Petite Sirah? Yes, Sirrah!

20 Jan Petite Sirah? Yes, Sirrah!

(The following is a guest post from Irene Sharon Hodes, reprinted with permission)

I had the opportunity to taste a wine that is new to me, Vitkin’s 2006 Petite Sirah. A friend brought the bottle to the vegan dinner party I hosted last Friday (an exceptional experience I really need to get on to blog about).  She knew that I adore Syrah, but made the common mistake of mixing the two varietals.

Israel is one of the relatively few wine regions growing Petite Sirah, officially known as Durif, as a single-varietal wine.  Not to be confused with Syrah, the Petit Sirah, although related, is a different grape altogether.  In the past it has been considered only as a “filler” for other more grand and accepted varieties, or a straight-to-jug kind of cheaper swill. In fact, during my wine training, this is essentially how this variety was presented.

Not so, anymore.  To quote from Wikipedia on Israeli Petite Sirah:

In Israel, Petite Sirah had a history much like that in California—historically used as a blending grape to add body to inferior wines. However, Petite Sirah has recently experienced somewhat of a revival, both in high-end blends and bottled as a single or majority variety. TheUC Davis-trained winemaker and Ph.D. chemist Yair Margalit, familiar with the grape from his time in California, showed that Petite Sirah need not be consigned to jug wine when he blended small portions into his reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. Seeing that Israeli terroir could grow great Petite Sirah, wineries such as Recanati followed suit with Petite Sirah blends, while others like Sea Horse, Carmel, and Vitkin have made single-varietal Petite Sirah in addition to using it for blending.

Going back to this particular bottle, I found it delightfully complex. Although closed and young-feeling, it was still a real treat to be drinking something so different from the norm.  A mature many-layered aroma, it was a peppery wine, light fruit, with a really great acidity.  Deep deep dense purple color, just gorgeous.   It’s pretty different from my Syrahs, but I would certainly drink it again, despite the lack the rich dark fruits I so admire.

Reading about it on the Vitkin Winery website, however, I just learned that this wine is quite closed upon opening the bottle – something I really understand now – and they recommend opening it several hours before drinking.  Perhaps the claimed “meatiness” and richer fruits would have appeared had I done this.  This being reality, I personally think it’s quite absurd to think the average enthusiast (or even minor connoisseur) would do the research and think to open a bottle many hours before a meal AND to decant.  And this from a wine that’s been aged 16 months in oak barrels!  Perhaps the winery should have held onto the bottles for another year (it’s not like there’s a high demand for Petite Sirah).

All in all, I applaud Vitkin for taking the stand, being brave, and heralding once destitute varietals and creative new blends, including a Cab-Carignan-Petit Sirah Port and a the Israeli Journey Syrah-Carignan-Cabernet Franc table wine.

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