The Labradoodle of Wine…Petite Sirah


Lying on the floor near my feet, as I type this, and staring at me adoringly, is my dog, a Labradoodle. He is, without question, the friendliest, most cuddly creature on four feet. And he looks like a Sesame Street character-a scribble of gray and black curls, gigantic furry feet, a living 70 pound stuffed animal. But the ruling junta of the dog world, the American Kennel Club, doesn’t acknowledge his existence. Well, they might agree he’s lying by my feet, but they do not include Labradoodles among their list of actual breeds-they’re just mutts, “hybrids”, according to the AKC. The problem with Labradoodles, as far as being a recognized breed, is the variety of definitions of what one is. Some assign the name to the offspring of a Lab and a Standard Poodle. Some say it is the offspring of one of those (Lab and Poodle baby) with a Standard Poodle. The Australians, who concocted the Labradoodle,

are trying to standardize the name to mean the offspring of 2nd generation Labradoodles with other 2nd generation Labradoodles. But uncooperative breeders assign the name as they please, because Labradoodle puppies are expensive!

OK, I hear you…ah, this is a wine blog, not a dog blog…Is this going somewhere? Why yes it is!

There seems to be, among neophytes such as myself, some misunderstanding of what Petite Sirah is. And, I’ve discovered there is also misinformation (a result of misunderstanding) being dispensed by the wine store personnel on whom we, misguidedly perhaps, depend on for guidance. I have personally heard salespeople say that Petite Sirah grapes are the same as Sirah (or Syrah, or Shiraz), there just picked sooner-while they’re still “petite”. I had a wine “guru” tell me that I might find a Petite Sirah I was buying a “little thin” or a “little weak”, since it’s made from smaller grapes. (a review of that particular wine later, but thin and/or weak it most definitely was not-quite the opposite)

I’ve learned that, until fairly recently, the definition of Petite Sirah was a bit nebulous, like the definition of a Labradoodle. In addition, California growers would allow a mixture of what is now called Petite Sirah and other grapes to grow in the same field, and be harvested and used together. The resulting wine was sold as generic “burgundy” jug wines, or used as a blending ingredient to add body and strength to Cabernets or Zinfandels that might be lacking.

The wine equivalent of the AKC, in the U.S. anyway, is the ATF (Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms). In a bit of convoluted bureaucracy, some of the alcohol control functions of ATF are assigned to the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, thankfully shortened to TTB. These are the people who make the rules for defining what a Cabernet is, how much can be blended from other grapes and still be labeled a varietal, and so on. The French equivalent is Appellation d’origine controlee or AOC. And there is an association of American grape growers and wine makers called The Rhone Rangers, whose mission is to standardize and promote American versions of French Rhone Valley varietals. It wasn’t until 2002 that these organizations recognized, and come up with a working definition of Petite Sirah. That grape, officially now, is synonymous with a minor French variety called Durif. Durif is named for a 19th century researcher, Francois Durif, who experimented with combinations of grape varieties to find one resistant to a mold that was plaguing growers. Until the late 1900’s the genetic origins of the resulting grape were unknown. But DNA tests have lead to acceptance that Durif, and officially now Petite Sirah in the U.S., is the offspring of Peloursin and Sirah.

So, while Petite Sirah and Sirah are not the same grape at all, the Petites can accurately claim Sirah as their great-great-great grandpa. As recently as today, I read a definition of Petite Sirah that said it has no connection to Sirah. Estranged perhaps, but connected none-the-less.

Now, if these researchers and regulating bodies could turn their attention to Labradoodles, my dog would appreciate it. He would like a little respect.

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