Among wine people, it feels vaguely embarrassing to admit that you enjoy petite sirah. Last year, after I recommended a $9.99 Bogle petite sirah as one of several inexpensive, widely available “gateway” bottles for young millennials just discovering wine beyond the Franzia box, a sommelier friend chided me. “Are you kidding me, dude? Petite sirah?” I was sufficiently shamed, for about 30 seconds. Then I asked him what else — from California, at that price point, as easy to find — he’d recommend. I was met with silence.
Can anyone tell me why California petite sirah doesn’t get more love from the cognoscenti? It certainly has some of the elements they love: It’s relatively obscure; it’s confusing; it pairs well with some hard-to-pair-with dishes. Is it the word “petite” that scares away macho wine dudes? Or is it the weird, Americanized spelling of sirah, without the “y”?
Certainly the classic taste of tooth-staining, tannic petite sirah isn’t for everyone, but fans like me appreciate the deep, rich flavors and aromas of blueberry, spice, chocolate and sometimes even cedar or eucalyptus, markedly different from American zinfandel and cabernet sauvignon. Mark Oldman, in his “Oldman’s Brave New World of Wine,” calls petite sirah “dark and intense as a dominatrix’s boot.” Even one of the producers I recommend, Villa San-Juliette in Paso Robles, calls it “blueberry motor oil” on its bottle and warns drinkers, “Don’t spill it on your shirt.”