Wine Scene

Petite Sirah: A hearty red for winter

Dave Ethridge — VIEW Wine Columnist

Dave Ethridge — VIEW Wine Columnist

It is fascinating to look at the wine sales statistics for different regions across the U.S. For instance, in Florida white wine is the predominant seller. It outsells red wines in total for the year and in the summer months (it’s very hot in Florida in the summer) white wine sales account for nearly 75 percent of all wines sold. In those few months when the temperature drops, red wines increase in sales so that it becomes something like 55/45 but with white wines still the leader. In Michigan, it’s quite the opposite. Red wines predominately year round with it reaching the 75/25 percent levels in our winter months but white wines gain in the summer so that the ratio is something like 55/45 but with reds still dominating. It all comes down to the weather and what wines taste best on hot or cold days.

So, now that it’s winter in Michigan, we’re all looking for a hearty red wine that goes with those great stews and hearty dishes we like to enjoy in our cold climate. And, there isn’t a heartier red wine that Petite Sirah. Not many people are familiar with this fascinating variety but once you know about it, you’ll find that it’s the best thing for a cold winter day. The story of Petite Sirah is the most fascinating thing about the wine. It was developed in France in the late 1800s by a botanist at the University of Montpelier when



France was being devastated by the loss of its best vineyards and scientists were looking for a variety that would withstand the downy mildew and other scourges that threatened the wine industry.

The botanist was

François Durif and he developed a grape variety that was a cross between the Syrah grape grown in the Rhone valley and the Peloursin flower. The result was a grape that withstood those adversities and its cultivation was encouraged. He named it after himself, the Durif. But the resulting wine was disappointing and soon fell out of favor with the authorities.

About this same time, cuttings of this variety were shipped to California and Australia. In each of these places the new variety, sometimes spelled with an extra ‘f ’, or called the Duriff, took hold and became the variety used to strengthen wines in weak years and as a blend to improve the aging of wines. It wasn’t until the 1970s that some enterprising young winemakers started to produce the wines as a single variety that it became a standard in those countries, but by then it was no longer called Durif, but became known as Petite Sirah.

Wine shoppers in the U. S. have shied away from those wines labeled as Petite Sirah thinking that it must be a lesser wine than the Sirah (or Syrah) they were used to, but nothing could be farther from the truth. Petite Sirah is definitely not a small (petite) wine; the petite in the name refers to the size of the grapes. Petite Sirah is a huge wine; dark and inky in color with relatively high acidity, a firm texture and mouth feel, a bouquet with herbal and black pepper overtones and flavors of blueberries, plums and other blue/black fruit. It has amazing aging ability with some bottlings not reaching full maturity for 20 years.

The Petite Sirah shown in the column is the Bogle Vineyards Petite Sirah from California. Patty Bogle first planted Petite Sirah in her developing vineyards in the 1970s as she began to establish Bogle Vineyards. Her husband, Chris, was from a several generation fruit farming family and she thought grapes would prosper on their farm. The Bogle family now has over 1,500 acres of vineyards, is still family owned and is managed by her three children; Warren, Judy and Ryan. This Petite Sirah is voluptuous, full-bodied with aromas of black currants and plums. Lusciously jammy and inky in appearance, the fruit flavors are accentuated by traces of tobacco, leather and cocoa. The wine finishes with lingering flavors on the palate. Just the thing for those cold weather stews, rich dishes of lamb or game and the hearty sauces that accompany them.

There are more than 60 different wineries in California that now produce a varietal labeled Petite Sirah, but Bogle is of the most readily available and at a reasonable price range; $12 to $14, at most wine retailers. Try it with your next cold weather comfort food dish; you’ll find it much bigger and heartier than the usual red wines.

Dave Ethridge is a nationally known wine writer, certified wine judge and the director of the Lapeer Chapter of Tasters Guild International.

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