Petite Sirah  Grape Variety

Durif is a variety of red wine grape primarily grown in California, Australia, France, and Israel. Since the end of the 20th century, wineries located in Washington's Yakima River Valley, Maryland, Arizona, West Virginia, Chile, Mexico's Baja Peninsula, and Ontario's Niagara Peninsula have also produced wines from Durif grapes. It is the main grape known in the U.S. and Israel as Petite Sirah, with over 90% of the California plantings labeled "Petite Sirah" being Durif grapes; the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) recognizes "Durif" and "Petite Sirah" as interchangeable synonyms referring to the same grape.[1]

Wine description tannic wines with a spicy, plummy flavour,relatively acidic, with firm texture and mouth feel; the bouquet has herbal and black pepper overtones, and typically offers flavors of blue fruit, black fruit, plums, and especially blueberries.
Food pairing stronger meats - game, beef, lamb, and spicy sauces
Origin Montpellier, France
Notable regions Australia, California, France, Israel
Notable wines Titus Napa Valley


It produces tannic wines with a spicy, plummy flavour. The grape originated as a cross of Syrah pollen germinating a Peloursin plant. On some occasions, Peloursin and Syrah vines may be called Petite Sirah, usually because the varieties are extremely difficult to distinguish in old age.


The grape is named after François Durif, a botanist at the University of Montpellier. It was in a Peloursin vineyard near the university that he discovered the unique vine that he named for himself in 1880.[2] As a conclusion of DNA fingerprinting at the University of California, Davis in 1997, Syrah was identified as the source of the pollen that originally crossed with Peloursin flowers.[3] The grape's high resistance to downy mildew encouraged its cultivation in the early 20th century in areas like Isère and Ardèche, although the relative low quality of the resulting wine caused the grape to fall out of favor with local wine authorities. Today, it is almost nonexistent in France.[4] 

Regional production

California and Australia are now the two leading producers of Durif. The grape can also be found in Israel,[5] Brazil, Argentina, Chile, and Mexico.[6]


Durif arrived in Australia by way of enigmatic viticulturalist Francois de Castella, a handsome man with a penchant for white suits and broad-brimmed hats. De Castella was born in 1867 at South Yarra, Victoria, the son of a Swiss-born vigneron, and educated at Xavier College Kew. He left Australia in 1883 to study natural science at Lausanne, Switzerland, and vine-growing and winemaking in France. In 1894, following the outbreak of grape phylloxera at Bendigo de Castella while managing Chateau Dookie for the Bank of Victoria, he widely condemned the Victorian government's policy of vineyard eradication. He strongly supported regional quarantine and the introduction of phylloxera-resistant American rootstocks, as had been done in Europe. In 1907, the Victorian wine industry verged on collapse. De Castella was appointed viticultural expert with the Department of Agriculture. That year, he was sent to Europe to obtain information on the control of phylloxera. He returned in 1908 with Durif, grafted to phylloxera-resistant vines from Montpellier. These were propagated at the Rutherglen Viticultural Research Station and then spread around the region when replanting took place after phylloxera-affected vines were removed. Confirmed as recently as 2008, old plantings of Durif continued to be used to produce popular wine in the Rutherglen, Victoria region of Australia, producing dark, inky coloured table wines with plummy, firm texture and mouth feel, noted for their cellaring ability. They are also a prime contributor to some of the region's outstanding vintage and tawny fortified styles. Durif is now grown in other wine regions of Australia, such as Riverina and Riverland, with over 740 acres (3.0 km2) under cultivation by 2000.[4]


DNA fingerprinting has shown that the majority of Petite Sirah plantings in California are actually Durif.[7] The vine is a popular planting in Lake, Mendocino, Sonoma, Napa, Monterey and San Joaquin County. In addition to being produced as a varietal wine, the grape is sometimes blended with Zinfandel.[5] In years when heavy rain or excess sun has weakened the quality or yield of Cabernet Sauvignon or Pinot Noir plantings, Petite Sirah may also be used as a blending partner to strengthen the wine. The average age of Petite Sirah vines tends to be older than that of most Californian vines.[6]

