A case of wine or a case of mistaken identity?
For the novice and the connoisseur alike, the terminology used to navigate the wonderful world of wine - tannins and finish and legs, oh my! - is oftentimes curious and confounding. However, as interest in the study and practice of all things wine-related, from making to marketing, continues to catch fire and spread among cultures and demographics previously unaffected, so too does the market continue to catch on and gain ground for various articles and guides written specifically for the purpose of presenting wine simply and plainly.
Committed to the proliferation of just such enological inclusivity, Gold Medal Wine Club works to provide readers with relevant information and accessible material on all things wine, and the following feature is no exception! Below, varietal variance of the viticultural is investigated, the profiles of two seemingly similar varieties, Petite Sirah and Syrah, examined, and the truth behind the uncertainty exposed.
Are Petite Sirah and Syrah related?
There’s No ‘I’ in Syrah
The fact that ‘Sirah’ and ‘Syrah’, though pronounced the same, are spelled differently is the proverbial “scratch” on the surface of this examination. What lies beneath, however, is layer upon layer of evidentiary support proving that not only are the two identities variationally different, but varietally. Put simply, Petite Sirah and Syrah are different grapes entirely, and therefore produce two very distinct barrels/bottles/glasses of wine.
Speaking of names, these two go by a few.
Before the grape was known as ‘Petite Sirah’, it answered to the name ‘Durif’ and is currently commonly referred to as ‘PS’ by those in the know, while Syrah has gained a reputation for assuming numerous identities across the international scene, including ‘Sirac’, ‘Marsanne Noir’, and, of course, ‘Shiraz’, another identity frequently entangled in the Petite Sirah/Syrah moniker mix-up.
So, what exactly does put the ‘Y’ in Syrah and the ‘I’ in Petite Sirah?
Both wine varieties are French in origin and, in fact, Syrah is the more popular parent of Petite Sirah, the other, lesser known, half being Peloursin. Word through the grapevine is that on the grapevine Petite Sirah and Syrah grow in tight, compact clusters, though Petite Sirah tends to produce smaller berries and a higher yield in terms of grape count than Syrah throughout any given harvest. The vigorous vines of Petite Sirah keep close company in the vineyard, whereas Syrah prefers a room with a view and space to grow.
But enough about the vine...
Let’s talk about the wine!
Partners in Wine-making
What’s in a name?
A background check on PS reveals the wine to be a variety high in tannins, alcohol, and body, a candidate for decanting and short-term ageing, less than 10 years in other words. Evidence suggests decanting settles those high tannin levels in the wine, while short-term ageing preserves the moderate acid and fruit levels present, effectively avoiding an unremarkable glass of flabby, or flat, wine. Also gifted in terms of tannin, Syrah yields are commonly subject to winemaking practices intended to temper those trepidatious tannins and stimulate that deep eggplant color common in the finished wine.
Opaque to the point of being almost considered black, Petite Sirah embraces its dark side with a flavor profile consisting of such precise descriptors as ‘dark chocolate’, ‘black pepper’, and ‘black tea’, whereas Syrah puts its best foot forward by flaunting its fruit-forward features, significant notes including ‘boysenberry’, ‘red cherry’, and ‘cranberry’.
Blending Syrah and Petite Sirah
Shameless oenological polygamists, both PS and Syrah lend themselves well to blends, finding the ‘perfect match’ with a variety of varieties, including Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon, Viognier, Mourvèdre, and Zinfandel. A match made in the cellar, each of these blends is primarily intended to soften the otherwise astringent taste both PS and Syrah tend towards and carry that aggressive flavor from start to finish, simultaneously drawing the experience out and reigning the bitterness in, encouraging structural stability as well as sensory balance.
As any matchmaker or wedding planner will tell you, balance is the key to any successful pairing.
Syrah & Petite Sirah Food Pairings
Speaking of pairings, here are a few recommendations we here at Gold Medal Wine Club recommend you try to not only understand the individual characteristics presented by both Petite Sirah and Syrah, but to experience for yourself the unique features and functions each wine has to offer!
Below, you’ll find both a listing of wines you do and/or could enjoy as a Wine Club member and a menu of food pairings we think would complement any good glass of our featured wine...because it doesn’t really matter what’s in a name so much as what’s in a glass, and whether that’s Petite Sirah or Syrah, it’s sure to be delicious.
Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?
1: Pair sauteed mushrooms sprinkled with a little cinnamon with a Peltier 2015 Petite Sirah to bring out the wine’s herbal notes.
2: Pair basted pork rubbed with a little honey with a Cache Creek 2012 Petite Sirah to emphasize the wine’s bold flavors.
3: Pair BBQ eggplant sprinkled with salt and pepper with a Gondak 2017 "Collective Efforts" Syrah to enhance the wine’s spicy aromas.
4: Pair beef burgers topped with Gorgonzola cheese with a Zinke Wines 2014 Syrah to uncover the wine’s earthy hints.
Author Bio: Meghan Fitzgerald is currently a student of enology and viticulture in attendance at the Institute for Enology and Viticulture and works for Waterbrook Winery as the Wine Club Manager. She writes as a contributing author for Gold Medal Wine Club in an effort toward establishing herself as a professional writer for wine news and culture.