Bottle Notes, Buying Wine, Petite Sirah

Petite Sirah: California’s Most Age Worthy Varietal?

3 petite sirahs

Petite Sirah was first bottled as its own varietal by Concannon in 1961. The wines made in these early years were huge, tannic, extracted wines. Some of the better examples like Ridge York Creek, Freemark Abbey, Stags’ Leap and David Bruce were thought to be wines capable of aging for 30 or more years. Therein though was the problem as most consumers don’t buy wines to cellar for that long and these wines were almost capable of ripping the enamel off your teeth if you drank them upon release.

When I first started buying and cellaring wines in the early 1990’s the appearance of Petite Sirah on the shelf at a wine store was a rare occurance. The varietal was on the verge of irrelevance. In 2002 Diaz Communications began a campaign to resurrect Petite Sirah. Through relentless marketing and promotion Petite Sirah has staged a comeback. Longtime producers like Ridge and Stags Leap have been joined by hot wineries like Outpost, Turley, Carlisle, Foley and Switchback Ridge. All the while wineries like Bogle, Concannon and Foppiano continue to produce staggering case volumes of Petite Sirah year in and year out.

Another factor in the renaissance of the varietal was a concerted effort on behalf of producers to make wines that are more user friendly. Better tannin management has supposedly made the wines more approachable in their youth.

I decided to put this premise to the test by pulling some bottles from my cellar:

  • 2004 Outpost Petite Sirah Howell Mountain – The wine has an an amazing nose of fresh, ripe raspberries. On the palate there are jammy raspberries and cherries with a strong dose of pepper and anise. There is no getting around the wall of tannins on this wine as well. The wine has a long, tannic, jammy finish. My rating: 91 points
  • 2005 Switchback Ridge Petite Sirah – Sit tight. 16.4% alcohol by volume. Cherry liqueur on the nose. Massive structure but in no way hot or over-ripe. Chocolate, cherries, prunes and blackberries. There is simply a massive amount of fruit on this wine. Perfect acidity keeps everything in balance. Drink over the next 20 years. Wow. My rating: 94 points
  • 2004 Turley Hayne Vineyard Petite Sirah – Still opaque purple in color. Raisins and blackberry liqueur on the nose. Blackberries, raspberries and chalk on the palate. Their is a unique sweetness to this wine that is irresistible. The finish is long and sweet. A massive, port like wine. My rating: 95 points

My takeaway from opening these bottles? Many of the Petite Sirahs produced today still have the capacity to age for 25 or more years. That being said, they can also provide immediate enjoyment if you choose to open a bottle now.

This is a unique varietal that deserves space in your cellar. I’m on the hunt to add more Petite Sirah to mine. Who are your favorite producers?

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11 thoughts on “Petite Sirah: California’s Most Age Worthy Varietal?

  1. I think CA Petite Sirah is a great value pivot away from Napa Cab. I went to a Robert Foley dinner a couple years back and my favorites in the line-up were his Petite Sirahs. Kinda pricey at around $50 though. The 2006 Mockingbird Hill was a favorite at just over $10. I seem to recall hearing it was a re-labeled Stag’s Leap (which goes for around $40). I enjoy this category.

  2. Arroyo is pretty good. Flying Horse makes a very good more classically styled PS for a good price. And, perhaps the best is David Fulton. However, have you tried any PS that is 15+ years old? I’m not convinced it will get any better after 5-8 years as it starts losing fruit and becomes all tarry and aggressive.

    1. For me the jury will be out on the ageability of this new generation of PS until I can try a wine like the 04 or 05 Switchback Ridge in 2020 or so. My guess is they will stand the test of time better than their predecessors from the 80’s and 90’s.

  3. I totally agree about the ageworthiness of PS. Two years ago I had a 1975 Ridge York Creek PS that was still composed, had held its fruit, and was a joy to drink. It reminded me of a high end Cote Rotie. I have also had the 82, 84, 85 and 86 vintages. I gave the ’82 96 points. What a great bargain these wines are!

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