Petite sirah a robust red catching on in Northwest

One of the most robust red wines you’re likely to run across is petite sirah.

Grown primarily in California, petite sirah is a French variety that is a cross of syrah and reloursin, an obscure grape. It was discovered in the 1860s by botanist François Durif, a botanist, and the grape can go by petite sirah or “Durif.”

Petite sirah gets its name because the actual grapes are small, even though the resulting wine tends to be big, bold and tannic. Because of this, petite sirahs tend to be among the most age-worthy wines produced.

Petite sirah can be found in most areas of California, particularly Napa, Sonoma, the Sierra Foothills and Lodi. As recently as a decade ago, it would have been difficult to find a petite sirah from the Pacific Northwest. Today, at least 20 different examples are made, and the variety is quickly gaining fans amid wine lovers and winemakers alike.

Here are a few suggestions for food pairings with petite sirah: roasted or grilled red meats, venison, barbecued pork, rack of lamb, lentil casserole, carne asada, meatloaf, lasagna or a meat-laden pizza.

Looking to try a Northwest petite sirah? Here are a few examples we’ve tried recently. All are made in small amounts, so ask at your favorite wine merchant or contact the wineries directly.

Milbrandt Vineyards 2010 Vineyard Series Petite Sirah, Wahluke Slope, $28: This opens with big, dark aromas of chocolate cake, espresso, black licorice and boysenberry. On the palate, it shows its strength with thick, dark flavors of ripe plum, coffee, maple syrup and dark chocolate. It’s all backed with massive yet jammy tannins.

Bunnell Family Cellar 2009 Petite Sirah, Wahluke Slope, $40: Red Rhône expert Ron Bunnell crafts a big, plush wine that emphasizes richness over power. It opens with aromas of caramel, boysenberry syrup and toast, followed by a rich entry that gives way to flavors of sweet dark fruit, mocha, coffee and inky plum.

Smasne Cellars 2011 Petite Sirah, Yakima Valley, $44: This opens with aromas that reminded us of fresh-from-the-oven brownies, rich plum and oak, followed by huge, dark flavors of blackberry, allspice, mincemeat and chocolate cake. Bold tannins back up the massive fruit.

Fraser Vineyard 2011 Petite Sirah, Snake River Valley, $30: There are a handful of petite sirah producers in Idaho, and this begins with a big, bold, thick, dark red with aromas of caramel, molasses, plum and blackberry. On the palate, it’s loaded with flavors of plum, blackberry, boysenberry, coffee, black pepper and tobacco.

Northwest Cellars 2011 Petite Sirah, Yakima Valley, $32: This rich wine opens with aromas of oak, licorice, leather and plum, followed by intriguing, extracted flavors of dark plum and blackberry. Hints of allspice and green tea give way to a big finish.

Covington Cellars 2010 Petite Sirah, Yakima Valley, $40: This offers aromas of black walnut, black licorice, black cherry and chocolate cake. On the palate, its thick tannins give way to bold, dark flavors of ripe plum, black cherry, blackberry and walnut.

Zerba Cellars 2010 Reserve Petite Sirah, Walla Walla Valley, $50: This dark, intense wine opens with aromas of dark chocolate and boysenberry, leading to big, thick flavors of plum, blackberry syrup and espresso, all backed with moderate tannins.

Sleeping Dog Wines 2010 Petite Sirah, Yakima Valley, $30: Larry Oates’ expression of petite sirah shows off more elegance than power, opening with aromas of oak, toast and plum, which give way to flavors of blackberry jam and black olive, all backed with velvety tannins.

Westport Winery 2011 Swimmer Petite Sirah, Wahluke Slope, $29: This robust red wine offers aromas and flavors of huckleberry pie, vanilla, plum sauce and chocolate, all backed with bold tannins and a pleasant toastiness.

Hard Row to Hoe Vineyards 2011 Petite Sirah, Columbia Valley, $35: An expressive Petite Sirah, it unveils aromas and flavors of blackberry, espresso, leather, plum and dark chocolate, all wrapped around rich yet approachable tannins.

Eric Degerman and Andy Perdue run Great Northwest Wine, a news and information company. Learn more about wine at www.greatnorthwestwine.com.

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