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Petite Sirah: An Immigrant becomes an American Signature

It's originally from France but it's in the Livermore Valley that it expresses its full potential

petite sirah
Through DNA profiling it is said that the majority of what is called Petite Sirah in Livermore Valley is identical to a variety originally from France called Durif. But it does not exist in any significant quantities in its home country. It was meant to thrive in another environment.


Last week I participated in a virtual tasting, on the internet, led by the Director of Winemaking for Murrieta’s Well, Robbie Myer. Murrieta’s Well was established in 1884 in Livermore Valley, California and sold to the Wente family in 1930. It has stayed as part of the Wente Family estate ever since that time. The Livermore Valley is not as widely known as Napa or Sonoma but those who are lovers of their wines are devoted consumers since they are very distinctively different from other California wines. Their long love affair with the Petite Sirah grape variety is certainly part of what makes them such a rare wine region.

Petite Sirah

Petite Sirah is not a typical grape variety. Maybe if one is really wine nerdy they have heard of Petit Verdot, a grape variety that is sometimes used in red Bordeaux blends in only minuscule amounts, and if one is a super nerd they have heard of Petite Syrah in the Rhône Valley in France. But Petite Sirah is a completely different variety. Yes, the world of grapes varieties can be very confusing.

petite sirahThrough DNA profiling it is said that the majority of what is called Petite Sirah in Livermore Valley is identical to a variety originally from France called Durif. Since Petite Sirah has been written in California wine writing since the 1880s it can be assumed that it has been a part of its wine heritage for over a century.

Many wine lovers already know that several of the grape varieties we use today originally come from European countries. But what makes Petite Sirah, Durif, unusual is that it really does not exist in any significant quantities in its home country. In a way, it was meant to survive and thrive in another environment.

Livermore Valley

Livermore is around an hour’s drive east of San Francisco. It enjoys the breezes from the San Francisco Bay, which helps to keep a lovely freshness in its wines, as well as all the great California sunshine that is vital to help ripen the tannic Petite Sirah grape variety. It is said that Petite Sirah does not get enough sunshine in its original home and it only reaches its full potential in the place where it emigrated to over a century ago. And Livermore Valley has certainly benefited from its most special immigrant variety.

Finding One’s Home

Lately, there seems to be so much uncertainty in the world – questioning whether we should make our countries more open or closed to outsiders. There is no doubt that all of us need to keep our eyes open and be careful of what and who we allow in our community – after 9/11, New York City was forever changed and we never take for granted that we will always be a target for attacks. But what kind of life does one live if we completely close ourselves from everything that is foreign or different? Is that really living? New York City was built by immigrants from around the world and that is the main reason it has so much life. The Murrieta’s Well wines, especially those with the Petite Sirah variety, have a vibrancy that expresses all the great things that can be achieved when the world works together.

Cathrine’s Recommendations

Everyday Drinking Wine (less than $15)

2015 Prodigo Sauvignon Blanc, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Italy ($10): The “immigrant” variety, which comes from France as well, does very well in the cooler North-Eastern region of Italy. This is an ideal everyday summer white wine with crisp flavors of citrus and white peach flavors and mouth watering acidity.

Special Occasion Wine (from $15 to $50)

2014 Murrieta’s Well, The Whip White Wine Blend, Livermore Valley, California ($24): 29% Semillon, 27% Chardonnay, 18% Sauvignon Blanc, 12% Orange Muscat, 8% Muscat Canelli and 6% Viognier. This white wine blend was very impressive for the price. A pretty nose with orange blossom, honeysuckle and pear drop notes. It was incredibly balanced with a rich body, fresh acidity and a flavorful finish.

2013 Murrieta’s Well, The Spur Red Wine Blend, Livermore Valley, California ($30): 40% Petite Sirah, 26% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Petit Verdot, 8% Merlot, 8% Cabernet Franc and 8% Malbec. A decadent red blend that is dominated by Petite Sirah. A lush wine with chocolate, spice, sweet black fruit with a touch of savory notes makes this perfect with BBQ.

Fantasy Wine (over $50)

2013 Murrieta’s Well, Cabernet Sauvignon Small Lot, Livermore Valley, California ($58): 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Cabernet Franc, 6% Malbec, 5% Petite Sirah, 4% Petit Verdot and 4% Merlot. This mainly Cabernet Sauvignon red wine has the best of the New and Old World by having the ripe fruit of California yet the earthy nuances that one finds from Bordeaux. A long, elegant finish makes this a remarkable wine.


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