Written by: Tim Edison

Updated: August 1, 2023

Complete Guide to Petite Sirah Wine | Wine 101

Petite Sirah guide

Petite Sirah, contrary to the name, is anything but petite. With dark, inky color, plush tannins, and rich flavors of plum, chocolate, and black pepper, it’s a wine best suited for monumental evenings. 

This guide will take you through Petite Sirah and how it compares to its parent grape Syrah, plus its notable growing regions, flavor characteristics, serving recommendations, and of course, some excellent food pairings.

Characteristics of Petite Sirah

Petite Sirah is a lush, dark, and complex wine. It comes from the Durif grape, named after the botanist that developed it by crossing Syrah with a largely extinct grape, Peloursin. 

It is a full-bodied, deep purple wine with high tannins and moderate acidity. It is usually higher in alcohol, around 13%-15%. 

Due to Petite Sirah’s rich tannins, oak aging is necessary to round out and soften the wine. Aging is possible, though consuming these wines within 5-7 years is best due to the grape’s moderate acidity. 

Petite Sirah will vary in flavor depending on the growing climate and whether it is produced as a single varietal or blend. Due to Petite Sirah’s incredibly bold tannins, other red wines are often added to soften the wine and impart acidity, making for more age-worthy wines. 

In general, Petite Sirah can be expected to have aromas of black fruit, black tea, and pepper. Flavors include everything from bramble to espresso to dark chocolate. 

Shannon Ridge Petite Sirah

Petite Sirah Versus Syrah

As mentioned above, Syrah is one of the parents of Petite Sirah, along with Peloursin. While the two wines have some similarities, it’s important to note their stark differences.

Petite Sirah is higher in tannins and typically has stronger flavors of black plum, black pepper, and chocolate. 

Syrah is lower in tannins yet higher in acid, making for slightly better age-ability. In addition, Syrah typically has more red plum and mild pepper notes as compared to Petite Sirah.

Petite Sirah Tasting Notes

As mentioned above, flavor variations will depend mostly on the climate and whether the wine is made as a single varietal or as a blend. 

The best examples of Petite Sirah come from warmer climates, such as in the Lodi Valley. These wines have rich dark fruit, dried fruit, vanilla, and blackberry bramble flavors. Cool climate Petite Sirah, such as in Sonoma, will have more red fruit and chocolate flavors. 

When blended, Petite Sirah adds body and depth of flavor, though other wines, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, impart crucial acidity that makes the wine more age-worthy.

Relic Wine Cellars Old Vine Petite Sirah 2018

How is Petite Sirah Served?

Petite Sirah is best served in a standard red wine glass at room temperature (60°-68°F). Serving closer to 60°F will help to emphasize the wine’s more fruity flavors and soften the rich tannins.

Regarding decanting, all Petite Sirah wines will benefit from at least an hour of decanting, though there’s no harm in letting it decant for longer.

The Petite Sirah Grape

Petite Sirah was invented in the mid-1800s when French botanist Dr. François Durif crossed Syrah with a rare grape, Peloursin.

The resulting Durif grape was tightly clustered with a high skin-to-juice ratio, making for wines with high tannins and bold flavor. 

Durif was introduced to America in the late 1880s, where it was renamed Petite Sirah due to the small size of the berries. Due to the grape's natural mildew resistance, it quickly gained popularity. While demand for the grape has declined slightly in the United States, it is still widely used throughout California.

Both in the United States and Israel, the wine is known as Petite Sirah. Elsewhere, it is still referred to as Durif. 

Petite Sirah grapes on vine

Notable Regions for Petite Sirah

So where does the best Petite Sirah wine come from? Some regions are certainly more famous than others, and these are the places to look out for.

Lodi Valley, California

Located in the heart of California’s Central Valley, it’s not surprising a region so well known for making Zinfandel would be equally as adept at making Petite Sirah. Lodi Valley is twice the size of Napa and is slightly warmer, making for red wines with a deep flavor concentration. 

Lodi Valley is known for its quick draining and heat-retaining sandy soil, allowing its historically old vines to struggle and produce richly flavored wines. 

Here Petite Sirah can be expected to have more dark fruit, cooked fruit, and jammy flavors with smooth acid and luscious tannins.

Sonoma, California

Sonoma, to contrast with Lodi, offers a slightly cooler perspective. With warm but rarely scorching days, cool evenings, and a consistent ocean breeze, Sonoma makes Petite Sirah with a slightly more crisp acidity. These wines typically have more aging potential. 

Sonoma soil and climate do vary across its broad landscapes, though the most notable Petite Sirah can be found more inland in Rockpile or Dry Creek Valley. 

