It is hard to keep track of all the wine varietals in the world, much less know the difference between them all. Some are common and easy to pronounce. Some are in obscure and in foreign languages. Many have names that sound similar to each other. Take a look at Syrah and Petite Sirah. Is Petite Sirah a smaller bottle of Syrah? What is the difference between Syrah vs Petite Sirah?
Syrah, also called Shiraz, is a completely different grape varietal than Petite Sirah. Petite Sirah, which is another name for the Durif grape, is actually much darker and more tannic than Syrah. Named “petite” because of its small grapes, it is the offspring of Syrah and Peloursin grapes.
Before we explain how Syrah and Petite Sirah are different let’s talk a little about how to distinguish between all the wine varieties and how wines are named.
How Do People Choose Wine?
There is no doubt that looking at some wine lists or labels can be very confusing. How do you figure out what you want to drink?
The majority of people select wine by color (red, white, rose) then by grape variety. Some stop there while others may look further to what country, region, or climate a bottle of wine is from.
This helps lump wines into buckets so you have a general idea of how to pick the wines with characteristics you prefer.
Author Note: Oregon is a cool climate region known to produce Pinot Noir with fresher fruit whereas in warmer climate California Pinot Noirs are often full of jammy fruit.
Around the world, you will find that the variations in terroir, particularly climate and soil type, affect how a wine looks, smells, and tastes.
Typically, a cooler region will offer characteristics that are crisp earthy, and more delicate. Warmer climates produce wines that are a bit bolder and often have baked fruit flavors.
If you understand the aroma and flavor characteristics you prefer, then all you need to do is choose wines from grapes that tend to offer a similar profile.
Once you get the hang of that you can refine your choices even more by keeping in mind how the climate affects a wine’s profile. This way you have a guide and do not have to memorize every wine label you come across.
Where Do Wines Get Their Names?
Many wines are named by the grapes they are made from. Wine labels will tell you the winery name and which grapes are used.
All wines that we drink today originated with the Vitis vinifera grape from the Mediterranean. Throughout history, these grapevines have been cultivated and spread throughout the world. The different wine grapes we identify today are different species of the Vitis vinifera genus.
If you read a wine label you will likely recognize many Vitis vinifera grape varieties, like Chardonnay or Cabernet Sauvignon. These classify the wine in the bottle by which grapes were used to make it.
What does it mean if you don’t see a grape name on the bottle? Old world wines, mostly European, often label the wine by the region it is grown in. Designated rules on how a wine is made and what grapes are allowed to be used let you know what you will find in the bottle.
For example, if you see Chablis Appellation d’origine contrôlée on a label of white wine you know it is Chardonnay. To put this on the label the wine has to be made of 100% Chardonnay grapes.
Many grapes are called different names in different regions of the world. Despite the variations in names, the grapes provide the same color, size, growth tendencies, and general characteristics.
Overtime some vines have been created by crossing two existing vines. This is a complicated lengthy process so it is not a regular occurrence.
Look at Syrah vs Petite Sirah – where did they come from and how are they different?
Contender No. 1: Syrah
Like many wine grapes, Syrah’s origins began in France. Grapes vines called Dureza and Modeuse Balance were crossed to create Syrah. The Rhone Valley, France is historically the most well-known region for producing Syrah wine.
Syrah is a very popular grape variety. It is widely produced worldwide with France and Australia leading the way.
Top Tip: Syrah grapes are dark and fairly small so they offer boldly concentrated flavors. As a full-bodied red wine, it projects moderately high acidity and tannin. You will find it has a deep purple hue leading to a mouth full of dark fruit and tannic texture.
While Syrah can be a bold wine it doesn’t reach the maximum level of body, alcohol, and tannin that wines can be. Common aromas and flavors are green peppercorns, sage, allspice, leather, and plum.
In the 1800s Syrah was taken out of France. The grape found success in California and Australia. Australians renamed the grape Shiraz.
If you see a bottle of Australian Shiraz next to a French Syrah know that it is the same grape. The variances in flavor come from the climate and soil.
