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Tuesday Tributes
Ten Reasons To Like Petite Sirah—Honest!!

By Charles Olken

Forty years ago, when California discovered that the path to glory for Cabernet Sauvignon lay in French oak barrels and elevated levels of tannin, Petite Sirah was writing its own chapter. It was pretending to be the true Syrah, and it had the astringency to prove it.

California’s flirtation with overweaning power gave way a decade later to the “food wine” movement in which muscle was bad and wimpy wines were good. We may be heading in that direction again, and the reasons will be similar. Power will have gotten out of hand, and those whose preference is for wimpy wines have come out of the closet. It is a kind of vinous ying and yang that seems to be repeated with every new generation of wine drinkers.

But this time, Petite Sirah is not the culprit, and therein lies the rub. Petite Sirah, no matter how carefully it is made, is not going to produce easy-drinking wine, and it is no candidate for elevated acidities, reduced ripeness and adherence to the new paradigm of less potent wines. Petite Sirah, it must be said, is simply going to displease those loud voices who are leading us back towards the “food wine” end of the spectrum. Please understand, this column is no attack on those folks. Rather, my purpose is to claim the high ground among wine journalists by insisting that not all wines need to be alike. And in so doing, I would point to Petite Sirah as a wine that will lose its soul if it goes the way of “moderation”.

So, back off, you “voices of reason”, I like Petite Sirah and here is why--

1. A thick New York steak with crushed peppercorns pressed into its flesh, grilled in a black skillet over a hot flame and napped in a reduced Cognac sauce. We served this dish with Petite Sirah recently—brilliant. We served it with Cabernet Sauvignon almost as recently—not so brilliant.

2. Personality. If Petite Sirah does not have that distinct personality, a winery labels it as Petite Sirah at its own risk.

3. The days when every Petite Sirah was so brawny and thick that you could cut it with a hack saw are long gone. Now, a simple steak knife will do.

4. We make Petite Sirah better than the French. Never mind that a Frenchman concocted it out of the marriage between Syrah and Peloursin. Petite Sirah is apparently too strong a taste for the French.

5. Did I say “steak”? Yes, even in this era of eating less red meat, I like the occasional steak, and I like Petite Sirah with my steak.

6. That inventive Frenchman was named Durif. He named the resulting grape after himself. Here in California, we were smart enough to call it something else.

7. When the high-powered wine movement of the 1970s died out, Petite Sirah started to disappear from California vineyards but a band of hearty souls who could not abide wimpy food wines saved it. For years, Petite Sirah was practically an underground cult wine. Petite Sirah has legs apparently—very sturdy legs.

8. Petite Sirah has never lost its potency, but it has gained in relative sophistication. It loss of popularity was, truthfully, caused in part by too much brawn. Its wines are now better able to be enjoyed without the aid of your dentist.

9. Man cannot live on Pinot Noir alone.

10. Did I mention steak au poivre?


by TomHill
Posted on:5/31/2011 11:28:57 AM


   Very nice rant...couldn't agree w/ you more. My recollect during the "food wine" silliness in the early '80's; PS was pretty much immune to that change in style.

"Petite Sirah is apparently too strong a taste for the French"

My understanding that Duriff fell out of favor in the Rhone was that the tight bunches were prone to rot. But, you're right...most PS's are too strong for those wussy/pantywaist  French palates.

My only problem (well..actually..two of them) is that PS has this clunky/oafish side and can lack fruit upon release. Yet some of those can sometimes develop into lovely old bones. Can't never seem to predict them.

And the other problem is that PS can be a bit erratic in the way it ages. Even if they have lots of fruit upon release, black as ink, and tannic as all get out; some of them just never seem to evolve into anything very dramatic. They lose their fruit and are still oafish/clunky.

I 'spect you're like me, Charlie..wisht to hell we'd bought a whole lot more of that Ridge YorkCreek '71.



No Subject
by Anonymous
Posted on:5/31/2011 1:33:15 PM

"I 'spect you're like me, Charlie..wisht to hell we'd bought a whole lot more of that Ridge YorkCreek '71.


I might still have some around, and FMA's York Creek PS '71. It could appear with me in July and show those northern Italian wusses a thing or two. :-}

by Charlie Olken
Posted on:5/31/2011 1:34:15 PM

Twas me responding to Mr. Hill.

No Subject
by Marlene Rossman
Posted on:5/31/2011 7:28:37 PM
Charlie, after all these years, I am sure you know Jo Diaz, who is one of the leading proponents of Pets in California. Check out her blog: is not only a very knowledgable wine-o but she wrote a very flattering and humbling piece on moi:
Jo Diaz
by Charlie Olken
Posted on:5/31/2011 10:17:02 PM

Do I know Jo Diaz? Am I breathing? Have I been writing about wine for several decades?

Jo Diaz is my model for persistent enthusiasm. Love her.

Petite Sirah
by Terry Rooney
Posted on:5/31/2011 11:48:29 PM
From CGCW in 2006:"We have not liked many Petites over the years, both because they are more tannic than we believe is useful, and because that tannin rarely comes with sufficient fruity compensation to make the wines either drinkable when young or enjoyable with long-aging."So Charlie, that is apparently no longer the case. You DO like PS!! Well, I guess you did say you liked some of them......
Tannin or Bust
by Charlie Olken
Posted on:6/1/2011 12:10:40 AM

The reason I can drink Petite Sirah happily is that there are producers who have figured out that a bold, tightly constructed wine need not be mouth-curingly tannic.

To be sure, tannin is an integral part of Petite Sirah. This is no Pinot Noir or Merlot, it is Petite Sirah, and as long as the fruit comes through and the underlying balance is right, it can be a very enjoyable wine with the right foods.

No Subject
by Marlene Rossman
Posted on:6/1/2011 10:29:40 AM
Charlie, no need to get so touchy. I was referring to Jo for your readers. Calm down.
What Me Worry?
by Charlie Olken
Posted on:6/1/2011 10:51:17 AM

Hey Marlene--

No worries at this end. I guess I forgot to put in a smiley face in my comments about Jo Diaz.

No Subject
by Marlene Rossman
Posted on:6/1/2011 7:05:53 PM
Jo Diaz rocks!!! (even without your smiley face).
Two more reasons
by Christian Miller
Posted on:6/1/2011 10:00:31 PM

11. California birth year wine most likely to still be good when your kids finally open it.

12. Featured variety in one of California's longest running great single vineyard terroir-themed shows - Ridge York Creek Petite Sirah. (Vintages from the 70s are still tasting great!)

Knowing Charlie and PS
by Jo Diaz
Posted on:8/15/2011 6:05:30 PM

Hi, Guys,

First of all, Marlene and Charlie, you both flatter me. Thanks.

Marlene, Charlies been one of greatest fans. He admits that years ago, PS was pretty rustic, and to that I agree. It was he, after years of not tasting and writing abut PS, that I got to turn quite the corner (with entuisatic persistence on my end - LOL).

Charlie and I are old friends, that's why he was so casual speaking of me. He wasn't being flipant, he was being playful. He's very dear, and I've also written about him.

My favs are on my blog for the world to see. Happily, you're both there.

Knowing Charlie and PS
by Jo Diaz
Posted on:8/15/2011 6:06:33 PM

And, thanks Charlie for this story. I (happily) just stumbled upon it. Been so busy, and now cathcing up with my reading.

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