by Fred McMillin
for June 24, 1998

Banned in France


The Rhone's Durif varietal makes a very ordinary wine. Consequently, it has been banned in most of France.

...1979, Pierre Galet, famous French ampelographer

The Petite Sirah is actually a grape known in France as the Durif, named after a Rhone nurseryman who developed it in the 1880's. It has all but disappeared in France, but has enjoyed a steady popularity in California.

...1992, New York Times

The Rest of the Story

So why does the Durif, alias Petite Sirah, make such a poor wine in France and such a popular wine in California? That's easy. It turns out that they are not the same grape afterall. Petite Sirah has Rhone origins, alright, but the Sirah seems to be a new breed that's evolved in California. As critic Bob Thompson said, DNA analysis now has established what the grape isn't, though we're not yet certain what it is. You can taste a good example of this California original for less than $10...by Bogle. 

The Wine

1995 Petite Sirah, California
Bogle Vineyards, Clarksburg, CA.
Rating—RECOMMENDED in its price range.
Tasting Notes—Petite Sirah makes a deeply colored red with plenty of backbone. The strong berry flavors are NOT petite.
Contact—Kristen Alling, (916) 744-1187
Food Affinities—Serve robust dishes with this robust red.
Price—$9 range.
Vintages—I aged this '95 a bit before serving it to my panel. The '96 has now been released, but we've not yet tasted it.


Speaking of the Rhone, it is rich in legends. For example, my wife and I stayed at a hotel where in 39 A.D. someone committed suicide by leaping from its tower into the Rhone. The Romans had transferred the administrator from Israel to Gaul two years earlier. The name of the hotel was the Castle-Hotel of Pilate and Fontager. The name of the suicide was Pontius Pilate. (from the hotel's brochure)

About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. He currently teaches wine courses at San Francisco State and San Francisco City College and is Northern California Editor for American Wine on the Web. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers.


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