Mucho Gusto: get to know Petite Sirah

Give me a rousing ¡Olé! if you LOOOOOVE public speaking. [Cue sound of crickets chirping].

I thought so. Fear of public speaking is right up there with the fear of heights, spiders, plane rides and a Metallica reunion. But wouldn’t it be awesome if you could sip a little vino before your next big presentation?

Well, prayers answered. Sort of. Last night I discovered a Wine Tasting Toastmasters group in the Los Angeles area. This group of thrill-seeking orators manages to combine a collective passion for wine with a desire to improve public speaking skills. Here’s how it works: every two weeks, the group meets at a local specialty market and one member buys a bottle of wine to share. Other members can buy food to nibble on while speaking and drinking. One lucky ducky gets to talk about the vino.

Yours truly did the honors last night about Petite Sirah. A visitor asked whether Petite Sirah was a small version of the Syrah grape. The short answer is no. The slightly longer answer is that they are two different grapes whose names are pronounced the same way.

Here’s all you need to know about Petite Sirah for the next time you’re asked to spontaneously stand before a group of people and expound upon the wine you’re sharing. No pressure, of course.

Durif grapes, a.k.a. Petite Sirah

¡HOLA! ME LLAMO: Petite Sirah is a dry red wine. Note the spelling – a lot of people misspell it as Petite Syrah. Don’t be that person.

MY ROOTS:  Generally, wine academics agree that Petite Sirah is a cross between Syrah and a lesser-known French grape called Peloursin. Not to make you cross-eyed, but most Petite Sirah is actually a grape called Durif, which was widely planted in the south of France in the mid-1800s. Today, it’s widely grown in California, Israel and Mexico.

ALL ABOUT ME: Petite Sirah is dry and it has a deep, inky color. I was loving the instant blackberry aromas on the wine I tasted last night. Some people get meaty, savory flavors. This wine has some pretty bodacious tannins, so you’ll get that astringent feel in the mouth. Tannic wines can be stored for a few years, so if you find a Petite Sirah you love, buy a case and stash it in a cool, dry, dark place. Last night’s wine had 13% alcohol (I guessed 13.5%), so it’s medium-bodied.

FOODS I LOVE: Aggressive tannins call for fatty cheeses and meat, so Petite Sirah pairs beautifully with a charcuterie plate and a rich, soft or semisoft cheese. It would be lovely with ribs, carne asada and cassoulet. Vegetarians can sip it with veggie lasagna or a portobello mushroom burger.

DO TRY THIS AT HOME:  A decent bottle of Petite Sirah will cost about $13. The really fancy stuff could run upwards of $200. EOS Petite Sirah from Paso Robles is about $20. Shannon Ridge Petite Sirah from Lake County is the wine I had last night, which retails for $13.99 in some stores. And if you’re into retail therapy these days, splurge on a bottle of Stag’s Leap Petite Sirah from the Napa Valley for around $400.



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