Years ago, before I was the wine geek I am today, I was interviewing for a sales job at Southern Wine and Spirits. It seemed like a great job — after all, I love wine and I’m a good salesman. One of the interview questions was: “What is the difference between Syrah and Petite Sirah?” Mind you, Syrah and Sirah, though spelled differently are pronounced exactly the same.
My answer, “Uh … Petite Syrah is a smaller grape?” Needless to say, I did not get the job.
Clearly, I was in over my head at that point in the game, but I made it my mission to know about these two similar sounding grape varieties and I will share my wisdom with you. Hopefully, it will prevent you the same embarrassment in the future.
Syrah, the more common of the two grapes, is also know as Shiraz in other countries such as Australia, South Africa and Canada. So you’ve probably at least had the Yellow Tail variety. Syrah is a dark skinned, bold grape that is an important grape of the Rhône region of France.
Syrah is very sensitive to soil and the weather of where it is grown, and so it produces a wide variety of flavor profiles depending on these factors. In Australia, it is spicy and peppery, while in France and the U.S. it is more fruit-forward with flavors of dark berries, coffee and chocolate.
It is the main grape used in Northern Rhône wines, such as Hermitage and Côte-Retie and primarily as a blending grape with Grenache in Southern Rhône areas such as Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Gigondas and Côtes du Rhône. In Australia and the U.S., it is blended frequently with Cabernet Sauvignon or used as a single variety.
If you are looking to experience a few different types of Syrah/Shiraz, here are a few to try:
- Pinfold’s Koonunga Hill Shiraz Cabernet, available at PA Wine & Spirits premium stores for $12.99
- Goats do Roam Red, a southern Rhône-style blend that is primarily Syrah from South Africa (get it … it sounds like Côtes du Rhône), available for $11.99 at PA Wine & Spirits stores
Petite Syrah, primarily produced in California and Australia, is also known as Durif in other parts of the world. It is a hybrid of Syrah pollen and Peloursin flowers discovered by Frances Durif in 1880. It has just recently been discovered that Petite Sirah was, in fact, the same as Durif.
It has small berries which produce a very dark, rich, inky wine with a smooth mouthfeel and flavors of plum, blackberry, vanilla and sometimes chocolate. It is used in blends to add structure to other varieties.
To make things a bit more confusing, Petite Sirah is sometimes misspelled as Petite Syrah, which is what the French used to call a clone of Syrah that had smaller berries. So, Mr. Southern Wine and Spirits, I was kind of right! French immigrants also used the word Petite Syrah to refer to the small yielding crops of Syrah that they experienced when they first came to California.
For a great Petite Sirah experience, try:
- Boogle Petite Syrah, available for $12.99 in the California section of the PA Wine & Spirits stores.
Oh, and have a toothbrush handy!