Even though the origins of this grape are in France, California is the place to look for the best expressions of Petite Sirah. The "Petite" in the name refers not to the size of the vines but rather to the size of the grapes. In fact, the high skin to juice ratio that accompanies the small berries allows Petite Sirah to produce wines with high tannins and acidity, components that give them the ability to age well.
The grape was first developed in the 1870s in France's Rhône region, the result of a cross between Syrah and a relatively minor Rhône variety, Peloursin. This rationale for this cross was to give Syrah a greater ability to resist mildew. But the resulting grape never really caught on in France, in part because the tendency to mildew was replaced by susceptibility to gray rot in the humid Rhône region. California's climate is considerably drier, and the grape tends to thrive there, from Mendocino all the way down to the Mexican border.
For a number of years, Petite Sirah was primarily used as a blending grape, thanks to its deep color and fairly intense tannins. Petite Sirah is frequently blended into Zinfandel for added complexity, body, and to tone down the tendency of zins toward "jammy" fruit.
More recently, the grape has been bottled as a single varietal wine. On its own, Petite Sirah forms wines with dense blackberry fruit character, mixed with black pepper notes, licorice, smoked meats and tar. Like other big, red wines from California, Petite Sirah pairs well with steaks, roasts, and game. We like the wines from EOS, Bogle Vineyards, and Rosenblum Cellars.