California, epicenter of image, got it wrong with Petite Sirah. Big, bold, black, loaded with tannins—there is nothing petite about Petite Sirah wine.
It’s not Sirah, either, but a cross between Peloursin (mother, a humble Rhone grape) and Syrah (father, the bedrock Northern Rhone grape) created by in the early 1880s by Dr. Francois Durif. First notable because of resistance to powdery mildew then ravaging the Rhone, the new variety failed to produced distinguished wines. As a result, Durif (as it is still called in France) never made it big in its country of origin.
Not so in California. Renamed “Petite Sirah” in the New World because its berries are similar (but smaller) than its father, Syrah, the grape became popular because of hardiness and utility as a blender. It’s inky color, peppery flavor, and strong tannins added character to non-descript reds; as such, its wimpy name did not matter.
Then came the varietal revolution when marketers discovered people were more likely to buy—and value—wine named for a predominant grape than a bottle labeled “red wine.”
Today, there would be focus-group testing of euphonious names hinting of French origins while simultaneously evoking muscle-beach brawn. A wine manly men and assertive women would buy with swaggering confidence. Didn’t work out that way.
Petite Sirah/Petite Syrah is wonderful, full-bodied wine with strong flavors of black fruits, pepper, mocha. Ignore the name. Enjoy the wine.
• Bogle Petite Sirah. Wild berries, full body, easy drinking, taught tannins. $11
• Concannon Petite Sirah. Potent, dark fruit; full mouth; chewy tannins. $11.60
• McManis Petite Sirah. Cola and spice, classic Petite tannins. $12.50