A few months ago, I got to do some great wine tasting in San Luis Obispo (SLO). One of the wineries I visited was Autry Cellars, from whom I bought a 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013 Petite Sirah. I knew this purchase was a perfect excuse for hosting a vertical tasting, where you taste several different vintages of a particular wine in year order, starting with the youngest and going to the oldest.
We had a wonderful vertical tasting last night featuring these four wines, along with five more Petite Sirahs and two Petite Sirah blends. In this blog, I’ll share my tasting notes, along with some details about Petite Sirah.
The History of Petite Sirah
Five years ago, I wrote an article on Petite Sirah that provides all kinds of juicy details, including that it was invented by, and named after, a botanist named François Durif in the late 1800s. Durif was trying to deal with Syrah’s mildew problem. While he might have solved this problem, the wine made from the new grape didn’t taste good, so it all but disappeared. Or so we thought. It turns out that the grape quietly made its way to CA, where it was called Peite Sirah. The CA environment happily was much more to the grape’s liking. In 2003, UC Davis determined that Petite Sirah was in fact the Durif grape.
What to Look for in a Petite Sirah
Petite Sirah is inky dark, full bodied, rugged and high in tannins. It typically has notes of blackberry, blueberry, black pepper, chocolate and spice.
Our Vertical Tasting Wines
We started our tasting with the verticals. We liked all of them, but we especially liked the 2011 and 2012. Here are the winery’s tasting notes for these two wines:
2011: “Aromas of black cherry, blueberry, and a tickle of spice beckon you to jump into our intense and full bodied 2011 Petite. The mid-palate explodes with blueberry, plum, blackcurrant, and cola, with a hint of dark chocolate and pepper spice. Smooth caramel and vanilla provide a satisfying finish.”
- 2012: “We call this dark and dangerous! Aromas of black cherry, cola, tobacco, and leather. The assertive tannins are well balanced with the acidity, supports a rich earthly middle with notes of plum black current and just a hint of black pepper. There is a light indication of dark chocolate covered cherries that leads to a soft finish of vanilla sweetness.”
As an FYI, while Autry Cellars is in SLO, the grapes were actually from Paso Robles. Also as an FYI, each bottle cost $38.
The Other Petite Sirahs We Tried
After the vertical tasting, we tried the next wines, again starting with the youngest. Here is what we tried:
- 2016 CA Bogle – We nicknamed this one “the party wine.” It was the least expensive of the bunch ($12). It was fun and easy to drink but wasn’t complex and had only some of what you look for in a Petite Sirah.
- 2015 Paso Robles Opolo – This was one of our favorites. It had a great finish and was very mature, especially considering that it’s only three years old.
- 2014 Livermore Concannon – Because Petite Sirah is Concannon’s signature wine, I was delighted to get to try this in our tasting. It definitely lived up to what you would expect from Concannon. Nice depth, good maturity.
- 2014 Alexander Valley Deux Amis – Another delicious wine. One person at the tasting said, “This wine is too good for food.”
- 2012 Sierra Foothills Renner – Yet another good wine. Interestingly, it almost tasted like a dessert wine, even though it wasn’t sweet.
The Blends We Tried
- 2013 Napa Brainchild – This was a blend of 75% Petite Sirah, 13% Zinfandel and 12% Grenache. We liked it a lot but, in a blind tasting, we wouldn’t have been able to know that it was a Petite Sirah.
- 2010 Howell Mountain Retro – This was a blend of 85% Petite Sirah, 6% Syrah, 4.5% Zinfandel and 4.5% Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine is on French Laundry’s wine list.
We were a little surprised by the high alcohol of these wines. The Autry Cellars wines ranged from 14.4% to 15.5%. For the other wines, Retro was the lowest at 12.8% followed by Concannon at 13.5%. The others were all in the 14% range.
At the end of our tasting, we went around the table to say which wine we liked best. After the first two people, nobody was willing to name just one wine. In fact, a few people named four wines. The clear takeaway was that we all really like Petite Sirah in all its shapes and sizes.
Are you a fan of Petite Sirah? Do you have any favorites?
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