What is the difference between Petite Syrah and Syrah?

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Dear Dr. Vinny,

What is the difference between Petite Syrah and Syrah? I see both wines on the shelf, but don't really know if one is bolder or one is lighter.

—Pete, Clifton Park, N.Y.

Dear Pete,

Petite Sirah (you've clearly seen some of the wineries that use the alternative spelling of "Petite Syrah") and Syrah are two different red grapes. Syrah (also known as Shiraz in Australia and South Africa) hails from France’s Rhône Valley, where it's the primary component of some of the world's most revered red wines from Hermitage and Côte-Rôtie.

Meanwhile, Petite Sirah is the American name for the Durif grape, another French import, which is a cross between the Syrah and Peloursin grapes. Durif never took off in France, but it did in California.

Even though its name implies it may be a lighter version of Syrah, this is definitely not the case. Petites are anything but Petite. I’ve heard that Petite Sirah got its name because the grape bunch looked like a bunch of Syrah grapes, but with smaller berries. These smaller berries mean there’s a higher skin-to-pulp ratio in the grapes, the resulting wines are inky dark and bold, with rich flavors and powerfully dense tannins. Petites are much more tannic and rustic than Syrahs—I often get wild blackberry and huckleberry pie flavors.

—Dr. Vinny

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