Before we get into what Petite Sirah is, let’s debunk one very common confusion, Petite Sirah is NOT baby Syrah (Shiraz). The grapes are related — botanists actually think Syrah was one of the parent grapes of the new Petite Sirah grape — but it is not a young version of Syrah (it also is not spelled ‘Petite Syrah’). We can see how this is incredibly confusing, given that they both have a very similar sounding name. For that, we can thank the California wine industry and marketing.
Now back to what Petit Sirah actually is. Petite Sirah is actually a grape called Durif that was discovered in France in the 1860s by the botanist Francois Durif. In Durif’s greenhouse, it seems a Syrah vine crossed with another vine during pollination, and the resulting grape a small, intensely colored berry that was high in tannins and acidity. Naturally being the one to discover the new grape, Francois named it after himself (wouldn’t you?).
At some point after this, the grape traveled to California, where winemakers recognized the grape had many similar features to the Syrah they knew well. While they recognized the grape was not Syrah, Petite Sirah was a much more attractive name than Durif, so that’s what they began calling it.
Currently, California and Israel are the two places that produce the highest quality Petite Sirahs worldwide, but the grape can often be derided by snooty wine professionals as not established enough. This is a main reason why California producers came together to create the P.S. I Love You organization, which seeks to raise the profile of this minority wine. Their official mission is to “promote, educate and legitimize Petite Sirah as a noble wine grape variety, with a special emphasis on its terroir uniqueness.”
Petite Sirah has deep rich flavors and aromas of blueberry, chocolate, pepper and spice, and its high tannins and acidity make it great for pairing with curries, as well as rich meaty dishes.
It truly is a unique grape, just don’t confuse it with Syrah!