The Rhone Rangers bounded into San Francisco for their fifth annual tasting of Rhône grape varieties grown in America -- and for the first time, that list of varieties included Petite Sirah.
Until now, this group of more than 130 North American vintners has limited its annual tasting at San Francisco's Fort Mason to the traditional Rhône varieties approved by the French government for the Côtes du Rhône region. More than 250 offerings of Syrah, Grenache, Carignane, Cinsault, Marsanne, Mourvèdre, Roussanne, Viognier and various blends were poured for the 2,600 wine lovers who turned out on April 27.
This year, a few wineries, such as Concannon and JC Cellars, also poured Petite Sirah, which the Rhone Rangers voted two weeks ago to include officially in the nonprofit organization's list of Rhône-style wines.
While Petite Sirah is not one of the Côtes du Rhône grape varieties approved by the French government, its roots can be traced back to the Rhône. DNA testing has proven that the vast majority of the Petite Sirah grown in California is identical to the obscure Durif grape, which turns out to be a cross between Peloursin and Syrah -- the most famous of the Rhône varieties. Durif was propagated in southern France by nurseryman Dr. Durif in the 1880s, but it never fully caught on. These days, while Petite Sirah is now grown in many warm regions around the world, valued as a blending grape that adds color and tannins, it is virtually nonexistent in France.
Despite the novelty of the new variety at the Rhone Rangers tasting, Syrah still reigned as the most popular grape, with more than 100 different bottlings being served. Among the white wines, the most popular was Viognier, with 60 versions featured.
Read more about California Rhône-style wines and Petite Sirah: