The Sunday Magazine: Petite Sirah

When I teach my wine course for wines under $15 I ask people what wine they serve with burgers off the grill in the summertime. The usual answers are a bunch of white wines which opens the door for me to introduce the class to an underrated grape varietal, Petite Sirah.

Petite Sirah was a varietal imported from France, to California, where it was called Durif. In France it was never a very remarkable grape for wine and that is probably one of the reasons it isn’t very well known. If French winemakers can’t do something with it there must be a reason….right? This is an example of an unremarkable grape in one microclimate being transferred to a different one and flourishing. As the California vintners planted it the drier climate there caused it to blossom, literally and figuratively, and the small intense fruit to produce some wonderful red wines.

Petite sirah grapes

Petite Sirah Grapes on the vine

Over the last 15-20 years these California Petite Sirahs are true red wine bargains although you can find expensive ones, the more economical versions are very good. These are great wines for cheeseburgers and I have successfully paired them with spicy curry dishes. Petite Sirah often manages to be the perfect answer to foods that don’t have obvious food pairings. These are also red wines that are very drinkable when you purchase them, they can improve with some aging but the ones I recommend below are ready to go right from the store shelf to your glass.

spellbound ps

Spellbound Petite Sirah is my favorite low price Petite Sirah regularly found for less than $15. Spellbound is the vineyard run by Rob Mondavi, Jr. the fourth generation of Modavis to go into winemaking. His Petite Sirah is one of the easiest drinking red wines you can buy and it has gourmand notes of caramel and coffee to the nose before getting a rich deep berry flavor over the oak of the barrels used to age the wine. The currently available 2012 vintage is excellent and shows all of the qualities that make Spellbound Petite Sirah exceptional.

mcmannis ps

McManis Petite Sirah runs a close second to Spellbound for me. It generally has a more pronounced caramel quality and the berries are juicier which makes it drink much softer. The 2012 vintage is available now for less than $10.


One of the things I find fascinating about Petite Sirah is the variations that can be found and the Cupcake Vineyards Petite Sirah is very different than either of the ones above. The winemakers accentuate all of the sweeter character inherent in the grape and so this becomes the perfect companion to a dessert of summer berries and whipped cream or key lime pie. The 2012 vintage overflows in cherry, raspberry, and blackberry flavors. This is on top of a nose of cinnamon and coffee as you sniff before drinking. This is also widely available for less than $15.

So fire up your grill, gather some summer fruit and pop the cork on a Petite Sirah it’s a perfect summertime combination.

Mark Behnke

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