Petite sirah sounds innocent, but it's far from a pushover. It's massive on the tongue, and it can stand up to serious grilled red meats.

Petite sirah sounds innocent, but it's far from a pushover. It's massive on the tongue, and it can stand up to serious grilled red meats.

"I love this varietal," Sher Bliss owner Cheryl Sher said. "It has very mysterious origins, and it's got cultlike status."

Petite sirah is thought to be derived from the durif grape, and they're sometimes indistinguishable. Durif is a red-wine grape that's native to France and believed to have come about when a syrah vine accidentally crossed with some other, unknown vine.

Still, syrah and petite sirah are nothing alike, and almost all petite sirah now comes from California. The wine's robust flavor comes from the size of its grapes - lots of grape skins transfer their color and flavor to the juice during fermentation.

It's long been used in red-wine blends, but is appreciated alone, Sher said. Among the three bottles that follow, two are straight petite sirah and one is a zinfandel blend. "They're very pleasing," Sher said. "It's nothing you can get too tired of."


Vinum Cellars PETs (2007)

Region: Clarksburg, California

Cost: $13

Tasting notes: Deep blue-and-red fruity and toasty flavors, with a slight pepperiness

Pairs well with: Anything off the grill - steak, lamb, short ribs

Cheryl Sher's advice: "Richard Bruno is the winemaker. He sources fine fruit for this wine. We sell a tremendous amount of this one."


Judd's Hill Petite Sirah (2004)

Region: Lodi, California

Cost: $27

Tasting notes: Less fruity and tannic, even be a little tobacco-y

Pairs well with: Pork roast with prunes and figs

Cheryl Sher's advice: "This one you could age a little more. A pencil-shaving taste calms it down and gives it a backbone. It's very easy to drink."


Spann Vineyards Mo Zin (2006)

Region: Sonoma Valley, California

Cost: $21

Tasting notes: Black raspberries with a touch of spice

Pairs well with: Grilled ahi, Italian red-sauce dishes

Cheryl Sher's advice: "Petite sirah is very zin-like, and it can be smoky and definitely a little peppery by itself."