Lots of good friends came over for my birthday the other night, and brought a wide variety of wine with them. I had purchased some wine for the evening as well so it gave us a chance to try several different types. Since I had never bothered to look into the relationship between Syrah and Petite Sirah I thought I would look and share what I find.
Syrah is a Rhone grape that is bottled as a single varietal (Hermitage and Cote-Rotie) in the Northern Rhone, and used in Rhone blends (Chateauneuf-de-Pape) in the South. It is characteristically bold, spicy, even meaty. Syrah has also had huge success in Southern Australia (known as Shiraz) and in California.
Petite sirah, sometimes spelled petite syrah, has a little bit of a convoluted past as to its origin. It has been in California since around 1880 but was never truly identified as its own varietal, a pseudonymn for small berried syrah, or just a field blend of several grape varietals. But DNA testing has shown that it is likely the same grape as durif, which is a cross between peloursin and syrah, and also from the Rhone region. So while syrah is the mother to petite sirah they are not clones. There are many petite sirah admirers though, who argue that it is the true American noble red grape.
The syrah we opened was Stephen Test Syrah Dry Creek Valley Unti Vineyard 2007. The wine is fermeneted with all native yeast in all used French oak to avoid imparting any oakiness to the syrah. It is gently fined, but left unfiltered for bottling. As the name implies it is sourced from a single vineyard in the Dry Creek Valley AVA in Sonoma. The wine was an opaque ruby color, and had a nose of sweet red cherries, berries, and some spices. The flavors were of licorice, dark red berries, and lots of pepper and spice. The tannins were fairly firm and the 14.7% abv showed in the finish with a little bit of heat. Wine Spectator gave the 2006 vintage 91 points. For me I will give it a 3. I rated this before I went to the Paso Roble Grand Tasting, and after some of the syrah I tasted there I feel that this rating holds true. It was good but seemed a little unbalanced, all spice and not enough of the elegance that I like to find in a well balanced syrah. I paid $18.95 at Chronicle Wine Cellars and only seem to find it available here from the winery itself for $24.
The petite sirah was Stonehedge Reserve Petite Syrah 2007. At 13.5% abv the wine was fruitier and softer on the palette. It had a dark red garnet color, with a nose of purple fruit, currants, and a touch of oak. The flavors were of ripe red plums, some earth that I would almost describe as mossy, and a little pepper. The finish was longer and softer than the syrah above. I enjoyed this wine more after it had been open for an hour or so, and both my score of 3.5 and the consensus among the group was that they preferred it to the Test syrah (caveat that this bottle was drunk later in the night at which point some may have liked everything better). This wine is widely available in Southern California at Trader Joe's locations for (I think) $9.95 and a good wine for the price.