As of December 2007, the TTB lists both Petite Sirah and Durif in 27 CFR § 4.91 as approved grape varieties for American wines, but they are not listed as synonyms.[8] This means that U.S. producers can produce Durif wine, but not label it as Petite Sirah, and vice versa.[9] The ATF proposed that they be recognised as synonyms in Notice of Proposed Rulemaking No. 941, published in the Federal Register on 10 April 2002, but a decision on RIN 1513–AA32 (formerly RIN 1512-AC65)[10] appears to be postponed indefinitely, probably because the new regulation is tied up in the trade dispute that would see the TTB recognise Primitivo as a synonym for Zinfandel.[11] While not one of the officially sanctioned grapes of the Côtes du Rhône AOC, Petite Sirah's linking to Durif caused the California's Rhone Rangers to add the grape to its listings of wine in 2002.[12] 


In Israel, Petite Sirah had a history much like that in California --historically used as a blending grape to add body to inferior wines. However, Petite Sirah has recently experienced somewhat of a revival, both in high-end blends and bottled as a single or majority variety. The UC Davis-trained winemaker and Ph.D. chemist Yair Margalit, familiar with the grape from his time in California, showed that Petite Sirah need not be consigned to jug wine when he blended small portions into his reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. Seeing that Israeli terroircould grow great Petite Sirah, wineries such as Recanati followed suit with Petite Sirah blends, while others like Sea Horse, Carmel, and Vitkin have made single-varietal Petite Sirah in addition to using it for blending.

Petite Sirah and Petite Syrah

Petite Sirah is sometimes mistakenly spelled "Petite Syrah," which has historically referred to a small berried clone of the Syrah grape by Rhone growers.[13] In California, immigrant vine growers introduced Syrah in 1878 and used the phrase "Petite Syrah" to refer to the lower yields that the vines then were producing in California. Actual Petite Sirah (Durif) was then introduced in 1884.[1]


The "petite" in the name of this grape refers to the size of its berries and not the vine, which is particularly vigorous. The leaves are large, with a bright green upper surface and paler green lower surface. The grape forms tightly packed clusters that can be susceptible to rotting in rainy environments. The small berries creates a high skin to juice ratio, which can produce very tannic wines if the juice goes through an extended maceration period.[14] In the presence of new oak barrels, the wine can develop an aroma of melted chocolate.[15]


Petite Sirah produces dark, inky colored wines that are relatively acidic, with firm texture and mouth feel; the bouquet has herbal and black pepper overtones, and typically offers flavors of blue fruit, black fruit, plums, and especially blueberries.[14] Compared to Syrah, the wine is noticeably more dark and purplish in color, and typically rounder and fuller in the mouth, and offers a brightness that Syrah lacks.[16] The wines are very tannic, with aging ability that can exceed 20 years in the bottle.[13] Petite Sirah can sometimes be rather "short", that is, the flavor does not linger in the mouth, hence the benefit of blending with another grape which may lack mid-palate depth, but add length and elegance.


  1. PS I Love You Petite Sirah Timeline
  2. Pitcher, Steve (2005-01-20). "Peasant turns prince:Long considered an ignoble grape, Petite Sirah's parentage lifts the variety from working class to nobility". San Francisco Chronicle.
  3. "Petite Sirah Timeline". Petite Sirah Advocacy Association.
  4. J. Robinson "The Oxford Companion to Wine" Third Edition pg 244 Oxford University Press 2006 
  5. J. Robinson Vines, Grapes & Wines pg 227 Mitchell Beazley Publishing 1986 
  6. J. Robinson "The Oxford Companion to Wine" Third Edition pg 514 Oxford University Press 2006 
  7. O. Clarke Encyclopedia of Grapes pg 88 Harcourt Books 2001 
  8. "Labeling And Advertising Of Wine Subpart American Grape Variety Names". Electronic Code of Federal Regulations. 2007-12-20. 
  9. Berry, Jennifer. "Changes to List of American Grape Variety Names"Alcohol & Tobacco Newsletter April 2002
  10. Federal Register: June 6, 2002 (Volume 67, Number 109)
  11. 2206. Proposal To Recognize Synonyms For Petite Sirah And Zinfandel Grape Varieties
  12. M. Worobiec "Petite Sirah Rides Shotgun as Rhone Rangers Trot Into Town" Wine Spectator April 30, 2002
  13. O. Clarke Encyclopedia of Grapes pg 168 Harcourt Books 2001 
  14. Durif Grape Varierty
  15. J. Laube "Petite's Road Back" Wine Spectator Jan 31st, 2004
  16. Clark Smith, "Don't Call it Durif"
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