Expect flavors of sugar plum, earth, dark chocolate, and blueberry. 

Victoria, Australia

Second to the States in its production of Petite Sirah is Australia, where it is known as Durif. The first plantings were introduced in Victoria in the early 1900s, where Durif is most commonly found today. 

Victoria is the second smallest and most southern mainland wine-growing region. With its warm climate and consistent ocean breezes, Durif can be expected to have flavors of blackberries, chocolate, menthol, sugar plum, and mocha. 

Carmel & Tishbi, Israel 

While still an up-and-coming wine region, Petite Sirah has found success in both Carmel and the Tishbi regions. The grape was introduced to Israel in the 1970s by UC Davis grads who saw the grape’s potential in Israel’s climate, with warm and rainless summers followed by cold and moist winters. 

Here, winemakers make both single varietal Petite Sirah and blends with reds such as Carignan. Expect flavors of dark chocolate, black plums, cherry, and black tea. 

Petite Sirah Food Pairings

madeira wine

With its bold tannins, moderate acidity, and subtle smoky flavor, Petite Sirah wine is best suited to equally rich and flavorful dishes. Petite Sirah makes an exceptional pairing wine from smoked meats to BBQ to salty fried dishes. 

It is best to avoid mildly-flavored dishes or seafood, as the robust flavor of Petite Sirah will overpower these.

  • Roasted pork tenderloin - The combination of tender, savory pork with fresh herbs will pair perfectly with Petite Sirah and allow the wine’s dark fruity flavor to shine. 
  • Fried mushrooms - Crispy, salty fried mushrooms with a subtle umami flavor are a perfect pairing for Petite Sirah and will make the wine taste sweeter and more fruit-forward when paired. 
  • Spaghetti and meatballs - Hearty, tomato-based dishes require a wine with enough tannins and acidity to balance out those complimentary flavors. 
  • Dark chocolate - If you love chocolate and red wine, then few wines exude that rich dark chocolate flavor as well as Petite Sirah. 
  • Strong cheeses - Think blue cheese, camembert, or gorgonzola - the stinkier, the better, as these will accentuate the wine’s dark fruit and jammy flavors.  

Amazing Petite Sirah Wines to Try

Not sure where to get started with Petite Sirah? We've got three great bottles to try that give a good representation of what's on offer.

Under $15 - Parducci Small Lot Petite Sirah 2020

Parducci Small Lot Petite Sirah 2020

Based in Mendocino, this is a slightly cooler climate Petite Sirah blended with Merlot and Syrah, resulting in a rich wine rife with aging potential. 

With velvety tannins and well-balanced acidity, this is guaranteed to satisfy any palate. Expect fresh flavors of blueberry, black cherry, and dried figs that balance out subtle tobacco and earthy notes. 

Get it from wine.com

Under $30 - Vina Robles Petite Sirah 2019

Vina Robles Petite Sirah 2019

Coming from Paso Robles along California’s Central Coast, this is an excellent warm climate Petite Sirah, made 100% from the Durif grape.

Intense aromas of boysenberry and tobacco slip seamlessly into luscious dark fruit flavors, ending on a velvety finish. 

Get it online at wine.com

Under $100 - Relic Wine Cellars Old Vine Petite Sirah 2018

Relic Wine Cellars Old Vine Petite Sirah 2018

Straight out of Napa Valley, this 100% Petite Sirah comes from a slightly cooler vintage, making for a wine with exceptionally well-rounded acidity and tannins.

Complex aromas of baking spices, plum, and pepper balance with rich dark fruit flavors, making for a wine with both aging potential and a sense of urgency. 

But it now at wine.com

Interesting Facts About Petite Sirah

  1. Petite Sirah is one of the most antioxidant-rich red wines, thanks to the grape's incredibly high levels of anthocyanins. Learn more about the potential health benefits of wine in our guide.
  2. Despite its popularity and success in California, Petite Sirah is still one of the world’s rarest grapes, with less than 10,000 acres grown today. 
  3. Due to Petite Sirah’s popularity in California for its rich flavor, it began as a field blend, grown alongside grapes like Zinfandel, Syrah, and other Rhône varietals. So, it’s unclear how much of Petite Sirah in California is actually made from 100% Durif grapes. 

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About the Author Tim Edison

Tim started Wine Turtle way back in 2015.
These days he contributes to Wine Turtle (and other renowned wine publications) while continuing his wine education.
Tim's wine of the month is the Coates & Seely Reserve Brut NV (from Hampshire, England).

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