Bold, robust flavors make it a quintessentially California wine.
FOR ME, THE quintessential California wine is petite sirah, a big, robust, in-your-face red whose history in the Golden State goes back to the 1880s. Truth be told, petite sirah is about the only California wine to take up much space in my cellar.
Petite sirah is a heritage variety in California that enjoys fame across the state, as great petite sirah is grown from the Alexander Valley in the north to the warm Central Coast in the south.
Last year, California winemakers brought in 103,000 tons of petite sirah, up from 75,000 tons the year before. This pales next to zinfandel, which nearly topped a half-million tons last fall. Yet the two varieties are often linked because of their shared American ancestry: Each became popular thanks to immigrants who brought their winemaking traditions and the grapes out West more than a century ago.
Three to try
Here are three California petite sirahs that are a little more restrained:
Miro 2014 Reserve Coyote Ridge Vineyard petite sirah, Dry Creek Valley, $34: Alluring aromas of plum, blackberry tea and dark chocolate give way to flavors of cocoa and juicy dark fruit backed by gentle tannins. This is a time capsule of harvest, reflecting the way those juicy berries must have tasted on the crush pad.
Robert Biale Vineyards 2014 Palisades Vineyard petite sirah, Calistoga, $55: Dusty aromas of cocoa powder, raspberry and Bing cherry lead to flavors of penetrating black fruit. It’s backed by softer, more elegant, approachable tannins and zippy acidity.
Michael David Winery 2014 Earthquake petite sirah, Lodi, $26: From a vineyard planted around the same time as the 1906 earthquake that all but leveled San Francisco, this is a classic California petite with aromas of huckleberry, anise, Earl Grey tea and graham cracker, followed by bold flavors of boysenberry; deep dark fruit; and full-throttle, intense, hair-on-your-chest tannins. A glorious wine.
These days, Miro Tcholakov, winemaker for Trentadue in Sonoma County, loves working with old-vine petite sirah from Northern California, which he finds in just about any old zin vineyard.
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Tcholakov now has his own small eponymous side gig — Miro Cellars — where the Bulgarian expat makes delicious examples of petite sirah.
The grape variety, now blissfully showing up in more Washington vineyards, has French roots that go back to 1880, when Francois Durif, a botanist at the University of Montpellier, cross-pollinated syrah with an obscure variety called peloursin.
The resulting wines are strong sellers thanks to their dark color, taut tannins and intensely robust flavors. Legendary for its aging potential, petite sirah pairs well with grilled meats and anything Italian.
The time of over-the-top red wines is coming to a close, however, and petite sirah is part of the emerging generation. Winemakers are working hard to tame those famously powerful tannins and allow the fruit to shine in a less-than-exuberant style.