When Napa Valley\u2019s Frank Family Vineyards, a noted Cabernet Sauvignon producer, released its 2009 Reserve Petite Sirah last year for $65, gasps were heard around the California wine world. $65? For Petite Sirah?\r\n\r\nA meaty red with historic roots in California, Petite Sirah is known as a structured, inky wine that\u2019s tough on its own and used to add tannins and acids to blends. But over the past decade, it has cultivated a rapidly expanding fan base.\r\n\r\nP.S. I Love You is a group of producers who\u2019ve banded together to promote the variety. The organization\u2019s relaxed, teeth-staining tastings attract rabid crowds. Devotees attend in search of Petite Sirah\u2019s bold, dense black-plum fruit, its peppery and tannic nature and its affordable price.\r\n\r\nBut high-end Napa Cabernet Sauvignon producers like Frank Family, Freemark Abbey and Stags\u2019 Leap Winery, as well as small wineries (Quixote, Carlisle Winery & Vineyards, C\u2022Beck, Rock Wall Wine Company, Envy Wines, Sheldon, McCay Cellars and Arat\u00e1s, to name a few) are tinkering with the variety. The goal is to make more elegant, food-friendly versions.\r\n\r\n\u201cI had come to think of it as Zin-like, where so many producers have gone in this direction of huge and sugary, like a liqueur,\u201d says Master Sommelier Andrea Robinson. \u201cBut Petites from some of these producers have not gone in that direction.\u201d\r\n\r\nNapa\u2019s Freemark Abbey first produced Petite Sirah from Fritz Maytag\u2019s York Creek Vineyard on Spring Mountain in 1969. It still has a limited supply of its 1971 Petite Sirah (hailed as one of the finest ever made by Connoisseur\u2019s Guide to California Wine), as well as its 1976 and 1977 offerings, also from York Creek.\r\n\r\n\u201cBack then, the grapes would come in pretty ripe\u2014really tannic,\u201d says Ted Edwards, director of winemaking at Freemark Abbey. \u201cThe wines were just made in a blockbuster style with not a lot of finesse.\u201d\r\n\r\nSome 40 years later, though, Petite Sirah has evolved. Vibrant, dark and deep purple in color, the wines are full of fruit, structure and acidity, and are very much alive.\r\n\r\n\u201cThese wines are still opening,\u201d says Barry Dodds, estate manager at Freemark. \u201cThat\u2019s their magic.\u201d\r\n\r\nEdwards had shunned Petite Sirah for more than a decade, focusing his efforts on Cabernet. In 1996, however, Edwards began making Petites again, sourcing fruit from the Wood Ranch in Rutherford, planted by the late Napa vineyard consultant Frank \u201cLaurie\u201d Wood. The current release is 2009.\r\n\r\nIt\u2019s the ageability that appeals to winemaker Todd Graff, general manager of winery operations at Frank Family, who cut his teeth on Petite Sirah in the 1980s as assistant winemaker under\u00a0 Carl Doumani, the former owner of Stags\u2019 Leap Winery. Doumani continues to devote himself to the grape at Quixote winery, which he founded next door.\r\n\r\n\u201cI think I understand them,\u201d Graff says, referring to Petite Sirahs. \u201cThey take some time to age, and if you give them that, they\u2019re great to drink.\u201d\r\n\r\nThe impetus to make a Petite arose in 2003 when Graff had a three-and-a-half-acre vineyard to plant in Napa\u2019s eastern Capell Valley.\r\n\r\n\u201cIt\u2019s at a higher altitude in an extreme region,\u201d Graff says. \u201cSo when it\u2019s hot, it\u2019s really hot, and when it\u2019s cold, it\u2019s really cold, and the Petite seems to have done really well up there. You don\u2019t have to plant it in the heart of Rutherford to make a really good one.\u201d\r\n\r\nIn the vineyard, he treats Petite Sirah the same as his expensive Cabernet. His trellising system ensures that the fruit is neither overexposed to the sun nor overcropped.\r\n\r\nIn the winery, it\u2019s given the same treatment as Frank Family\u2019s Cabernet and Pinot Noir\u2014a cold soak and minimal pump-overs before being pressed off a little early. The fermentation finishes in French oak barrels, about\u00a0 one-third of them new.\r\n\r\n\u201cWe treat it from dirt to bottle the same as any of our wines,\u201d Graff says, explaining its price.\r\n\r\nStill, he thinks Petite Sirah shouldn\u2019t be judged as a young wine, but rather for how it will taste decades down the road. Having enjoyed aged bottlings while at Stags\u2019 Leap, he knows Petite Sirah\u2019s potential beauty.