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The Petit Verdot Grape

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About Petit Verdot

(Synonyms: Bouton, Carmelin, Heran, Lambrusquet Noir, Petit Verdau, Petit Verdot Noir, Verdot, Verdot Rouge)

Background

Petit Verdot grapes Map showing Bordeaux

Petit Verdot is a red-wine grape originating in the Bordeaux region of France (though see the "Factoid" below). Though traditionally used almost exclusively in small amounts in the traditional Bordeaux blends, it has acquired a second life in the New World, and is now often considered one of the dozen and a half or so of world-class red-wine grapes (those in boldface in the varietals list to the left of the page). Its popularity with winemakers in its native region had declined severely owing to the vineyard difficulties it presents in that climate; but, in the much more beneficent climates of the New World, it is almost a diferent grape, coming to a late-season maturity that allows it to express itself in impressive monovarietal wines.

Varietal Petit Verdot is distinguished by a deep violet color (one U.S. Winery calls its PV "Inkblot"), high tannin levels and acidity, and a strong, rich flavor. That flavor is variously described as involving notes of dark fruit, cedar, tar, and spices (typical of Bordeaux varieties), as well as less typical overtones, such as (especially when young) banana and vanilla. It is often compared with Syrah for the sorts of wines it makes.

To be a success, a monovarietal bottling requires not only good grapes, but some care in the vinification: the high tannins typically want to be tamed a bit with some oak aging, but if such oaking is overdone, it can easily obscure the fruit and other inherent flavorings of the wines (a problem with oaking not limited to PV wines, but especially problematic here). But, to repeat, grapes grown in warm, long-season climates present distinctly fewer such problems, allowing substantially less oaking and decidedly more exciting wines.

Factoid: There is much speculation that PV was brought north to Bordeaux from an original warmer Mediterranean home by the Romans; that makes sense, as it seems unlikely that the grape developed in a climate so ill-suited to its growth as Bordeaux.


Some Descriptions of Petit Verdot Wines

  • Wikipedia

    "When young its aromas have been likened to banana and pencil shavings. Strong tones of violet and leather develop as it matures."

  • About.com

    "Petit Verdot is a highly concentrated grape, exuding abundant color, structure and flavor - with many preferring to approach it with the "less is more" philosophy and diluting its potent power by blending. However, for those that have ventured out into the Petit Verdot spotlight, featuring the grape as a stand alone - the expected aromas circle around vanilla, smoke, spice, cedar, molasses and even tar. The Petit Verdot flavor profile often includes dense, dark fruit, to the tune of blackberry, black cherry and black plum. "

  • Professional Friends of Wine

    "Fruit: vinous, black fruits, blackberry. Terroir: leather. Oak (light): vanilla, coconut, sweet wood. Spice: pencil shavings, molasses, tar. Oak (heavy): oak, smoke, toast, tar. Herbal: weeds, nettles. Bottle Age: cedar, cigar box."

  • Grape Heaven

    "The aroma of a Petit Verdot includes smoke, leather and earth tones. It can also include flavors such as peppers, spices and minerals. A Petit Verdot is not recommended for those who enjoy a fruity wine because long aging in oak barrels usually fades the fruit flavors in the Petit Verdot wine. . . The good news is that when the Petit Verdot grapes are planted in suitable climates and they are properly cultivated, the grapes develop into small winged clusters, which are loosely filled with round, dark colored, thick skinned grapes which can produce incredible wines."

  • Introduction to Petit Verdot with Stuart Olsen

    "The characters to look for in Petit Verdot are its intense colours, the wonderful fragrant nose, rich flavours and soft tannins. Primary Fruit/Floral Notes: Petit Verdot is incredibly generous with floral fragrant aromas early on that carry on into its middle life—Lavender, rosewater, musk, violets, fruity banana esters, fennel seed/star anise and white blossoms. Sweet ripe red/black/mulberry notes will be seen very early on, but are usually overshadowed by the floral fragrance/esters predominating. Secondary Fruit Flavours: With age, Petit Verdot likens to a dimension between sweet and savoury with the fruity floral flavours developing into deeper "moreish" characters . . . Licorice, graphite/lead pencil, cola, sweet beetroot reduction, blood plum, blueberry, leather.

  • Wine Cellar Insider

    "[In blends] it adds additional tannin, color and a unique flavor profile that can manifest itself with aromas of flowers, olives or when very ripe, blueberry characteristics. When not fully ripe, Petit Verdot tends to be a sharply acidic, unpleasant grape for wine."

  • Raffaldini Vineyards

    "These thick-skinned grapes produce wines with mouth-gripping tannins that are so powerful that they often leave the palate with a puckering sensation. The aroma is strong and encompasses earth, leather, smoke and cigar box tones. On the palate, the taste is smoke, spice, minerals and peppers. Due to the high levels of tannin that require long oak aging to soften, there is typically a lack of final fruit sensations in Petit Verdot."

