Petite Sirah vs. Syrah: Understanding the Difference

Petite Sirah vs. Syrah: Understanding the Difference

by JJ Buckley Fine Wines


Closeup of people toasting glasses of red wine

As a wine collector, you have a lot to get excited about from the diverse array of exceptional wines on the market. From France to California to Australia, there are almost too many excellent options. While some wines like Pinot Noir or Chardonnay have been popular for generations, others like Syrah and Petite Sirah have remained on the fringes. Things are changing, though, and these excellent wines are finally earning long-deserved mainstream recognition.

Petite Sirah vs. Syrah vs. Shiraz

Syrah and Petite Sirah are so similar in spelling and pronunciation that you might expect them to be similar wines. This confusion might grow when you see wines labeled Shiraz, which has a similar sound as well.

What is the difference between Shiraz, Syrah and Petite Sirah? Are they the same wine and grape variety, just with different names? Not exactly.

What Is Syrah?

Syrah, which originated in France’s Rhone Valley, is a cross between two older grape varieties – Dureza and Mondeuse Blanche. The grape is dark-skinned and generally small, and it produces a bold, full-bodied, deeply red-purple wine with moderate to moderately high acidity and tannins.

This wine has been a staple in the Rhone Valley for hundreds of years, especially around the town of Tain-l’Hermitage in the northern Rhone. It gained wider appeal in the 18th and 19th centuries, before experiencing a sharp decline during the 20th century.

The early to mid-1800s brought about interest in producing Syrah in other parts of the world, namely Australia and California. Other than the Rhone Valley, these two areas have seen the most success with this bold grape. In addition to Napa and Sonoma Valleys in California, several valleys in Oregon and Washington State now produce excellent Syrah as well.

How Does It Compare to Shiraz?

Syrah and Shiraz are made from the same grape. The difference lies in where they are produced.

The name "Shiraz" comes from the Australian wine industry, which first took shape in the 1830s when James Busby introduced vine clippings to vineyards around Sydney and South Australia. Slight confusion over the pronunciation of "Syrah" led to the name Shiraz, which remains to this day.

Traditionally, Syrah wine in Australia is always called Shiraz. Outside of Australia, you’re likely to see Syrah on the label.

A recent trend, however, has changed this traditional labeling. If the wine comes from a cooler climate, wineries tend to label it as Syrah. If the wine comes from a hotter climate, it may now say Shiraz on the label. Australian wines remain consistent and almost universally use Shiraz, with some exceptions.

What Is Petite Sirah?

Now it’s time to look at the difference between Syrah and Petite Sirah. Syrah and Petite Sirah come from different varieties and are therefore different wines altogether. Syrah, as we know, is a cross between Dureza and Mondeuse Blanche. Petite Syrah is a cross between Syrah and Peloursin, which is a rare French variety from the Rhone-Alpes region.

The Petite Sirah grape, known outside of the United States as Durif (after the man who discovered it, Francois Durif), is small and dark, nearly black in color. It was discovered in the 1860s and has spread into Australia, California, Israel, Argentina and Chile.

Although it originated in France, Petite Sirah has very little production there today. Instead, the United States is typically in the lead for Petite Sirah production. Charles McIver first brought this grape variety to California in 1884, where interest was piqued and Petite Sirah acreage soon increased.

While Syrah has moderate tannins and acidity, Petite Sirah is big on both, which makes this wine ideal for cellaring. In fact, some bottles of Petite Sirah require several years of aging to offset the high tannins.

What Do These Wines Taste Like?

Although Syrah and Shiraz are made from the same grape and are considered to be the same wine, they release unique flavor notes due to their different terroir and climate.

Syrah is typically moderate with acidity and tannins, with cooler climate notes of red plum, blueberry, olive, mild pepper, chocolate, herbs and florals.

Shiraz, due to its warmer climate, retains the degree of acidity and tannins inherent to the Syrah grape but often releases more blackberry, black plum, cloves and other spices, licorice and tobacco.

Petite Sirah, with its inky black-purple color, is big on tannins and acidity; it offers up black plum, smoky fruit, spices, pepper, dark chocolate, coffee and caramel.

JJ Buckley Fine Wines – Recommendations

If you’d like to add new wines to your collection, take a look at our specially curated list below. Here you’ll find high-class Syrah, Shiraz and Petite Sirah wines from outstanding wine-growing regions around the world.

Petite Sirah

  1. 2016 Ridge Lytton Estate Petite Sirah
  2. 2015 Stags' Leap Winery Petite Syrah
  3. 2016 Carlisle Winery Petite Sirah
  4. 2016 Turley Petite Sirah Hayne Vineyard
  5. 2016 Robert Biale Petite Sirah Palisades Vineyard

Syrah

  1. 2014 Delas Freres Hermitage les Bessards
  2. 2013 Alain Voge Cornas Vieilles Vignes
  3. 2013 Penfolds Shiraz RWT
  4. 2015 Shafer Vineyards Relentless
  5. 2014 K Vintners Rock Garden Syrah

If you’re itching to try one of these excellent wines now that you understand the difference between Syrah, Shiraz, and Petite Sirah, you can find these wines and more in our Syrah collection and our Petite Sirah collection. We take pride in our selections and are always ready to provide assistance or personalized recommendations. For any and all questions, feel free to speak with one of our friendly experts today.