PETITE SIRAH is a brash red that unapologetically pushes its way through a crowd and forces itself into your glass. It is a heart-thumping, chest-pounding, chain-wielding, tattooed demon that confidently sits astride a chopped hog and guns its engine down Highway 101, salt air in its bushy face with no agenda and no destination.
It is, by definition, a French grape. But in the depths of its soul, petite sirah embodies the American spirit. It is Johnny Cash giving a one-fingered salute, Bob Dylan playing a haze-filled Greenwich Village coffeehouse, Guns N’ Roses thrashing through “Welcome to the Jungle.” It is equally comfortable in jeans or leather, cowboy hat or spiked helmet.
Petite sirah is neither petite nor syrah. It is a cross of syrah and peloursin — the latter a grape so obscure that I need to look it up whenever I write about it. It was discovered in the 1860s by French botanist François Durif and is called “petite” because of the small size of the individual grapes. But like Bruce Lee, these small packages pack a punch with deep colors and bold, throaty, tannic flavors.
It is a wine I adore — desire, actually — because of its devil-may-care attitude and an ability to age far better than many other reds.
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Most of the world’s petite sirah is grown in California. But the grape is migrating up the coast and establishing itself in tiny amounts throughout the Pacific Northwest, particularly in Washington’s arid Columbia Valley.
So far, the variety is feeling comfortable in our sandy soils and finding fans. With a bit of effort, you could collect 20 examples of Northwest petite sirah. While small in the context of California, this bodes well for the variety’s future. And the wines will only improve with time because petite sirah — as much as any variety — develops interesting complexities as the vines gain some age.
I am rarely so enthralled with a wine as I am with petite sirah. Now is the perfect time to introduce yourself to the Washington version of this grape and follow it as it becomes a favorite among wine lovers in the know.
Andy Perdue is editor and publisher of Great Northwest Wine, a news and information company. Learn more about wine at www.greatnorthwestwine.com.