Petite Sirah Lightens Up

The reputation, and style, of the humble Durif has been evolving markedly in California.

Known for its brooding flavours and robust palate, Petite Sirah (as Durif is called in California) is sometimes described as the most decidedly California wine. Its wines easily fulfill the stereotype of a full-bodied wine with ripe fruit that is so often associated with California. Even so, it has never achieved the name familiarity of Zinfandel (with which Durif was most often planted in historic California), nor the status of Cabernet Sauvignon (with which Durif is today most often blended). Instead, its reputation in the state has commonly been that of a valued blending variety. Even so, a small but stalwart group of producers from around the state have experimented with and bottled the cultivar as a single-variety wine since its arrival from France in the late 1800s. And since the late 1990s, an avid while modestly sized marketing group, PS I Love You, has worked to promote the grape on its own.

Like any variety, Petite Sirah has been subject to the whims of global trends and the economic pressures they produce. As riper styles took hold in the early 2000s, for example, no other variety did it better or more clearly than Petite Sirah. It’s a style with which the variety is still most often associated.

While Petite Sirah is also grown in Australia (under its original name, Durif) and is seeing a resurgence of attention in Israel, nowhere is it more planted than in California. (Most of its acreage goes to blending. It serves a crucial role in the trend towards non-varietal red blends that has emerged from California in the last ten years.) That said, today Petite Sirah claims a modest 14,000 planted acres (5,665 ha) in the state, but the proportion of young vines on new sites to old vines in historic vineyards has been changing. (There were only just over 6,500 acres/2,630 ha in 2008.) Some of its most valued vineyards are rapidly being lost to the economic pressures of land prices and economic sustainability.

Even as big-bodied red blends have changed the US wine market, the wine world has seen a global shift towards lighter-bodied wines. In California, that shift has partially been inspired by ….

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