For years, petite sirah had something of an identity crisis.

The grape wasn't a small version of syrah, despite the similar name (and despite the fact that some bottles are labeled "petite syrah"). It's durif, a grape from southern France, where it produces coarse, rustic wines.

In California, petite sirah was often intermixed in vineyard plantings with zinfandel, carignane and other red grapes. It was used in blends to add body and structure, and some winemakers started bottling it separately and gained a reputation for it. (Concannon in Livermore was the first, bottling the first varietally labeled petite sirah in the early 1960s). Some of the wines were quite good, but petite sirah still got little respect.

Then, through DNA fingerprinting, it was discovered that petite sirah/durif was the offspring of syrah, considered a noble grape, and peloursin, a minor French grape. The syrah connection gave petite sirah/durif a boost. A few years later, devotees of the grape formed a fan club of sorts: P.S. I Love You. (P.S., of course, stands for petite sirah.) The group recently held its seventh annual symposium at, appropriately, Concannon Vineyards, where there was a tasting of roughly four dozen petite sirahs, mostly from around California (along with one entry from southern Oregon).


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Petite sirah acreage in California has more than doubled since 2000, to about 7,300 acres. Much of that planting has been in the Central Valley, but there's some in cabernet-centric Napa County. There's also been a big uptick in San Luis Obispo County, which now has more than 1,100 acres of petite sirah, second only to San Joaquin County, state figures show.

Still, petite sirah producers battle to draw more attention to their grape. A survey by Full Glass Research found that many consumers aren't aware of petite sirah and that retailers and restaurants don't push the variety. The grape's fans, however, understand that it produces dark, robust, teeth-staining wines with tannins that range from firm, but manageable to very intense and drying.

The wines at the symposium's tasting had many of these characteristics. One of my favorites was the 2006 Clayhouse Petite Sirah ($25), a Paso Robles wine with peppery black fruit and firm structure. Also excellent was the 2006 Concannon "Captain Joe's" Petite Sirah ($30), a dark, concentrated Livermore wine with bright berry and white pepper notes. (For less money, there's Concannon's regular 2006 bottling, which doesn't have quite the same concentration but costs only $15.) Newcomer Aver Family Vineyards in San Martin produced just 25 cases of its 2006 "Blessings" Petite Sirah ($55), which is pricey but delicious, with lively blackberry and boysenberry fruit, a hint of dried herbs and good balance.

Solano County is proving to be a good place for petite sirah. That's the source for the 2007 Winterhawk Petite Sirah ($18), with its juicy blueberry and blackberry and spicy notes, and the 2005 Shoe Shine Petite Sirah ($25), with its ripe black fruit, good acidity and fine tannins.

From elsewhere in California, there's the 2003 Foppiano Reserve Petite Sirah ($45), which is inky, concentrated and aromatic, with boysenberry fruit and drying tannins. (Foppiano Vineyards is a Sonoma County winery well known for its petites, and the regular bottling, at $20, is usually reliable.) The 2005 David Fulton Petite Sirah ($45) from Napa Valley is dark, dense, ripe and brawny, while the 2005 Il Gioiello Petite Sirah ($20) from Amador County displays robust black fruit accented by roasted coffee and spice.

For a great bargain in petite sirah, the 2007 Bogle ($11) offers robust blackberry and blueberry flavors and firm tannins. Bogle also produces a Petite Sirah Port; the 2006 ($18/500ml) is inky and sweet, with flavors of dried fig, prune and dark chocolate.

A couple of standouts in the tasting — the 2005 Robert Biale EBA Petite Sirah and the 2004 Ridge "Dynamite Hill" Petite Sirah — are available primarily through mailing lists. Both are on the pricey side, but they offer further evidence of how delicious and mouth-filling a good petite sirah can be.

Contact Laurie Daniel at ladaniel@earthlink.net. Find out what's in her glass at twitter.com/ldwine.