  • CrossKeys Vineyard

    "During a good vintage, Petit Verdot is amazing on its own. It is purple and inky in color with dense, dark; fruit flavors (think black berry or plum). The single varietal aromas can include vanilla, smoke, spice, cedar, molasses, and even tar."

  • Wines SA

    "Taste can vary greatly, depending upon the age of the grapes at harvest. Younger grapes will have a rather banana-like taste, with a woody edge, while older grapes will tend to produce a violet or leather flavour. In South Africa, the Petit Verdot grapes are rather sensitive to drought, which can give an acidic taste to the wines, but where it is grown and tended carefully, the wine is likely to be a dark, fruity taste which has a full body. If the plants are not carefully irrigated, then they can produce an excess of acid which will make the resulting wine too astringent to easily swallow. However, with the South African weather allowing Petit Verdot to ripen successfully, the wines produced should be extremely tasty, with full body, meaty taste and fresh fruit aromas, all of which can be savoured when drinking a single varietal Petit Verdot wine."


Some Petit Verdots to Try

(About this list.)

Regrettably, the superb Escafeld PV is no longer made, but here are some well-respected specimens of Petit Verdot. It is quite a scatter: France, Italy, Australia, California, and two from Argentina (now widely considered Petit Verdot's best source). We found that while there are quite a few Petit Verdot wines with nice reviews, very few of them are both within our price limit of $20 and reasonably widely distributed. That means that if you see a varietal Petit Verdot at your favorite wine merchant, don't hesitate to give it a go; but the ones listed here all have at least modest availability (meaning more than one or two hits on Wine Searcher Pro).

Because Petit Verdot is still under-appreciated—at least in the U.S.—in many cases there was something of a paucity of reviews for some of these wines. But here they are anyway.

The quotations below are excerpts; we strenuously urge you to click on the green diamond symbol by each quoted review to see the full article.
  • De Bortoli Deen Vat 4 Petit Verdot, $9 - $16.
    (Australia.)

    Some quotations and facts:

    But in the sunny, hot Riverina region it ripens fully – in this instance, producing a deep purple, full-bodied red, packed with ripe fruit flavour and the variety’s notoriously firm tannins. It provides solid, clean, fresh drinking at a low price.

    Full-bodied and succulent, it explodes out of the gate with considerable dark cherry sweetness but then dries up, thanks to considerable, fine-grained, astringent tannins and a spicy edge.

    Colour- Redish Purple, Great Colour. Nose- Plummy, Vanilla oak, Lavender ??, Dusty Gravel notes. Smells great. Taste- less than ripe cherries, Aussie Mist Shampoo (coconut) & bananas, a bit candied but not overblown. Surprisingly acidic, fine tannins- some apple crispness- a real backbone to the wine. Smooth Fruit forward wine. Typical Aussie but something different, not austere, not completely candied overall complex. Of all the PVerdots I have had, it has always the acidity or crispness of the palate and the structure of the wine that sets it apart from the normal. 88 points

    Some intrepid producers in warmer regions are trying their hands at making wines starring Petit Verdot, like this 2006 Deen De Bortoli Vat 4 from South Eastern Australia. I can see the potential here. There’s some good spice on the nose — cloves and nutmeg — and the firm tannins made it a decent match for the skirt steak I served it with. But the wine spent 12 months aging in American oak, and the wood clouds the taste of the fruit, like a film of dirt on a glass window. Petit Verdot sometimes has a hard, rubbery character that reminds me of a pencil eraser, a quality that’s in full effect here. In theory I support the idea of a predominantly Petit Verdot wine, but in this case I’m not loving the execution

    Petit verdot was going to The Next Big Thing in red wines - remember? Late-ripening, high-acid grape; great for warm regions like the Riverina; makes wines that taste like particularly intense cabernet. But it never took off, and drinking this terrific-value, vibrant red, with its dark sour cherry and plum juice fruit flavours, wrapped up in snappy tannins, I just don't know why. Tastes delicious with a steak sandwich.

    A bit austere, with an astringent edge, this requires pairing with rare beef or lamb to show its best. There’s a lifted, slightly floral aspect to the aromas, followed by crisp cherry fruit and a dusting of firm tannins. Drink now, but this also could be a wine that makes for a pleasant surprise in 4–5 years. 88 points.

    In the glass, this wine poured a practically opaque purple, with maroon edges suggesting this could still age for a little while. On the nose, I was struck with intense notes of blackberry and chocolate, with some slight blackcurrant in the mix as well, and possibly violets (note to self: learn what certain flowers smell like). There was also a definite scent of wood, albeit more subdued than the pencil shavings I detected in the Murphy-Goode, oh so many years ago. The flavors on the palate were similar to the nose notes, but not identical, with blackberry and blueberry alongside more chocolate, black pepper and what might have been a tiny hint of graphite. Full-bodied and with a long finish, the fruit was the biggest player, more so than I’ve ever tasted in Petit Verdot; it was almost as though the tuba soloist had sealed off all the exits before his performance, ensuring that there could be no escape from his masterpiece. The wine still managed to pull off a pretty decent balancing act, however, with firm (yet fading) tannins, strong acidity, and great complexity for the price point.

