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Petite syrah is a varietal that doesn’t garner a lot of attention. You’re unlikely to hear of anyone selling petite syrah futures or to find rare bottles auctioned off by Christie’s. And life is too short to see these wines achieve any type of cult status. Petite syrah is like spinach. You wouldn’t ask for it as your last meal. On the other hand, if it was made well, you might fancy some every once in a while. Getting petite syrah into your glass is another problem. It requires some effort to locate these interesting but obscure wines. When I was searching the greater D.C. area for bottles, I found that I had to scan the highest and dustiest shelves. So why should you bother? Because the flavors of a petite syrah dovetail so beautifully with hearty tomato-based sauces, blackened-fish dishes, rich cheeses, and robust courses like game, beef, and lamb. Ideally, a petite syrah is intensely tannic, deep purple, and exhibits wonderful aromas of blackberry, blueberry, and a hint of pepper. Petite syrah ages well and can mature for a decade after the vintage into a complex, smooth, elegant wine. Lately, some 70 wineries in California have taken a liking to this grape. Affectionately known as Petite Producers, they have planted 3,200 acres of vines in California. Still, petite syrah has an identity problem to overcome. One thing that throws consumers off track is that this wine is not genetically related to — nor does it have flavors similar to — the classic syrah of the Rhone Valley. The lineage of the petite syrah grape (also spelled sirah) may be muddled, but we know that it’s related to the Rhone Valley grape known as durif. The following is a sampling of what is available locally. None are terribly expensive for a solid red wine to be enjoyed with dinner, and the mid-priced bottles are rather good. Sampling one will remind you of the unexpected pleasures of trying a new wine. David Bruce Winery ($17) 2000 Central Coast Petite Syrah Using a blend of grapes from several vineyards in Paso Robles and southern Monterey creates a garnet-red, medium-bodied wine with aromatic spices, pepper, and cloves on the nose. Expect a dense core of pepper and very extracted blackberry flavors with firm tannins. Foppiano Vineyards ($14) 2000 Russian River Valley Sonoma Petite Sirah Aged in an American oak winemaker, this wine has seductive aromas and a flavor profile of plum, currants, black pepper, and mocha chocolate. Trentadue Winery ($20) 2000 Alexander Valley Petite Sirah A small amount of zinfandel inserted into the final blend makes this ripe, and smooth. Plum and pepper aromas and white pepper flavors linger on the palate. Pedroncelli Winery ($15) 1999 Dry Creek Valley Petite Sirah A blend of grapes from two vineyards, Pedroncelli and Pedroni-Bushnell, this wine is dark and richly colored with aromas and flavors of black cherry, plum, and spice. Lava Cap ($27) 1999 Granite Hill Reserve Petite Sirah Assertive blackberry and black cherry aromas and flavors that are delightfully set off by cherry and peppery spices. This medium-bodied wine has fine smooth tannins and a long finish. Guenoc ($20) 1997 Petite Sirah North Coast Expect a mouthful of pepper, abundant flavors, and a long finish. Chocolate and clove bouquet and tannins are aggressive at first blush and need a bit of opening up in the glass. Bogle Vineyards & Winery ($10) 1999 Petite Sirah A dark purple, inky wine with subtle aromas of ripe berry fruits and oak, with blueberry and shaved pepper flavors that don’t carry through to the finish. D.C. attorney Elisabeth Frater is “Wine Counsel.” Frater will be signing copies of her new book, Breaking Away to Virginia & Maryland Wineries, at two locations. First, at the Lansdowne Grille (44050 Woodridge Parkway, Leesburg) during “Celebrate Virginia,” a five-course dinner paired with wines from five Virginia wineries on Oct. 28 at 7 p.m.; $100, including tax and gratuity. Call (703) 729-4073 or visit Second, at the Toka Cafe (1140 19th St., N.W.) on Nov. 4, from 6 to 8:30 p.m. RSVP at [email protected], and on Nov. 9, 6 to 8 p.m., a “Design, Wine & Dine” benefit for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Call (202) 429-8652 for details.

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