Even casual wine drinkers are usually familiar with the most common varietals like Pinot Noir, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, and Chardonnay, but lesser-known varietals are the undiscovered gems that often turn into the centerpieces of cellars both large and small. While avid collectors are squabbling over boutique Cab Sauvs in the four-figure range and above, Petite Sirah lovers are over here snatching up incredible bottles for less than you’d spend on Saturday night pizza for four.
Of course, none of that matters if Petite Sirah is nasty. Good thing it isn’t.
Petite Sirah comes from a grape called Durif, which is a cross between two other grapes—Syrah and Peloursin—named after the botanist who developed the hybrid in 1880. Petite Sirah found its footing in California, where winemakers are able to coax deep, rich flavors out of small berries bursting with tannin and acid. Though you can find some Petite Sirah in other regions, the overwhelming majority of production remains in Cali.
These wines are beautiful alongside robust dishes that could benefit from a counterpoint. Try yours with braised short ribs, a juicy hamburger, or a big bowl of curry.
*Note: You’ll see a variety of spellings here. While Petite Sirah, with an “i”, is the most widely accepted spelling, some wineries use “Petite Syrah” or “Petit Sirah” in their marketing, while wineries outside the United States may refer to wine using the name of the grape, Durif.
If You Like This…
Turley ‘Hayne’ Petite Syrah, 2001 – $117
Petite Syrah doesn’t always age well, but California producers are crafting cases that taste even more delicious anywhere from seven to 20 years after bottling. This is one such example.
Turley is a California winery through and through, so it’s no surprise they’ve captured the essence of a wine that found its home on the west coast of the U.S. This Petite Syrah, from Turley’s Hayne Vineyard, is aromatic and built for power, with seriously large lashings of black fruit and graphite wrapped in a wreath of white flowers. The alcohol is a relatively low 13.2%, leaving plenty of room for sweet, woody tannins to poke through on the round, lengthy finish.
Local: Madrigal Vineyards Petite Sirah, 2013 – $32
Another Napa Petite Sirah, this time a little younger and from a family-owned winery that has partnered with acclaimed winemaker Ed Sbragia, former Winemaster at Beringer and the only winemaker in the world to have both a red and white Wine Spectator “Wine of the Year.” Boom.
Madrigal’s Petite Sirah is classic in many ways, with the blueberry, blackberry, and roasted coffee notes you’d expect, but there’s a plush, velvety texture that acts like shag carpeting for your taste buds. It’s a wine you really want to sink into, and there’s enough complexity that you can truly enjoy layer after layer of flavor from the zippy first sip through the supple, striking finish.
It’s 100% Petite Sirah, 100% delicious, and a wonderful accompaniment for your Uncle Bob’s famous BBQ ribs.
A Little Far-Flung: Michael David Winery Petite Petit, 2016 – $15
I’m going to let you in on a little secret. You know Costco? The warehouse-style store where you can buy bathtub-sized vats of peanut butter and the world’s best roast chicken? They also have an impressive wine selection. Tucked amongst the pricey bottles of Yellow Label Veuve and Joseph Phelps Insignia sit delicious examples of Spanish Rioja, old vine Zinfandel, Cote du Rhone, and even Kirkland Signature Champagne that’s actually French and actually cheap.
They also have this Michael David Winery Petite Petit, so named because it’s a blend of 85% Petite Sirah and 15% Petit Verdot. Michael David isn’t one person but actually two brothers, Michael and David Phillips, who run a Lodi-based family winery that dates back to the 1850s. The brothers carry on a longstanding tradition of creating high-quality wines with a ton of personality. From the juice itself to each wine’s funky and colorful label, these are treats for the eyes and the palate.
Anyway, back to the Petite Petit. For just $15, give or take a little depending on where you’re buying, you get a gargantuan wine that’s uber-concentrated and mouthwateringly tasty. The oodles of black fruit you get on the onset is balanced by a hint of vanilla and toasty oak. The finish is lengthy and dry, leaving you smacking your lips for me.
Pair this with a bunch of delicious things from the Costco meat aisle—because you have the money leftover to do that family-sized packet of ribs up right.
Out There: Dusted Valley Wahluke Slope Petite Sirah, 2016 – $45
The vast majority of Petite Sirah in the world comes from California (hence the regionally restricted suggestions listed above), but this bottle from the Wahluke Slope AVA in Columbia Valley, Washington, is a chance to see how the grape evolves once planted in new terroir.
Dusted Valley’s wine is younger, but the nose-diving nighttime temps in Wahluke Slope help boost acidity and bring out the wine’s natural characteristics. It’s unapologetically big and undeniably chewy—this is not a shy wine, but it is certainly memorable. Expect classic Petite Sirah flavor turned up to 11.