Despite its rather delicate sounding name, Petite Sirah is a gutsy bulldog of a wine, deep and dark with an appropriately mysterious past. Petite Sirah’s ancestry and name origin confounded the wine world for decades. In fact, most resources you encounter will still say that Petite Sirah bears no relation to the French varietal Syrah. Actually, the Department of Viticulture and Enology at the University of California used DNA profiling in 1998 to prove that Petite Sirah is a descendent of Syrah and was transplanted from the French grape Durif.

There are about 4,000 acres of Petite Sirah planted in California today, but until the last couple decades, it was rarely bottled on its own. Petite Sirah was usually blended with less aggressive varietals to give the resulting wine more backbone. Its typical characteristics include bold tannins, ripe fruit and a good shot of spicy, black pepper undertones. Petite Sirah is a great match with hearty meat dishes and earthy foods, like mushrooms (especially grilled). Some think that it’s the only wine to serve with Steak au Poivre — steak and peppercorns — which kills most red meat-friendly wines like Cabernet Sauvignon.

Perhaps because it’s still fairly low on the radar, Petite Sirah tends to be a pretty good deal. Excellent bottlings from producers like Rosenblum, Trentadue, Guenoc and David Bruce sell for under $20. Bogle Vineyards produces a fine Petite Sirah for just $10.

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