The original king of California wine, Petite Sirah acts like nothing like it sounds, as this dense and brooding wine stains the glass and typically offers penetrating dark fruit aromas and flavors. To better understand the varietal, we go back to 1880 where Dr. Francois Durif, a grape botanist and grape breeder at the University of Montpellier in Southern France, released a new variety that he named after himself. The varietal grew from a seed he extracted from fruit of the old French variety Peloursin. Dr. Durif didn’t know the pollen source at the time, but we now know that it was Syrah. The combination of Peloursin and Syrah resulted in fruit with saturated color and very dense fruit clusters. Four years later Durif was brought to California by Charles McIver which entered the US through the East Bay Area. Growers there began calling it Petite Sirah, which others in France had been calling the varietal.
There are some historical records from 1890 which indicate that Concannon Vineyard had 540 acres of Petite Sarah planted. Sadly that same decade phylloxera destroyed nearly all the Syrah vines in California and in 1897 Petite Sirah was replanted all across California. Over the next few years the varietal grew in popularity which continued until prohibition hit in the 1920s. Then Petite Sirah saw several shifts, as 7500 acres were planted in California in the 1930s, which dipped to 4500 acres in the 1960s and finally peaked around 14,000 acres in 1976. In a mere twelve years, acreage across California dipped more than half, from 14,000 to 5,000. Following a further dip in the 1990s and then a recent spike, there are currently roughly 10,000 acres devoted to Petite Sirah planted in California.
While somewhat unfairly playing second fiddle to other varietals, there are some seriously good Petite Sirah wines being made right now. Over the past few months I have compiled a list of recommended Petite Sirah bottlings and I am hugely impressed with the level of value that Petite Sirah offers on the retail market. One of the most outstanding value wines that I have tried this year, checking in well under ten dollars is the 2015 Bogle Petite Sirah (WWB, 89) which shows wonderful structure and richness. Another outstanding new release was the 2015 Michael David ‘Petite Petit’ Red Wine (WWB, 92) which is a deep and complex wine that is one of the best values you will find out of California.
One of the standout Petite Sirah wines from this report, the 2013 Robert Biale ‘E.B.A.’ Petite Sirah (WWB, 94) has just an incredible sense of place and a wonderful combination of mouthfeel and tension. For those who want to push intensity and viscosity, look no further than the stunning 2015 Orin Swift ‘Machete’ Petite Sirah (WWB, 94) which is a stunning, inky colored wine that has incredible fruit weight and maintained a wonderful acidity despite the obvious heat of the vintage. I have also included some beautifully aged Petite Sirah wines, including the stunning 2006 Ridge ‘Dynamite Hill’ Petite Sirah (WWB, 93) which still has incredible youth considering it is more than ten years old. Here are our recommended Petite Sirah releases from California.
Recommended Petite Sirah
2015 Line Shack Petite Sirah- Sourced from the San Antionio Valley in Monterrey County, this wine starts with black tea, blackberry jam and red cherry preserves with tar on the nose. Fruity and forward, this delivers black fruit flavors with coffee ground and a touch of dark chocolate. This sweet fruit driven wine is an outstanding value out of Monterrey County that is best enjoyed in the short-term. Drink 2017-2022- 89
2015 Bogle Petite Sirah- This wine was sourced from a host of AVAs in California. The wine opens with mulberry, blueberry, and milk chocolate. Plush and soft on the mouth, this shows off black tea, black cherry cough syrup, milk chocolate and blueberry compote flavors that sit alongside some nice structure. At under ten dollars, this is just a killer value by Bogle. Drink 2017-2022- 89
2014 Barra Petite Sirah- This Mendicino County AVA Petite Sirah opens with aromatics of milk chcolate shavings, blueberry compote and crushed mint. Graphite, dark chocolate shaving and black cherry with blackberry cobbler flavors impress. This is deep, balanced and intense. Drink 2017-2025- 90
2014 Harney Lane Petite Sirah- This Lodi bottling begins with aromatics of milk chocolate, blueberry pie, bramble and Chinese black tea. This has wonderful poise and a purity of fruit. This structured effort shows off blueberry compote, black cherry, black olive and milk chocolate flavors that connect with some light tannins. This finishes long with black fruits and light tannins. Drink 2017-2027- 92
