Food & Drink

Paso Robles Petite sirah gaining fame

Petite sirah is still a relatively minor player in the California wine industry, accounting for only about 1.5 percent of planted acreage, but it seems to have found a good home in Paso Robles. San Luis Obispo County has the state’s second-largest petite sirah acreage, and the vast majority of that acreage is in the warm northern part of the county.

Petite sirah, also known as durif, is thought to have been brought to California in the 1880s. There’s nothing “petite” about it: The grape produces big wines with a lot of color, plump fruit and, in many cases, significant tannins.

I recently judged 50 petite sirahs priced at $20 or more at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, the world’s largest competition of American wines. Paso Robles petite sirahs performed extremely well.

Two of the wines we evaluated received double gold medals, meaning that all the judges on the panel agreed that the wine deserved gold. Those were the 2007 J. Lohr Tower Road Petite Sirah ($35), a wine that’s big, ripe, dense and glass-coating, with loads of bright berry fruit, and the 2007 Grizzly Republic Petite Sirah ($42), with its lively black fruit, chewy tannins and long finish. (Grizzly Republic is a small label based at Paso Robles Wine Services. The wines are available primarily through a Web site,

The 2007 Sylvester “Le Vigne” Petite Sirah ($30), which received a gold medal, is peppery and slightly minty, with ripe berry flavors and a note of anise.

Several of the silver medal winners impressed me, too. The 2007 Vina Robles “Jardine” Petite Sirah ($26) offers plump, sweet berry flavors and a note of roasted coffee. The 2007 Vines on the Marycrest Petite Sirah ($32) is quite elegant for a petite sirah, with juicy berry flavors and fine tannins. The 2007 Penman Springs Petite Sirah ($22) displays bright berry flavors and a fair amount of oak; it will benefit from some more time for the oak to integrate with the rest of the wine.

There was another panel that judged a similar number of over-$20 petite sirahs. Receiving a double gold was the 2007 Hidden Oak Petite Sirah ($25), which I haven’t tasted. The 2006 Bianchi Winery Plummer Vineyard Petite Sirah ($26) was awarded a silver; I haven’t tasted this wine, either, but Bianchi’s winemaker, Tom Lane, has a lot of experience with petite sirah, and his bottlings are generally very reliable. An Edna Valley petite sirah, the 2007 Wolff Vineyards ($22), also received a silver.

OTHER LOCAL HIGHLIGHTS: A number of Paso Robles wines were named best of class and competed for sweepstakes honors. Three that I recommend: the 2008 Zoller Wine Styling Primitivo ($27), with its ample sweet berry fruit; the 2007 Oso Libre “Bendición” Mourvedre ($40), with its dark berry flavors and note of roasted meat; and the 2007 B&E Vineyard Red Rhythm ($29), a blend of merlot, cabernet sauvignon and syrah that displays ripe cherry and blackberry fruit.