\r\n\r\n\u201cPetite Sirah is like your restored hotrod muscle car,\u201d he says. \u201cMaybe at one time it didn\u2019t seem classic, but as you hold on to that muscle car in your garage for 25 years, it becomes classic, something everybody sees and thinks, \u2018Cool.\u2019 \u201d\r\n\r\nAt one point in California, Petite Sirah was indeed cool. It was first planted in 1878 and grown widely until Prohibition, especially in the Livermore Valley, where Concannon Vineyard\u2019s Petite Sirah plantings date back to 1911. Concannon remains, with Bogle Vineyards, among the biggest producers of Petite Sirah.\r\n\r\nCurrent plantings of the variety are on the rise. According to U.S. Department of Agriculture figures, Petite Sirah was among the varieties with the largest jump in acreage in California, growing by over 13% during the last five years, totaling approximately 8,335 acres.\r\n\r\nStill, that\u2019s modest in comparison to the more than 95,000 acres devoted to Chardonnay, almost 80,000 planted to Cabernet Sauvignon and roughly 48,000 to Zinfandel, California\u2019s big three.\r\n\r\nAlso known as Durif, Petite Sirah\u2019s heritage is traced to the Rh\u00f4ne Valley as a hybrid of Syrah and Peloursin, and from there, to pockets of Sonoma and Napa, where old vines still stand, though in very small numbers.\r\n\r\nChristophe Paubert, winemaker and general manager at Stags\u2019 Leap Winery, likes to blend Petite Sirah from different parts of the Napa Valley.\r\n\r\n\u201cIn the north, the Petite Sirah fruit is more floral and less tannic, and in the south, the grapes are more spicy and concentrated,\u201d Paubert says. \u201cIt is a grape of plenty\u2014plenty of color, tannins and flavor.\u201d\r\n\r\nIn Lodi, winemaker Michael McCay, who grows his own fruit within the Mokelumne River region for McCay Cellars, says Petite Sirah initially made him mad. He first thought that the grape was too hard to tame, but it has since become a passion.\r\n\r\nIn the vineyard, he does a lot of crop thinning, limits irrigation and instructs his team to carry out three pickings, which all occur relatively early.\r\n\r\n\u201cWith the first pick, I get brighter blueberry, a softer, elegant style, brighter phenolics,\u201d he says. \u201cBy the third, maybe three to three-and-a-half Brix later, the grapes have a deeper, richer structure. I want the wine to be layered throughout and complex.\u201d\r\n\r\nSonoma-based winemaker Dylan Sheldon, who sources Petite Sirah from Lodi\u2019s Ripken Vineyard for his Sheldon label, likens the grape\u2019s nature to that of a brutish linebacker, dominated by coarse tannin and brooding dark flavors.\r\n\r\n\u201cWe stopped pushing the vineyard and started coaxing it,\u201d says Sheldon, \u201charvesting at a Brix level more consistent with Pinot Noir and doing a long, cool whole-cluster ferment in macro bins with punch-downs by hand to blow off the heat.\u201d\r\n\r\nSheldon\u2019s Petite is then basket-pressed and tucked away in neutral oak for three years. It\u2019s called Deviant Velocity, a physics term for a change in speed or direction. The linebacker has learned to waltz.\r\n\r\n\u201cIt can taste like an amazing breakfast,\u201d says winemaker Shauna Rosenblum of Rock Wall Wine Company. She grew up around Petite Sirah at Rosenblum Cellars, founded by her father, Kent.\r\n\r\n\u201cMy favorites taste like hickory bacon, freshly brewed coffee, ripe strawberry, blueberry and butter-drenched, maple-syrupy pancakes,\u201d she says.\r\n\r\nWhile Petites are packed with flavor, sommelier Randy Caparoso, a contributing editor at Sommelier Journal, thinks its versatility with food is highly underrated.\r\n\r\n\u201cMany California Petites are quite oaky, which automatically makes them taste great with smoky, grilled foods, from portobellos to pork,\u201d Caparoso says. \u201cBut it\u2019s not just that. Any Petite Sirah that is fruit forward, with tannins tucked under the spiced blueberry fruit, is bound to taste great with various spice, earth and fruit components.\u201d Graff maintains that age is everything.\r\n\r\n\u201cIt\u2019s not a Pinot Noir, delicious today and silky,\u201d he says. \u201cIt\u2019s a punch. Your taste buds are going to be coated. It\u2019s black coffee versus light tea.