program; while the big, chunky, yet smooth and supple 2010 Viñedos Aurora Lodi Petite Sirah ($21) amply demonstrates the grape’s ability to stand alone as a varietal red.
The 2011 Twisted Roots Lodi Petite Sirah ($25) has the classic meatiness and satisfyingly savory simplicity of the grape, couched in a more moderately weighted medium-full body. The 2012 McCay Cellars Lodi Petite Sirah ($24) is also crafted in a more supple, elegant, style; whereas as the 2012 Mettler Family Lodi Petite Sirah ($25) is more masculine, muscular, generously spicy, almost smoky in its intensity. There’s just no doubt about it: PS = easy-to-love!
Randy Caparoso is the multi-award winning sommelier/restaurateur and longtime wine journalist who also pens the blog for the Lodi Winegrape Commission’s lodiwine.com.