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In California Wine, Syrah is Not Sirah and Petite Means Big

What is the difference between Syrah and Petite Sirah? We're glad you asked, because Syrah is our mainstay and we also make good use of its genetic cousin, Petite Sirah. Since we're about to release our 2002 Petite Sirah (Reserve) (sold out) it's a good time to offer our website readers a comparison of the two related varieties and the wines they produce.

Same Family, Different Personalities

Syrah and Petite Sirah are two different varieties. Like human family members, they have traits in common and yet they have distinct personalities. In California, Syrah tends to make a smooth, medium-bodied wine that shows blueberry, blackberry and spice flavors, with immediate drinkability and moderate aging potential. Petite Sirah tends to make a deeply colored and somewhat tannic wine, with a flavor profile similar to Syrah's that may not be as evident, especially in younger wines. Petite Sirah has greater aging potential, and often needs extra time in the barrel and bottle to temper its rough early texture and bring out its flavors.

Our wines reflect the different personalities of the two grapes: Our 2002 Syrah spent 12 months in barrel and was released in July of 2004. It is delicious now, and further aging will not benefit it much. On the other hand, our soon-to-be-released 2002 Petite Sirah (Reserve) spent over 24 months in barrel and will age nicely for five to ten years.

History and Mystery

Petite Sirah has been around in California since the late 1800's and reportedly was named by pioneering winemaker Charles McIver. Syrah is a comparative newcomer to California. Some experimental plantings were around in the 1970's, but Syrah plantings have burgeoned in the last decade. Both varieties thrive in the Sierra Foothills.

Syrah is one of two primary varietals in the Rhône region of France. It is THE grape of the northern Rhône and plays a supporting role to Grenache in the southern Rhône. It is also widely planted in Spain, and has driven the wave of popularity of Australian wines under its Aussie name, Shiraz. The origins of Petite Sirah were hazy until a few years ago when DNA typing confirmed that it is a fortuitous cross between Syrah and Peloursin. Given this definitive paternity test, Petite Sirah has taken its rightful place as a recognized Rhône variety.

Qué Syrah Sirah!

Given their familial heritage, it is no wonder that Syrah and Petite Sirah are compatible and complementary in blends such as our 2002 Syrah (12.5% Petite Sirah) and 2002 Petite Sirah (Reserve) (12% Syrah). In the Syrah, the bolder Petite Sirah contributes deeper color and firmer structure. In the Petite Sirah, the smoother Syrah contributes rounder texture and forward fruit flavor. In keeping with the Ophir Wines style, both wines retain the essential character of their primary variety, but each is enhanced by the presence of the other.

À votre santé!
Mike Abbott

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