P. S. I Love You

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ps.jpegby Courtney Cochran

Once upon a time, there was a wine so big, so bold and so outrageously outsized that its fans felt ashamed admitting it was their favorite. "Oh no," naysayers would insist, "a wine that big just can't be good with food. Why, it's so ridiculously over the top as to hardly even resemble what I think of as a wine."

Despairingly, lovers of Petite Sirah would retreat to enjoy their prodigious darling in the privacy of their own homes, away from the prying eyes of fellow drinkers who insisted that a wine must have impeccable balance - meaning it could harbor neither outsized fruit nor high-octane alcohol - in order to be enjoyed.

Comfort In Numbers

Happily, it wasn't long before fans of Petite Sirah discovered that they were not only numerous but also united in their conviction that their vinous friend - though large indeed - was nothing short of a spectacular wine, one capable of giving immense pleasure if only drinkers would take a moment to stop and appreciate its ample charms. And so, as a way of broadcasting to the rest of the wine drinking world that their "Pet" was worthy of serious consideration, they founded a fan club: P.S. I Love You (psiloveyou.org ).

Among the missions of the club - founded and supported by winemakers specializing in Petite Sirah - is to educate would-be fans about the true origins of the grape, which it turns out is a man-made cross between Syrah and a little-known grape from the south of France called Peloursin. And while this means that, technically, Petite Sirah is the offspring of Syrah, the grape cuts its own unique profile in the wine world apart from its famous parent.

More to Love

For starters, there's absolutely nothing petite about Petite Sirah. Tannin - the compound in wine that leaves a chalky sensation along the gums - comes from the skins and seeds of grapes, and Petite Sirah's remarkably small berries have a low skin-to-juice ratio that results in a wine with significant color extraction and tannin. To these chewy tannins and intense, almost inky coloring Petite Sirah adds voluptuous, jammy fruit flavors and sometimes soaring alcohol levels that can approach 15% in particularly warm years.

But - as with anything controversial - these same outsized qualities are also the catalysts for Petite Sirah's most ardent fans' adoration of the grape. And to be fair, not all Petite Sirah is as outrageously out of balance as its description implies: When grown in ideal terroir and handled with care in the winery, Petite Sirah can sport appealingly round tannins and plush fruit flavors backed by intriguing notes of espresso and black pepper. And although its largess means it'll never be known as a food wine per se, Petite Sirah finds solid expression when paired with the heartiest BBQ fare, whose signature char and smoke notes are perfectly echoed in the glass.

With so much to love, Petite Sirah is clearly poised to steal the hearts of many more fans.

Author's Picks

Grown in France under a synonym, Durif, Petite Sirah really comes into its own in California, where plantings are on the rise. Stylistically, Petite Sirah is the vinous equivalent of comfort food: warm, hearty and perfectly suited to cold weather. Watch for the grape's signature notes of jammy black fruits, espresso, charcoal and black pepper in these selections; prices are approximate.

Bogle Petite Sirah, California, $9
Lava Cap Granite Hill Petite Sirah, Sierra Foothills, $25
Michael-David Winery Earthquake Petite Sirah, Lodi, $25

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8 Comments

Petite Sirah is definitely not the first wine I buy at the store or winery. But...I've tasted some really good ones, just can't think of any ones lately. Of course, I don't think restaurants help in this regard. It's not like I see a ton of Sirahs on the glass by the wine list.

Anyways, came across an article today on the varietal. Apparently there was a symposium in Livermore on Peitte Sirah.

http://www.winebusiness.com/news/?go=getArticle&dataid=66558

I've enjoyed the Bogle Petite Syrah and find myself going back to it often. It's a value at around $9, has the characteristics of a higher price profile.

Great article, thanks!

You may want to give Selby Winery's Petite Sirah a try. Although we discovered it in California, I was surprised to find it on the wine list on top of the Prudential Tower in Boston. I was once again pleased with the unique flavor and quality of this wine. That particular vintage was 2004.

Here's a URL for the PS Symposium (www.petitesirahsymposium.com), and I'd love to hae you at next year's as our guest, Courtney, if you could make it (end of July in 2010).

It was amazing, and a lot of information was shared/learned.

The only thing petite about Petite is in its name. The rest is history... As an American Heritage Cultivar.

Thanks for your delightful story! --jo (PS I Love You's founding executive director)

Jo and everyone,

Thanks for the kind words and interest in the piece! I agree about Bogle's version and would love to try the Selby version as well. Looking forward to hopefully making it to next year's program!

Cheers, Courtney

Glad to know there are other PS lovers out there.

The Bogle is one of our favorites for Friday Pizza nights precisely because it does stand up to all the flavors in the pie.

I'm glad to see this interest in Petite Sirah. I agree that the Bogle holds its own. It's hard to find them. However, Stag's Leap has an outrageous Petite Syrah (sic), albeit pricey called Ne Cede Malis. Cellar 360 in S.F. ran it thru 2 Vinturis to calm it down for tasting. Otherwise, it needs to breathe a lot. Unbelieveable depth and combination of flavors.

Sshhh... let's keep the Petite Sirah a secret. I don't want the rest of the world to know how good it is- there's simply not enough of it to go around if the masses find out.

But if any of you PS fans are seeking the PS Holy Grail, travel to Calistoga and seek out Vincent Arroyo- he's the master.

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