Petite Syrah

Petite Sirah: Not Petite At All

If ever there was a wine with a misnomer, it’s Petite Sirah (also spelled Petite Syrah by some producers). Petite Sirah grapes make some of the most muscular, tannic wines found in the US. Petite Sirah is primarily grown in California. The varietal is planted throughout the state, notably in areas such as the Napa Valley, Sonoma County, Sierra Foothills, and the Central Coast. There are also plantings in Washington, Colorado, and Arizona.

The Petite Sirah grape originated in France and is the result of the cross of syrah and peloursin vines. The resulting vine was originally named Durif, after the botanist responsible for its creation. Over time, the Durif grape was referred to as Petite Sirah, as the grapes on Petite Sirah were smaller than on it’s “father” Syrah. The name stuck and now the varietal is more commonly known as Petite Sirah.

Petite Sirah is often used as a blending grape to add structure and body to a wine. One of my favorite examples of a blend utilizing this varietal is the Unti Vineyards 2008 Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel. 82% Zinfandel and 18% Petite Sirah, it has some earthy and peppery components that make it a very interesting and distinct wine.

The most well-known Petite Sirah bottling in the US is produced by Stag’s Leap and can be purchased for $35.00 to $40.00. I’m ashamed to say that I have not tried this wine but will do my best to remedy this tragedy. If you’re looking for an introduction to this varietal, a producer that has made consistently good and outstandingly priced Petite Sirahs is Bogle Vineyards (these wines can be found for $9.00 to $11.00). Having sampled both the 2008 and 2009 vintages in recent months, I’d have to give the edge to the 2008, although the 2009 was very good.

I find myself appreciating this varietal more and more as time goes on. The aromas that I most consistently detect are blueberry and leather. My wife jokes that when I drink red wine, I tend to get a serious case of PMS (Purple Mouth Syndrome). Petite Sirah will have you PMSing quicker than any American wine that comes to mind. Deep in color, the wine is a mouth-filler (and a mouth stainer). It’s a great choice for cold weather, but probably not the first bottle that you’d want to open on a 90 degree day. Also, it’s not the best wine for beginning wine drinkers, as the tannins can be quite overwhelming for an inexperienced palate.

I’ve got this new thing where I’ve been trying to match wine varietals to a famous figure or actor. To me, Petite Sirah screams Robert Duvall. It (and he) are underrated, manly and bordering on badass, and get better with age.


Posted on by Nick in Petite Sirah, Wine Column, Zinfandel 3 Comments

A Trip to The Infinite Monkey Theorem

The Infinite Monkey Theorem is defined as a theorem stating that a monkey sitting at a typewriter and hitting keys at random for an infinite amount of time will eventually type the complete works of Shakespeare. The alternative definition? An urban winery in Denver making waves in a city known more for its microbreweries.

English-born winemaker Ben Parsons founded The Infinite Monkey Theorem in 2008 after stops in Australia, New Zealand, and Colorado’s Western Slope. Parsons set up shop in Denver’s Santa Fe Arts District and housed the winery in a Quonset hut.

For those who criticize wine as a drink for the pretentious, I would recommend a visit to IMT. Visitors are first greeted by the IMT delivery van parked outside, which is both a little bit creepy and cool at the same time (Ben said that he purchased it for $600.00 and a case of wine). Next, visitors enter into the no-frills tasting room, where a few tables, Ben’s art creations, and some monkey-themed knick-knacks reside. Then they might sample some outstanding wine out of bottles adorned with chimps or even IMT’s canned wine.

Yup, I said wine in a can. IMT is one of the first wineries to embrace canning wine, featuring a 250 mL can of black muscat. National publications such as the New York Times have taken notice. It’s not just the canned wine that’s getting notice, however, as Wine Spectator has rated several of IMT’s wines in the high 80s.

I recently visited IMT and met with Ben, who was gracious enough to field a few questions.

Six Questions with Winemaker Ben Parsons

Nick: How did you end up in Colorado?

Ben: I found a job opening for a winemaker in Palisade, Colorado and applied for it. Before then, I didn’t even know that they had wineries in Colorado. I was living in London at the time and they gave me the job without an interview.

Nick: What grape or grapes do you think have the most potential in Colorado?

Ben: I would say Syrah and Cabernet Franc, although Chardonnay and Riesling do very well in some years.

Nick: How did you come up with the name “The Infinite Monkey Theorem”?

Ben: Some friends and I were sitting around a table having dinner and drinking and we were googling, also using Wikipedia and The Devil’s Dictionary to come up with a name.  I really liked “The Infinite Monkey Theorem” on a couple of different levels as it was a unique, memorable name and it really spoke to the agricultural aspect of wine. You can give 100 winemakers the same grapes and they will make 100 different, distinctive wines-there are just so many variables that come in to play.

Nick: IMT seems to do everything possible to take the pretense out of wine. Was there an experience that led you to take up this mission?

Ben: Not really a certain experience. There has always been snobbery around wine. People go to some of the larger wineries with multi-million dollar tasting rooms and uppity tour guides telling them about what wines they should buy and they end up with a case of wine that they don’t even like when they get home. I spent some time in Australia, where they like to make wine fun and I think that had some influence on me.

Nick: I know this is a sappy question but what’s the most rewarding experience that you’ve had as a winemaker?

Ben: Winemaking overall is very rewarding and it’s very rewarding to own your own winery. It was a struggle at times. We had to have all of our equipment purchased and put into place before we could get our license. We were granted our license on September 9, 2008 and our first grapes arrived two days later, so that was a close call. We put in 20 hour days around the harvest-it’s fun but tiring. But when you’re sitting at a table out for dinner and the people next to you are drinking your wine and talking about how they’re enjoying it, it’s great.

Nick: Did you imagine that IMT would have this kind of success after just 3 1/2 years?

Ben: No, our plan was to make 2,000 cases in years 1 and 2 and up that number to 4,000 cases in years 3 and 4. By year 3, we ended up making 10,000 cases and we’re planning to expand on that amount in the future.

The Wine

IMT makes wines for a wide variety of palates, from the light and fruity albarino to the hearty petite syrah. 95% of the grapes in IMT wines come from Colorado’s Western Slope, with some of the grapes sourced from as far away as California.

On my visit, I sampled the 2010 Sauvignon Blanc, the 2010 Chardonnay, the “Blind Watchmaker”, and the 2010 Petite Syrah. Of the group, the Chardonnay and the Petite Syrah really stood out to me. The Chardonnay presented with citrus notes, apricot, and a bit of smoke, with the perfect amount of oak to add character but not diminish the wine’s brightness. The Petite Syrah presented with aromas of leather, smoked meat, and dark berries and was very refined for a P.S., lacking the harsh tannins often found in these wines.

Most of IMT’s wines can be found in the $20.00-35.00 range, with it’s flagship wine “The Hundredth Monkey” selling for around $50.00. The wine is available in wine shops/liquor stores/restaurants across Colorado and via an online store. As IMT becomes more well-known and with Ben’s planned expansion, I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see their wines on shelves across the country.

The Wrap

IMT and Ben Parsons reinforce a belief that I hold strongly. It’s not about having a cathedral-esque winery. It’s not about having a beautiful terrace overlooking hundreds of acres of vineyards. It’s not about having an immaculate tasting room with a cellist playing in the corner. It’s about what’s in the bottle. Or the can.


Posted on by Nick in Colorado, Wine Column, Winery Visits Leave a comment