2015 Michael David ‘Petite Petit’ Red Wine- A blend of 85% Petite Sirah and 15% Petit Verdot, this inky colored wine begins with aromatics of rose petals, black tea, blackberry pie and suggestions of baking spices. Dense and intense flavors persist, showcasing coffee grounds, crushed mint, coffee grounds and dark chocolate connecting with a nice minerality. This is another outstanding value by Michael David. Drink 2017-2024- 92
2015 Michael David ‘Earthquake’ Petite Sirah- This brooding color instantly entices. Blueberry cobbler, black tea and milk chlorate aromatics show their stuff. Mineral driven and intense, this wine shows gorgeous blue fruit with blackberry cordial and dark chocolate shaving flavors. This is just an awesome release that showcases the intensity of the varietal. Drink 2017-2022- 91
2015 Orin Swift ‘Machete’ Petite Sirah- The 2015 'Machete' by Orin Swift is an utterly compelling blend primarily comprised of Petite Sirah, with smaller parts Syrah and Grenache. As this slowly begins to unwind in the glass it releases aromas of cigar box, creosote, smoke, black cherry compote and Turkish coffee. Moderate tannins coat the mid-palate alongside profound weight and length, as this burly wine delivers flavors of black olive, Earl Grey tea, mocha, black cherry syrup and crushed mint which cascade on to the long finish. This needs another year to settle, but it is a hedonistic delight to take in right now. Drink 2017-2029)- 94
2013 Renwood ‘Granmere’ Red Wine- The 2013 Renwood 'Granmere' is an outstanding effort from this winery. This is a blend of 42% Petite Sirah, 33% Zinfandel and 25% Syrah. This impressive aromatic expression begins with aromas of blackberry cobbler, blueberry, guava puree and creosote. There are flavors of blueberry compote, blackberry pie, cassis and has lovely weight. This is hard to deist right now. Drink 2017-2025 - 92
2015 Robert Biale ‘Royal Punishers’ Petite Sirah- One of the most impressive wines from Robert Biale is the 2015 ‘Royal Punishers’ Petite Sirah. With a deep opaque colored, this begins with a ripe aromatic profile of crushed mint, black cherry pie, mocha and tar. The texture to this wine is simply marvelous. Blackberry pie, mocha and dark chocolate flavors impress. Seductive and delicious, this marvelous wine will drink well into the next decade. Drink 2017-2025- 93
2013 Robert Biale ‘E.B.A.’ Petite Sirah- An exceedingly profound and deep wine, 2013 Robert Biale 'E.B.A.' Petite Sirah is the most compelling of its kind that I have tasted in the past year. Seductive, dense and simply delicious, this wine was sourced from the Biale Family Vineyard, which is planted to Stags Leap clone Petite Sirah. As this begins to open it releases intoxicating aromatics of ripe black cherries, blueberry compote, cardamom and black tea. There are gorgeous ripe flavors of black cherries, crème de cassis and blueberry pie along with black tea and anise. Today this is showing extremely well, and should continue to drink well over the course of next decade. Drink 2017-2027- 94
2014 Stags Leap Petite Sirah- Having a dense and brooding inky color, this wine opens with bright aromatics of violets, milk chocolate shavings, black tea and blackberry cobbler. The viscosity and texture and gorgeous. Black tea, blackberry jam, dark chocolate and black cherry flavors provide marvelous fruit weight. This is just an awesome bottling with a wonderful mineral streak. Drink 2017-2026- 93
2006 Ridge ‘Dynamite Hill’ Petite Sirah- Distinctly Bordelaise is not something that typically describes Petite, but other than the inky color, this might pass for a well-made Cabernet wine. Sourced from the York Creek Vineyard, this checks in at only 13.8% alcohol. The mouthfeel is very plush and inviting as black fruit flavors connect with blueberry compote and a touch of Turkish coffee. Rich, ripe and highly structured, this is a simply awesome age-worthy Petite Sirah by Ridge. This still has a long life in the cellar and needs an hour decant if enjoying now. Drink 2017-2027- 93
2010 Eighty Four Petite Sirah- This aged bottling is made by Elias Hernandez and Doug Shafer. It begins with a dark fruit bouquet with a touch of mocha. There is a decadent mouthfeel to this wine that coats the mid-palate. Flavors of milk chocolate, black plum and boysenberry pie sit alongside some nice structure. The viscosity and tension of this wine is awesome as it is currently drinking at its peak. Drink 2017-2022- 92