A Grape Highlight: Petit Verdot
Information on Petit Verdot is sparse in comparison to the ubiquitous amount of material that can be found on many other grape varietals. I did not anticipate that this would be an unpopular or relatively unexposed varietal for many people. However the wine is so unique, happening upon a bottle of Petit Verdot would likely not occur - the purchase of this wine would need to be deliberate. Unlike a Cab Sauv or a Pinot Nior, it is not a type of wine you pick up from the end cap at a grocery store on a haphazard wine run. More than likely your grocery store doesn't sell it.
I have been exposed to this grape varietal fairly often and I am sure it is in large part due to living in Washington. Walla Walla, WA provides the grape with the prime, warm climate growing conditions needed for this finicky grape to flourish. We are putting the grape on the map to perform as a single varietal wine along with Argentina, Australia, California and Chile. A big change compared to how the grape has been utilized in the past.
Naturally this grape originates from France and can often be found in very small amounts in Bordeaux Blends. Typically you will only find 1-2% of this varietal added late in the blending process to boost color, tannin, and freshness.
Petit Verdot is the complete opposite of Merlot. Where Merlot has been used to mellow out wines and is cultivated with ease, Petit Verdot is used to punch up a wine and is a pain in-the-ass to grow in the vineyard. Many Petit Verdot vines in France have been replaced with Merlot, resulting in very little production of the grape in the region today. Now these grapes are primarily grown in the US, Spain and Italy.
The primary issue this grape has in the vineyard, is its propensity to ripen late. Petit Verdot or the "little green one" is aptly named; the late bushels are often sprinkled with little green grapes among the desired deep purple grapes. If these grapes happen to make it to harvest they can still be a hit or miss. If wine is made when the grapes are not yet ripe, it will make the wine sharply acidic and nearly undrinkable. The challenge for making this wine starts in the vineyard.
Due to its fastidious nature, the grape produces a very unique flavor profile. The wine can have a very green bitter taste, like eating an unripe green apple. It dries your cheeks out and causes your lips to stick to your teeth. The wine holds a lot of tannin and is often referred to as "tasting hot," - the feeling you get when drinking wine with high acidity and tannin structure. The alcohol burns so good!
To ease the harshness of the tannin and increase the drink-ability of the wine, this grape is typically aged in oak for 20-30 months. The oak influence lends to bouquets of vanilla, mocha and hazelnut in the wine. From the grape you will smell hints of dark fruits like plum, cherry, or blackberries. You will also get primary aromas of violets and lavender. For this wine - think purple.
Petit Verdot is a teeth staining bold wine. You will find it in the smell, the color of the juice and in the full body taste. If you are a white or sweet wine lover, Petit Verdot will not be a good transition to red wine for you. Petit Verdot is the biker gang of wines and it WILL punch you in the mouth when you are not expecting it. Try something more approachable like a Gamay or a Grenache, which are much softer wines.
When opening a Petit Verdot, it will behoove you to decant the wine for roughly 2 hours. If you have a fancy wine aerator, pass the wine through it a couple of times. Feel free to sample the wine throughout the breathing process. If you prefer wine to give you the mouth feel of licking a paper towel, decant it for a shorter amount of time.
You can cellar this type of wine for 5-15 years. Age on the wine is needed for a single varietal of Petit Verdot to allow it time to mellow out. Otherwise it may burn your mouth if the wine is too young. If you want or have recommendations for your favorite Petit Verdot, comment below. ⬇⬇⬇⬇
I am also happy to help you find the perfect food pairing to go alongside this bold wine. The high tannin in the wine pairs well with fatty, pungent meats and cheeses. Perhaps some gourmet blue cheese burgers will pair well with this powerhouse of a wine. Stay tuned with my FB and Insta stories next week to see what I cook up.
Thank you to Wine Folly, Wine Cellar Insider and The Spruce Eats for providing me with the much needed information on the strong "little green one."
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