Old World Syrah, from places like France with a cool climate, will be higher in acidity and lean heavily on earthy or herbal aromas. New World, such as Australian Shiraz with a warmer climate, will have more fruit and peppery spice.
Australia hosts some of the highest-rated Shiraz wines in the Barossa Valley, south of Adelaide. The region escaped a vine disease the tore through Europe therefore it holds some of the oldest vines in the world. These can contribute flavors of eucalyptus and spicy black pepper.
Syrah is often combined with light grenache grapes and rich Mourvedre grapes to create a common GSM blend. This traditional blend is found in Côtes du Rhône, France. Australian winemakers sometimes produce this GSM blend under the Shiraz name.
With its bold fruit and spice flavors, Syrah is bound to be a hit at your dinner table. Decant Syrah/Shiraz for around one hour and serve room temperature in a classic red wine glass. You can also enjoy Shiraz with desserts such as brownies.
Contender No. 2: Petite Sirah
Because of its name, you may think that Petite Sirah is a lighter version of Syrah. That is not the case. They are completely different grape varietals.
Syrah and Peloursin grapes were crossed to create Petite Sirah. This grape is also called Durif named for the man who discovered it.
The grapes are very small, lending the name “petite, “ and appear almost black. Petite Sirah’s dark color, concentrated juice, and a large amount of skin contact during fermentation give the wine intensity.
Petite Sirah is rare compared to Syrah. There are around 46 times more acres planted of Syrah Worldwide.
History of Petite Sirah
Petite Sirah was discovered in France but is mostly produced as a single varietal wine in California today. Key regions in California producing Petite Sirah include the Central Valley, North Coast, North Valley, Central Coast, and Sierra Foothills. It grows best in hot dry climates and is often very high in alcohol.
Petite Sirah is the stronger bolder cousin of Syrah. It is often combined with Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel to create additional body in a blended wine.
This full-bodied red wine presents bold fruit, tons of tannin, and high alcohol. Inky in color, Petite Sirah will have flavors like black cherry, jammy blueberries, herbal black pepper, dried rosemary, and spices from oak-like tobacco, hazelnut, and dark chocolate. These flavors make it pair excellently with cheese as well as Mexican dishes such as mole.
Because it has such strong tannin, Petite Sirah requires long oak aging to make it smoother. High tannin also means you will be drinking a much higher percentage of antioxidants than you would with light red wine. Choose Petite Sirah for better health benefits!
Author Note: It is best to decant Petite Sirah for a few hours and serve a bit cooler (around 65 degrees Fahrenheit) than room temperature. This will calm harsh tannin and bring out more floral and mineral characteristics.
Petite Sirah is generally cheaper than other full-bodied red wines offering good value for a robust flavor. Add it to a hearty meal for greater impact. It is bound to impress even your wino friends.
Syrah vs Petite Sirah: The Face-off Concludes
Next time you find yourself wondering what the difference between those seemingly similar bottles on the shelf is, remember it’s the opposite of what their names imply. While Syrah is a full-bodied red wine, Petite Sirah sends an even bigger punch.
As two completely different grape varietals, they will not look, smell, and taste the same. Syrah is a full-bodied red wine that is likely smoother and more refined than its competition. Petite Sirah is rustic and as bold as it gets.
Value-driven Petite Sirah will be harder to find but is well worth the effort. It’s parent, Syrah, is a classic wine variety that is a sure crowd-pleaser. Both wines deserve time at your dinner table.
When selecting a bottle, keep in mind how their characteristics will differ depending on what climate and region they are from. Warmer climates will have more baked fruit and spice. Cooler climates will have somewhat more refined earthy or herbal elements.
This family of wines pairs well with hearty spice-driven meals. Try it with barbeque, pot roast, or bacon-wrapped dates. Vegetables like eggplant, mushrooms, or caramelized onions will complement their earthy aromas. Most meals with heavy spices, sauce, and savory elements will pair well.
Why not give them a try together? The fun in wine is learning by trying the wide array of ways wine affects your senses. Grab a bottle of each and make your own observations on Syrah vs Petite Sirah.
To living a full-bodied life,