\u201d\r\nTop-Scoring Petite Sirahs\u2026 and the Foods That Love Them\r\n92 C. Beck 2008 Petite Sirah (Napa Valley). Made using fruit from old vines in Calistoga, this is a ripe, rich, full-bodied Petite. It\u2019s dry and tannic, yet opulent, with sweet-tasting oak, raspberry, blackberry, plum and chocolate flavors, and a long, spicy finish.\r\nabv: 13.9%\u00a0\u00a0\u00a0\u00a0 Price: $38\r\n\r\nCorey Beck, owner of C.Beck Winery in St. Helena, California, is also the director of winemaking and general manager for Francis Ford Coppola Winery. He suggests pairing either this wine or the Coppola Diamond Collection Petite Sirah with the Rack of Lamb Madame Bali\u2014a favorite recipe from Rustic, Coppola\u2019s restaurant in Geyserville, CA (recipe below). It involves marinating the meat in onions and pomegranate juice for days to enrich the flavors and optimize the pairing.\r\n\r\n91 Envy 2009 Estate Petite Sirah (Calistoga). Darkly colored and coarsely tannic, this is a full-bodied, bone-dry and rustic wine. It offers a deep core of blackberry fruit. Cellar Selection.\r\nabv: 14.8% \u00a0\u00a0 \u00a0Price: $45\r\n\r\nMaster Sommelier Andrea Robinson suggests pairing it with Lindt Excellence Supreme Dark 90% Cocoa or Godiva 85% Cacao Extra Dark Santo Domingo.\r\n\r\n91 Sheldon 2007 Deviant Velocity Petite Sirah (Lodi). This complex Petite, sourced from the Ripken Vineyard, is marked by bright dark-cherry flavor and tamed tannins.\r\nabv: 13.6% \u00a0\u00a0 \u00a0Price: $28\r\n\r\nTobe and Dylan Sheldon pair this with \u201cthe more subtle side of game\u2014squab and lamb.\u201d Proven\u00e7al dishes like olive tapenade and ratatouille work with the wine\u2019s garrigue notes, they say.\r\n\r\n90 Concannon 2004 Heritage Petite Sirah (Livermore Valley). Concannon\u2019s flagship wine features an intense blueberry note, but also hints of licorice, flower and grilled meat. Cellar Selection.\r\nabv: 14.5%\u00a0\u00a0 \u00a0Price: $50\r\n\r\nJoyce Goldstein, former chef of the Caf\u00e9 at Chez Panisse in Berkeley, CA, pairs this wine with her Garofolato di Manzo, a clove-scented beef dish braised in Petite Sirah that\u2019s delicious with mashed potatoes.\r\n\r\n90 Trueheart 2009 Petite Sirah (Sonoma Valley). A hearty Petite Sirah, this shows class, elegance and power. It\u2019s dry and softly tannic, with ripe flavors of blackberry, currant, bacon and cedar, sprinkled with black pepper.\r\nabv: 14.9%\u00a0\u00a0 \u00a0Price: $35\r\n\r\nVintner Ligeia Polidora, proprietor of Trueheart Vineyard in Sonoma, suggests pairing it with hearty flavors, like grilled and roasted meats, bitter vegetables, strong cheeses and anything with lots of garlic.\r\n\r\n89 Frank Family 2009 SJ Vineyard Reserve Petite Sirah (Napa Valley). This big, rich, softly jammy Petite Sirah is packed with dark berry, chocolate, anise and pepper notes. Cellar Selection.\r\nabv: 14.5%\u00a0\u00a0 \u00a0Price: $65\r\n\r\nFrank Family winemaker Todd Graff says to give it another 10\u201315 years, and this beauty will be crying out for a big lamb roast with aromatic herbs.\r\n\r\n88 Cedar Creek 2008 Estate Petite Sirah (Fair Play). Big and brawny, this Sierra Foothills wine offers intense notes of milk chocolate, licorice, smoky violet and raspberry.\r\nabv: 15.5%\u00a0\u00a0 \u00a0Price: $34\r\n\r\nTracey Berkner, owner of Taste restaurant in Plymouth, CA, pairs this Petite with rib steak, aged goat cheese potato gratin and crispy leeks. \u201cThe tanginess of the goat cheese with the rich cut of meat brings the wine into a great place,\u201d she says.\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nRack of Lamb Madame Bali\r\nRecipe courtesy Francis Ford Coppola, owner of Rustic, Geyserville, CA\r\n\r\n\u201cThis is an Armenian recipe, which I learned from my friend Armen Baliantz,\u201d says Coppola. \u201cThe lamb racks are marinated in pomegranate juice and white onions for three days, and then grilled on our parrilla [an Argentinean grill]. Very tender and delicious, with rice pilaf.\u201d\r\n\r\n4 (8-rib) racks of lamb\r\n4 cups pomegranate juice\r\n1 white onion, sliced\r\nPinch of salt\r\nPinch of pepper\r\n\r\nPlace the racks of lamb in a nonreactive pan. Add the onions, and cover the meat with the pomegranate juice. Allow to marinate for 3 days.\r\n\r\nRemove the lamb from the marinade and pat dry. Season both sides of the lamb with salt and pepper. Cook the lamb on a charcoal grill over medium-hot coals approximately of 375\u00b0F until the meat is medium-rare, approximately 10 minutes per side. Serve with rice pilaf and grilled vegetables. Serves 4.