PS I Love You: A Change of Heart

Today’s post is about Petite Sirah. Let me start by saying I had tried this variety for the first time about 15 years ago, At that time, I didn’t understand the grape. I had just moved home from Italy and my palate was very calibrated towards old world, specifically Italian wines. Over the years since I moved back, my palate has changed a bit and as my tastes have broadened so has my understanding of New World wine traditions although I confess I am not as well versed in California wines as I should be. I am going to perhaps remedy that at some point with a course from David Glancy, MS, owner of the San Francisco Wine School and a friend. I may take the plunge and sign up for his California certification class.

Petite Sirah is a red grape that originated in France but made its way to California  and was “introduced into Californian viticulture by Charles McIver. He imported Petite Sirah for his Linda Vista Vineyard, at the Mission San Jose in Alameda County, entering the US through the East Bay.” according to the PS I Love You website.

Unveiled by Francois Durif, a botanist in France in 1880 as a new variety,  it is a crossing between Syrah and a grape called Peloursin. It is also called Durif in France, named for the man who discovered it. While planted in other countries such as Australia, California is really it’s best growing area.

In 2020, I was offered the opportunity to attend a zoom tasting of Petite Sirah organized by the venerable Jo Diaz out of California.

There were four producers on the screen and about 15 journalists, including me. Of the producers, three sent me wines to try. I was so intrigued during the zoom by the comments that the journalists and winemakers made about the grape that I couldn’t wait to try it again. Lucky for me, a number of the producers sent me Petite Sirah wines including Berryessa Gap.

Nicole Salengo the winemaker at Berryessa was the person representing the winery at the zoom tasting. She has been in California for more than a decade and moved there from New England. After a degree from the UC Davis department of Viticulture and Enology and an undergraduate study of Geology, she is very well versed in what grape vines need. I liked her attitude on the zoom chat. Very down to Earth and honest.

Yolo County where the winery is located is a place that she has found herself feeling at home. She admitted on the call that at the start, she too was hesitant about Petite Sirah. The site of Berryessa Gap Vineyards is east of Lake Berryessa. Coble Ranch vineyard is on a hillside where sheep graze. The soils have good  drainage and the nearby Gap brings cooling winds.

The wine was a keeper, elegant and rich with red and black berry fruit and spices. Long and persistent, I also got a  vein of minerality. I was extremely surprised by how light and fresh it was.

Berryessa Gap has begun the process of establishing the Winters, California AVA.  Winters looks like an appealing place to visit. It is now high up on my list when

Another winery that sent me samples was Robert Biale. One of the wines I tried was from a vineyard called Palisades. Owned by two different families over the course of the last 25 years, it is in the Northern part of Napa.

Biale is very active in in terms of sustainability and addressing climate change. ‘s team, They are one of the wineries in Napa to receive Napa Green certification. The certifications is very involved in terms of vineyard and cellar practices and social responsibility and equity.

The second bottle I received was called the Royal Punishers Petite Sirah and came from the Varozza vineyard in St. Helena. It was first planted in 1885 by another family but Joseph Varozza bought it in 1913. Today, Jack Varozza, Joseph’s grandson, grows Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Sirah.  Deep black in color with gorgeous black plums,  violet and fig aromas,  the wine had a velvety mouthfeel on the palate with an herbal note, sweet spice and chocolate,  fine tannins and a long finish complete the picture.

The third winery that sent me samples was Miro cellars. Miro Tcholakov, a transplanted Californian winemaker, he selects grapes from different vineyards whose geology he thinks fits the climate variations and the wine he is looking to make. I found him very interesting and his take on this grape bold. Reading his biography on his website, he has a fascinating background and all those years of study and practice show in the elegance of his wines. I felt lucky that he sent me wines because he only makes small batches of wine and just a few each year.

So intrigued was I after this initial tasting in 2020 that I planned to make Petite Sirah myself the next time I made wine at home. I had to skip my 2020 and 2021 vintages because I didn’t want to go to the facility to buy grapes but this year I did. Even my 8 year old got into the act with a little old fashioned food trodding. The wine is aging in a small barrel I have in the garage, I can’t wait to bottle it in as soon as the whether gets a little warmer.

For Wine Pairing Weekend posts, we are asked to share not just wine but food pairings. For Petite Sirah, I can think of no better pairing than steak on the grill. If it were not snowing out right now, I would consider making one for lunch today but the weather is not cooperating. When I make steak on the grill, I make a simple marinade with whatever wine I am drinking that evening, add worcestershire sauce, herbs from the garden – rosemary, time, and sage usually. The grilled steak can stand up to the high alcohol on these wines and neither the food nor the wine will be out of balance, in my view. There are many much more advances ideas for BBQ dishes that would pair well with Petite Sirah.

For more Petite Sirah idears, check out these offerings from the Wine Pairing Weekend crew: 


  1. Wonderful read Susannah. Gosh you’re bringing back some memories with your mention of the Biale Royal Punisher! I’m glad you’ve had a change of heart about PS Susannah. Small world. I’m doing some part-time work as the Controller for the San Francisco Wine School, so I know David and Kristin! I’ve thought about doing that CWAS course a time or two myself!

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