Several years ago, my family from a couple of European countries came to visit me here in Ottawa. Although we get to see each other regularly if not often, it was a long awaited visit, the first on this side of the Atlantic. Wanting to show them as much of this part of Canada over the 2 short weeks, we planned to pack every day as much as we could with side trips, sightseeing, togetherness and laughter.
A couple of years before, I had discovered the California Wine Fair – a superb annual wine tasting event that was absolutely not to be missed*. But it was happening just a few days after their arrival! I couldn’t (and wouldn’t!) go on my own. Nor could we all go together. My niece probably wouldn’t have minded tagging along for a few hours, but being 8 she would not be allowed through the door (and we possibly charged with negligence) given our strict laws. However, one (and only one!) of my cousins who came has a keen interest in wine, and that makes for just a bit of a unique bond between us.
Long story short, the two of us snuck out to the wine tasting event and had a blast. Luckily, we were dropped off and picked up, and neither was to be driving the next day as we took off for Toronto and further to Niagara Falls. But I digress.
All that is to say that, that was the day I discovered Petite Sirah. And, Petite Sirah leaves an impression.
It is its adopted new home in California, where as a varietal it rose to prominence much higher than it ever had in its native France. Not a Syrah (aka Shiraz), and not to be confused with Petite Syrah, which is how they call a small-berried Syrah in the Rhône Valley, in France it was grown as a ‘workhorse’ grape to add intensity to the blends. Intensity it added, and in every sense, with its colour dark and dense, alcohol percentage sky high, dark fruit brimming, and tannins firm to spare.
With some foresight and good care all that intensity got tamed in California with wonderful results, as this HandCraft Petite Sirah shows, starting with its inky, dark purple colour, tending towards black. The aromas bring on dark fruit, plum and blackberry, and a whiff of black pepper and tannins I call dusty, as in not heavy on vanilla, cedar, or smoke. In a nice twist, this varietal more typically used as a blending wine is here instead blended itself with a bit of the more widely known Zinfandel. The taste brings more of the dark fruit, plus a meaty, chewy texture, and a satisfying length. With balanced acidity, this is a big wine which would go well with a big, flavourful, but lean steak, such as tri-tip, another of the Golden State’s specialities, which you may have trouble finding elsewhere.
* Check the dates of this year’s California Wine Fair Canadian tour, happening in 7 cities across the country through April.