2012 McCay Cellars Petite Sirah
Syrah, Shiraz, Durif and Petite Sirah: all related grapes. Two cousins, one parent and one offspring, to be exact. This tricky grape variety family tree tells a fascinating story of an underappreciated, yet spectacular, wine: Petite Sirah.
Our story begins at the end of the First Crusade. Out of the misty depths of the Moorish East, a war-weary solider returns to his family vineyard in France. Here, at a chapel on top of the hill named Hermitage, our nameless Hero plants a singular, modest vine – Syrah. The vine is successful, and Hermitage becomes the birthplace of Syrah.*
The vintages roll on and by the 19th century, we find Syrah on two separate worldwide journeys. First, James Busby imports Syrah, then known as Scyras, into Sydney, Australia. Spreading across New South Wales, its name is simplified to the Aussie pronunciation of “Shure-as,” or Shiraz. Second, Dr. Durif, a practicing viticulturist in France, attempts to develop a grape resistant to the ravages of downy mildew. He crosses Syrah with the obscure grape Peloursin and names the child after himself: Durif the grape.
Durif (the grape, not the man) makes big, inky, dark wine. Deciding that Durif is just too darn macho, the French authorities ultimately ban it. However, by this point, Durif had immigrated to the land of opportunity – America, and into the deft hands of Italian immigrants, eager to convert its virile characteristics into bold-drinking wine.
Maybe the early Italian immigrant farmers just didn’t know how to pronounce its name, or maybe they thought it too coarse-sounding for a grape that makes such a beautiful wine, but by the time Durif makes it in California, its name has changed to Petite Sirah. And Petite Sirah is ideally matched to California sunshine, as McCay Cellars Petite fully shows.
Just by looking at a glass, you can tell this is truly a robust wine – its color is as dark and inky black as a starless night sky. Petite Sirah has one advantage over every other grape in California: It soaks up the California sunshine and turns it into powerful wine that tastes of fresh-baked blueberry cobbler, figs, blackberries and raspberry jam without losing its power and structure. At six years old, this wine has matured into a rich and deeply layered gravitas. It’s a perfect rendition of all that Petite can be.
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