There’s Nothing Petite about It!

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We’ve heard that the best things come in small packages, so what about the great “petites” sitting in your wine cabinet? Petit verdot and petite sirah are truly two of the best things in wine, packed with flavor and wonderful savory complexity. 

With nearly opposite profiles, these varietals play well with each other and other wines, creating full bodied and delicious red wine blends. Bottled singularly, petit verdot and petite sirah have their own unique elegance and structure.

 Petite sirah, 139 years young, flourishes throughout the world. The older the vine, the more robust the profile, with heavy tannins and strong flavors that make it perfect for intense meats, barbecues and roasts. Interestingly, if you see Durif on the restaurant wine list, a well-versed sommelier is sharing their appreciation for Old World, thought of as European styled, and New World, or more contemporary wines. Originally called Durif, this French grape was born in 1880 by botanist Francois Durif with a cross pollination between the Syrah grape and the now-rare Peloursin grape, which grew easily and almost ferociously in the southern region of France. 

It wasn’t long before American importer Charles McIver renamed this new hearty grape petite sirah, which is a California darling for its intense flavor and adaptability in varying terroirs, especially warmer, drier climates. A completely different grape from syrah, petite sirah is applauded for a hearty structure, deep dark color, full body and bold flavors. The only thing petite about this wine is the size of the wine grapes themselves, which pack a punch of big flavor, even picked straight off the vine. 

Petit verdot, on the other hand, is the softer, gentler red wine varietal that’s often overlooked, since it doesn’t overwhelm the palate and command your immediate attention. Somewhat mysterious and unlike its louder French cousins, petit verdot wins in longevity and Bordeaux ancestry, with characteristics tracing to the warmer western French climates when Romans moved into the region from the Mediterranean area and are believed to have started the first plantings. 

If you can conjure the aroma of violets and light cocoa, that’s just a sampling of the delicate complexity petit verdot possesses. This quality makes it a lovely addition to classic Bordeaux style blends, increasing the body of the wine, especially on the middle of the tongue when the wines are still young and aging. With California’s New World style of wine grape production, the grape ripens consistently, making it easier to bottle on its own and age into a bouquet of soft leather and graphite. Young in the bottle, it’s not unusual to detect just a touch of banana chip, right on the nose of the glass.

Both petite sirah and petit verdot thrive in drier climates and consistent weather. Australia, Spain, Chile and Argentina all produce consistent quantities of these two seemingly opposite red grape varietals. Produced throughout Washington state, California’s Central Valley and Sierra Foothills, both of these French grapes are definitely making a comeback in blends and single varietal bottles.  

Some excellent pairings for both petit verdot and petite sirah are balsamic vinegar-based dishes, sauces, duck, roasts, smoked cheddars and Gouda cheeses and, best of all, cheesecake. A light blend of heavy cream, powdered sugar and either of these beautiful wines makes a lovely drizzle over a slice of raspberry cheesecake. 

The longevity of petite sirah can also be found in today’s dessert wines, aged by the bottle or in barrels for several years. Fortified with brandy, these dessert wines satisfy our New World cravings for port, a specifically unique identifier for dessert wines produced in the regions of Portugal.  

Cooked down in a saucepan, petite sirah can create the base ingredient for some flavorful sauces and marinades. Sage, marjoram, thyme, lavender, oregano and rosemary are a few natural herbs to incorporate in dishes made with these two wines, as the ancestral land of these grapes included many of these natural agricultural components. You can make your own blend of Herbs de Provence or find these ingredients in your local market in one convenient dispenser.

Used as a wine cocktail, both of these wines become enjoyably effervescent when you add a splash of sparkling wine and a brandy-soaked cherry. Served in a traditional nonfluted champagne glass, you have the makings for any last minute party invitation or gathering. 

October is a common time of year for producers to showcase new vintages with offers and tastings in local wineries and wine markets. Give these two wines a try if you haven’t already! They are great wines to enjoy on a chilly October evening as you enjoy everyone’s decorations for this year’s harvest celebrations.

Sources: winefolly.com, thewinecellarinsider.com and vinepair.com.