“There’s nothing petite about Petite Sirah,” is the common refrain for this robust red grape with a one-two punch of hard tannins and searing acidity.
A hybrid of Peloursin and Syrah developed by French botanist François Durif in the 1800s, it never caught on much in the Old World. But in California, the thick-skinned variety was embraced by the 19th-century winemakers of the state’s emergent wine industry.
Today, Petite Sirah’s 12,000 or so California acres make it the state’s sixth most-planted red variety. While used commonly to add impact and structure to blends or turned into uberripe, teeth-staining varietal wines, producers are now exploring its nuances and showcase more than the inky richness for which it’s known.
This is especially true throughout the Central Coast, where a range of microclimates encourages producer ingenuity and yields a diverse set of bottlings.
Despite reliably warm temperatures in Paso Robles and inland parts of the Santa Ynez Valley, for example, winemakers who study each vintage intensely are able to achieve an elusive balance between structure and acidity. The resulting wines deliver layers of elegance and brawny strength.
In the foggy, windswept Edna Valley and Alisos Canyon appellations, meanwhile, Petite Sirah exudes similar savory and floral characteristics as cool-climate Syrah: cracked pepper, cured meat and violets, as well as a lush fruit backbone.
Six to Sample and Sip
Brady Vineyard Petite Sirah (Paso Robles); $24. This boasts opulent dark fruits offset by purple flowers and a tarry charcoal tone.
Chronic Cellars Suite Petite (Paso Robles); $15. Here, a study of purple fruit and flower aromas and flavors is offered alongside barrel spice.
Epiphany Rodney’s Vineyard Petite Sirah (Santa Barbara County); $37. From a warm corner of a cool region, this brings smoked meat and stone to a black currant party.
MCV Gemeny Vineyards Petite Sirah (Paso Robles); $52. A single-vineyard showcase, this has hard-hitting tannins that release into acid-washed blueberry sorbet and violet flavors.
Jaffurs Thompson Vineyard Petite Sirah (Santa Barbara County); $38. From Alisos Canyon, this is a spicy show of fresh flowers and pepper around a blueberry sorbet core.
Wolff Petite Sirah (Edna Valley); $35. Grown just four miles from the coast, this shows ample cola spice and dark cherry flavors.