Petite Sirah Pleases

Petite Sirah Pleases
Choosing wines for a function is fun but also challenging. To be considered are the tastes of the audience, the food being served and, above all else, the budget.

For our wine club’s annual dinner and dance we were having three course meal (with a choice of four dishes on each course) followed by cheese and biscuits. We planned on starting with a sparkling wine then having three white wines, three red wines and one dessert wine, a total of eight different wines.

There were fraught discussions at planning meetings. Some wanted old favourites – chardonnay, pinot noir etc, others wanted to choose some less familiar wines because a wine club should be adventurous.

So we didn’t have our customary champagne to start, but instead chose Jansz ‘methode traditionelle’ sparkling wine from Tasmania. Each of the other wines would come from a different country.

We measured which was the most popular wine by counting how many empty bottles of each were left, and the winner was a surprise. It was a varietal of a grape many were not familiar with, Petite Sirah from McManis Family in California.

Petite Sirah is often confused with Syrah (aka Shiraz) and sometimes misspelled as Petite Syrah, with or without the final ‘e’ in Petite. And just as confusingly there is a small berried clone of Syrah that the French know as Petit Syrah.

So the first question people ask is whether Petite Sirah is related to true Syrah, and thanks to DNA profiling we know that Syrah was its father, while the obscure variety Peloursin was its mother.

The variety dates from the 1860s where it was bred by French nurseryman. Francois Durif and it was released in 1880. The variety called Durif, grown in Australia, has been proved to be identical to California’s Petite Sirah.

It’s not known how Durif’s grape came to be called Petite Sirah in California. It was imported from France in 1884 by the Linda Vista Winery in San Jose and the consignment might have been mislabelled or confused with Petite Syrah, or perhaps Petite Sirah was considered a more appealing and marketable name than Durif.

There’s not much grown worldwide, and almost none in France. California has the largest plantings by far, more than six times as much as Australia. There have been more plantings in California since it appeared to be on its way out in 1995 with just 2,400 acres. The following year Dr. Carole Meredith at the University Of Davis, California announced findings of her DNA tests and in 2002 advocacy group, PS I Love You was formed to promote the variety.

The McManis Petite Sirah 2013 we enjoyed so much was deep coloured in the glass full and generous in the mouth, a big wine (yet just 13.%% abv) offering dark berry fruits and a distinct chocolate tones.

Do you like Petite Sirah?? Talk about wine on our forum.

Peter F May is the author of Marilyn Merlot and the Naked Grape: Odd Wines from Around the World which features more than 100 wine labels and the stories behind them, and PINOTAGE: Behind the Legends of South Africa’s Own Wine which tells the story behind the Pinotage wine and grape.

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