Que Syrah, Sirah

Syrah grapes
Syrah Grapes


Petite Sirah Grapes
Petite Sirah Grapes

Confused about wine labeled Syrah and Petite Sirah? You’re in good company. Experts have argued over this wine family’s origins for more than a century. Are they separate grapes or just similar names for the same grape? And what about Shiraz?

Enter Dr. Carole Meredith of UC Davis, the well-known DNA pioneer who analyzed and revealed the genetic identity of many grape varietals beginning with her stunning revelation on the parentage of Cabernet Sauvignon in 1996.  She is also credited with unlocking the Syrah family tree.

And the DNA Test Results Reveal

Throughout the centuries, grapes evolved with many new varieties born over the years. In 1600-era Bordeaux France, the white grape Sauvignon Blanc spontaneously cross-pollinated with the austere red Cabernet Franc grape and the Red Savage of wine was born: Cabernet Sauvignon.

Syrah is a well-known wine varietal native to France’s Rhone Valley, but its earlier origins are unremarkable being conceived by spontaneous cross-pollination between two grapes not celebrated as stellar wine-producing grapes.

Even with well-established roots in France, it is sometimes rumored to originate in Iran’s city of Shiraz in ancient Persia.

The DNA team at UC Davis also solved this mystery, determining that while Shiraz retains the regional characteristics of the Middle East which give it a different flavor profile than Syrah from France or California or South America, the DNA profile is the same for each of these wine grape varietals regardless of where presently grown, thus no one can state with any certainty where the first Syrah vine grew.

Hence, we recognize Syrah as a Rhone-born grape and defer to its Persian name Shiraz in Australia and South Africa.

Que Syrah, Sirah

So what’s the difference between Syrah and Petite Sirah?   Syrah flavors lean more toward berry notes while Petite Sirah tends to have a distinctive black pepper spice.   Petite Sirah is generally bottled on its own. Syrah, on the other hand, is often blended with Grenache or Mourvedre, other Rhone grapes.

California Grown Syrah

Syrah is a vineyard owner’s dream: it grows virtually anywhere and generally yields a substantial harvest.

Craveyon Syrah is an excellent example of nature getting it right. Grape vines enjoy a struggle – said to build complexity in the wine. That old adage about the best wine coming from vines clinging to the earth on terraced, rocky hillsides is proven time and again in wines from this seemingly inhospitable environment.  

Grown in volcanic, rocky soil and the cool climate of sloping Sierra Nevada foothills, this Syrah wine features beautiful, dark rich crimson color with flavors of smooth blackberry and mocha melting into a velvety finish.

Syrah pairs well with bold flavors, so feel free to experiment with the colorful, spicy dishes of southern California’s almost-summer season. A fruity salsa and guacamole made fresh with local ingredients and hot-from-the-fryer tortilla chips are a perfect sunset appetizer pairing.

So what about Petite Sirah?

Victim to identity crisis with Syrah as late as 2003, the historical case of Petite Sirah (obscurely known as Durif) is clear although the French wine community may prefer it to remain murky and undiscovered, lost along the banks of the Rhone River.

Petite Sirah was born in the 1870s when Dr. Francois Durif, a French botanist, crossed Syrah with a little known red wine grape called Peloursin in his quest to produce a Syrah-like offspring that was resistant to the powdery mildew common in the humid riverside vineyards of the Rhone.

Powdery mildew is a huge problem along the Rhone and Dr. Durif was first hailed as a hero when introducing this new grape hybrid, so naturally the French doctor named it after himself with high hopes for his creation. Unfortunately, Durif retained Peloursin’s tendency towards compact grape clusters. These clusters have a susceptibility to bunch rot making his new grape unmarketable in the Rhone Valley.

A few years later in 1884, a California winery owner decided to try planting it in his Mission San Jose vineyard. His reasoning was that California’s dry, almost arid climate would rectify Petite Sirah’s perceived flaw.

The rest is history. It thrives all over California and produces strong wines even in challenging drought years. Although taking years for its austere characteristics to find favor with wine drinkers, Petite Sirah is the new go-to red wine.

Craveyon has bottled a rich, plummy Petite Sirah from Monterey County. Silky smooth jam notes embrace spicy black pepper, finishing with the varietal’s trademark tannin backbone. This is the quintessential wine to accompany a perfectly grilled top sirloin steak.

California Living

Finding a great wine to go with a colorful summer salad, something off the grill, bouillabaisse or a smoked beef brisket is super easy.  Wine subscription members receive special wine club pricing and members have the unique privilege each month of tasting and voting on our future Craveyon wine selections.

If you aren’t a member, Craveyon has events nearly every week to introduce you to our current family of wines, including our newest addition: a bubbly sparkling wine!  Pick a time that is convenient and come join the fun.


Cindy Lemos
Cindy Lemos


Cindy Lemos, known as the WinoGal, has a love of all things wine, especially when pairing with food and social events. Trained by Stewart Good at the esteemed Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite, she continues that passion and knowledge in her writing and by executing wine parties and dinners, informative wine tasting sessions and winery tours. She's followed wine makers from vineyard to harvest to crush, then through the often intricate process of creating wine. She loves to experiment with food and has a flair for creating menus that utilize her unique blend of “Southern Comfort tweaked with a fresh, Mediterranean zest.” You can follow her adventurous wine and food odyssey on Twitter and Facebook and here at Craveyon.


Leave a comment

Comments will be approved before showing up.