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Home | Red Varieties | Petit Verdot - The little big man




Petit Verdot - The little big man

With a literal translation of “little green one”, Petit Verdot earns this name from the small, intensely colored grapes with a well-known lethargy in ripening.  Petit Verdot has had a long but somewhat inconspicuous history.  In fact, the origins of the grape are not well known, and the empathy resulting from its minor role in Bordeaux blends initially resulted in a lack of popularity in other winegrowing countries.  Yet Petit Verdot is thought to have been planted in Bordeaux before the famed Cabernet Sauvignon and, although it only accounts for typically 1-3% of those blends, played an important role there, adding color, tannin, flavor, and ultimately complexity to its wines.  Those big characteristics have also piqued the interest of New World winemakers where Petit Verdot continues to make inroads. Indeed, the grape's emergence from the shadows could be upon us.

Where Does Petit Verdot Grow?

France - Winemakers in Bordeaux have used Petit Verdot sparingly in the classic red blends (it is one of the six permitted grape varieties) that have garnered international attention for centuries.  Most of the plantings are in the Medoc on the Left Bank and use of the grape is largely dependent on the growing season.  For example, in poor years in which Petit Verdot struggles to ripen entire harvests may be lost.  Not surprisingly, the patience for the grape has waned and in the last 50 years Petit Verdot has seen its numbers dwindle.  Yet some reports indicate that the warming trend seen across Europe may result in its return.  Only time will tell.


United States - In the 1980s a handful of Californian winemakers started experimenting with Petit Verdot to see the heights the grape could achieve in the sunny Golden State. 30 years later the jury is still out on the widespread performance of the grape. But there have been several vineyards that have produced some very unique offerings, especially in regions with lengthy growing seasons that give Petit Verdot plenty of time to ripen fully.  In addition to California, other lesser known wine growing regions in the country, including AVAs in Virginia, the North Fork of Long Island, and Texas Hill country, have tried to use Petit Verdot's relative obscurity to their advantage, attempting to find a grape with which they can claim superiority. The jury will undoubtedly be in deliberation for quite some time.

California Producers to look For: In Paso Robles- Justin Vineyards & Winery, Opolo Vineyards, Tobin James Cellars, and San Antonio Winery (Opaque). In Napa Valley- Trinchero, Rutherford Hill, Sawyer Cellars, Romeo Vineyards & Cellars, Heitz Cellar, Murphy-Goode, Atticus John, and Stagecoach Vineyard. Elsewhere in California- Jonata (Santa Ynez), Clendenen (Santa Maria Valley), Lapis Luna Wines (San Luis Obispo), and Yorkville Cellars (Mendocino).

Australia - In terms of total acreage, Australia is now the world leader in Petit Verdot plantings.  As we have learned with the grape's need for heat and sunshine, it makes sense that the irrigated interior winegrowing regions Down Under are quite suitable to fully ripen the grape.  Petit Verdot made its original voyage to Australia in the mid-1800s but, as with most of the wine industry in general, went through some ups and downs before establishing itself.  In particular, the McLaren Vale and Riverland appellations in South Australia have shown the most promise for cultivating the deep red.

Australian Producers to Look For: In McLaren Vale- Pirramimma, Gemtree Vineyards, Wayne Thomas, and Ballast Stone Estate. In Riverland- Kingston Estate and La Ripetta. Elsewhere in Australia- Ceravolo (Adelaide Plains), Crandford John Ziln (Barossa Valley), and Trentham Estate (Australia).

The Rest of the World - Petit Verdot has been planted sporadically around the globe, with many producers following the Bordeaux model to add complexity to blends. Some Old World winemakers in Italy, Spain, and Portugal have given the grape a shot, but only in small numbers. The same can be said for New World producers in Argentina, Chile, South Africa, and New Zealand.

Petit Verdot Styles

Petit Verdot's most striking characteristic is the deep, inky color it produces in its wines.  Indeed, a glass of Petit Verdot is opaque, not even allowing light to penetrate its brooding soul.  But with that darkness comes some other pleasant aspects such as a range of complex aromas and flavors.  Many identify dark fruit such as blackberries, while other pick out other aspects such as molasses, chocolate, pencil shavings, cigar box, leather, or even tar.  Of course, some may be more prominent than others depending on the winemaker's stylistic preferences of fermenting and aging.  But for the majority of wines that Petit Verdot plays a role, it is usually in the background, playing a supporting role for other more famous players.  But the little guy still has a big role.




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