Petite Sirah — A Guide to the Basics

Petite Sirah is often confused with Syrah. They are related, but not the same grape. And there’s really nothing “petite” about it in the glass.

Red wine in a glass
Photo: Linda Raymond / Getty Images

Petite Sirah should be more popular than it is. After all, it checks so many of the boxes that American consumers often look for in a red wine: It tends to display ripe, rich fruit, leans toward the more powerful end of the spectrum, and its spice notes allow it to pair with a wide range of foods. Petite Sirah also plays well in the proverbial sandbox with other grape varieties, often lending blends greater depth of color and an undertow of richness. Despite the fact that even the best examples rarely cost a fortune, it flies relatively under the radar –– but this grape variety has the potential to offer profound, joyous pleasure.

What is Petite Sirah Wine?

Petite Sirah is a red wine produced from the grape of the same name. Interestingly, it's not the same grape variety as Syrah, with which it's often conflated. Petite Sirah is actually the same as the Durif grape variety of France, which is the result of a crossing between Syrah and a local grape variety called Peloursin. In practical terms, this effectively means that Syrah and Peloursin are the "parent" varieties of Petite Sirah.

Where Does Petite Sirah Wine Come From?

The origins of the Petite Sirah grape can be traced back to southeastern France, where it is known as Durif. Despite its roots, Petite Sirah reaches its most well-known heights in California; The grape shines in the Central Coast, where it is often blended with Zinfandel; in Temecula Valley; and Livermore Valley, where producers like Dante Robere and Concannon produce notable examples. There are also top-quality producers of Petite Sirah in Napa Valley and Sonoma, including Gehricke, Girard, and Ovid. The Prisoner also includes it in its famous namesake blend, and Petite Sirah plays a role in the blend for the Orin Swift Eight Years in the Desert red. Excellent Petite Sirah can also be found in Washington State and Australia, too.

Why Should You Drink Petite Sirah Wine?

Petite Sirah offers dramatic aromas and flavors that makes wines produced from it just as enjoyable when sipped on their own as with food. In the summer, Petite Sirah and blends that incorporate it tend to pair well with barbecue, and in winter, the richness and depth of flavor in those bottles make them comforting and warming on a cold, dark night. Petite Sirah also will fit any budget: Delicious ones can be found for under $25, and pricier options are also available, many of them capable of aging for an extended period of time. As is generally the case, the bottles that are best able to evolve in the cellar tend to be less giving in their youth, and often need time for the tannins to soften. If you do want to enjoy these particular bottles early, either decant them or pair them with foods that are high in protein and rich with some fat.

Petite Sirah can work wonders in a blend. Many producers use it, even in unnamed capacities, to lend darker color and greater richness to wines that are labeled as being produced from other grape varieties. Remember, in the United States, a wine only has to be made from 75% of a single grape variety to be called that grape on the label. For example, a bottle that's labeled as Zinfandel can have up to 25% of other grape varieties in there –– Petite Sirah is not uncommon in that role.

What Does Petite Sirah Taste Like?

Petite Sirah tends to show deep, dark, rich fruit like plums, blackberries, and occasionally blueberries and cherries. Sweet spice notes (especially if the wine has been aged in new oak) like vanilla, cinnamon, and clove can also be discerned. Hints of black tea and cigar tobacco are not uncommon, especially if the wine has a bit of age to it. Sometimes, candied violets may be present, too. Petite Sirah is relatively tannic, but the texture of those tannins varies with location, producer, and vintage.

Given that Petite Sirah tends to be rich with a higher content of alcohol, it's important to enjoy it at the right temperature. Drink it too warm, and it will likely come off as boozy with cooked or stewed fruit. A quick stint in the fridge will work wonders, but don't drink it chilled –– otherwise, you'll risk running into tannins that seem woody and astringent. Enjoying Petite Sirah from a Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, or universal-style glass is a smart move, while sipping it from the more dramatically triangular bowl of a Pinot Noir glass may amplify the alcohol, throwing its balance off.

Five Great Petite Sirah Wines

There are countless great Petite Sirah wines and blends on the market today. These five producers, listed alphabetically, are a perfect way to start exploring all that Petite Sirah has to offer.

Carmel

One of the legendary producers of Israel, Carmel has been a leader in Israeli wines since it was founded by Baron Edmond de Rothschild in 1882. Among a wide range of other wines, their Old Vines Petite Sirah, from the Judean Hills, is a ripe, rich red whose plum and dark-berry fruit find fantastic counterpoints in sweet spice.

Doffo

This excellent Temecula Valley producer offers a fantastic range of well-crafted wines, including Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Zinfandel, and more. Their Petite Sirah Reserve 2018, the first vintage of this wine, is a generous, dramatic red wine, gushing with ripe plums and blackberries, baking spices, and toasty vanilla.

Foppiano

Foppiano Vineyards has been one of the most important producers of Petite Sirah in California for a long time. They're based in the Russian River Valley, which, while far more well-known for Pinot Noir, is also capable of growing excellent Petite Sirah, too. The 2016 is in a great place right now, its plush yet still-assertive tannins lending its plum and kirsch flavors serious structure. This wine proves how elegantly Petite Sirah can age.

Ridge Vineyards

Ridge has been a key player in the evolution and success of California's wine industry for a long time –– 2022 is actually their 60th anniversary. From the iconic Monte Bello to their terrific Lytton Estate Petite Sirah and even a standout Grenache Blanc, they seemingly do it all. The 2020 Geyserville brings together 69% Zinfandel, 20% Carignane, 8% Petite Sirah, 2% Alicante Bouchet, and 1% Mataro, and is everything you'd want a blend like this to be: Generous and ripe yet with excellent structure and length, and shimmering with blackberries, mouthwatering cranberries, ancho-spiced dark chocolate, and a long, mineral- and baking spice-flecked finish.

Mettler

Mettler was established over a century ago, and even today their reds continue to show the potential of Lodi. The 2018 vintage is still defined by its purple fruit and crushed blueberries, but there is a hint of orange oil, sarsaparilla, and candied violets peeking through. This is one for the cellar, or your next barbecue.

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