    There’s nothing petite about the robust flavours of petit verdot. The Vat 4 has been on a bit of a run for the past few vintages and this is on form, too. It’s a bold and comforting wine, with a touch of elegance. Lifted cedar oak notes add finesse to the bold blackberry, violet, stewed plum and blueberry aromas. A deep core of dark berry, blood plum and a hint of mocha are complemented by vibrant acid and savoury tannins. 4/5

    Dense blackberry flavours. Seductive, velvety texture.

    Opaque in colour with a lovely purplish-hue the De Bortoli Petit Verdot is luscious with blackberry, mint chocolate, cedar and vanilla aromas. Sweet black fruit on the palate--smoothly spiced cocoa, leather and coffee bean flavours. It is bright with some chewiness and an earthy, spiced finish.


  • Ruca Malen Reserva Petit Verdot, $15 - $23.
    (Argentina.)

    Some quotations and facts:

    [T]heir Petit Verdot has always been memorable. .  [It] is certainly a nice wine with rich flavors. Dark ruby in color with notes of red fruits, plum and blackberry with hints of caramel and pencil shavings. In the mouth, a nice fruit and oak balance is struck. This wine has a bit of grip to it, with a medium finish. This is a nice example of an Argentine Petit Verdot.

    Vibrant and vivid mouthful of dark and ripe berry, plum, cherry and pomegranate flavours with hints of earthiness, finishing with fresh liquorice and mineral and rich, full tannins. Rated: Very Good.

    Mendoza, Argentina is one region that has great potential. Ruca Malen, a modern enterprise founded by French partners in the Uco Valley is one winery taking a serious shot. The 2010 Ruca Malen Reserva Petit Verdot is a huge wine, thick and drenched with flavour, yet still unmistakeably sinewy on the finish. Stick some in the cellar.

    Lots of violets and inky lead on the nose. A big, well judged wine showing lovely juicy tannins, black cherry, clove and chocolate flavours.

    Interesting Petit Verdot from Lujan de Cuyo, Mendoza at a great value. Nice fruit mostly black cherry and berry with chocolate and cacao notes. Mostly initial and middle palate with short finish. Somehow boring in terms of complexity but attractive. I´d say 86 points. Hardly good value.

    Unfortunately, this one was not as good as we expected. It showed just a hint of tobacco and mature fruit aromas on the nose and it was hard on the mouth, with astringent tannins and a salty aftertaste.

    This was a bit lighter with riper tannins than most renditions that I have had with aromas and flavors of red fruit, caramel and pepper with a long spicy finish.

    [It] was black and concentrated with hints of herbs and black currents and was nicely balanced.

    From a low-yielding single vineyard, this is a superior petit verdot that shows ripe, complex flavours with structure and consistency. The balance is well done, and there’s a frame of firm tannins enabling you to enjoy this over the next five or six years. ****


  • Finca La Luz "Callejón del Crimen" Gran Reserva Petit Verdot, $16 - $20.
    (Argentina)

    Some quotations and facts:

    This wine has an incredible deep color and concentration with a plush, velvety body. Good development in the nose gives aromas of cedar, graphite and banana and in the mouth you get ripe black fruit with nice oak characteristics like toast and cigar box. Finca La Luz has been making excellent Petit Verdot since forever, and I wonder if this could not become the 3rd “new” varietal to come out of Argentina.

    Rich black fruits, with hints of tobacco and dried fruits. Dry and intense, a wine that would be best with food.

    ♣ Wine Advocate (December 2011), 93 points:
    The 2008 Callejon del Crimen Petit Verdot Gran Reserva is the most dense and full-bodied of these wines. Powerful, structured, and packed with savory black fruits, it will require extended cellaring to reveal its full potential. It seems to have all the right stuff, so for those who think bigger is better, this is the wine for you.


    [L]ike the man says, there’s nothing “Petit” about it. This rocket fuel wine, not for the faint of heart and perfect for those Summer drinkers looking for something that can stand up to barbecue sauce. Petit Verdot, typically a blending grape in Bordeaux, takes the bigger is better game to a whole other level in this massive, crowd pleasing wine.

    [A]ll kinds of cherry is unpacked in the mouth; pretty and pleasant. (*** 1⁄2+)

    Finca La Luz Callejón del Crimen Reserva 2012 was awarded a Double Gold Medal at the CWSA [China Wine & Spirits Awards] 2013.

    Sight: Dark cherry colour. Nose: Aromas of candied fruit and mineral. Tear wide. Mouth: Very tasty palate. Intense tannins.


  • Domaine de Ravanes Petit Verdot, $18 - $23.
    (France.)

    Some quotations and facts:

    Classy nose - leather, meat, tobacco, citrus and a whole load of black cherry, blackcurrant, bramble, forest floor and kirsch. On the palate, it has real tannic grip, but is ever so fruity, with those dark garrigue herb-infused fruits and citrus combining beautifully in a wine of real freshness and verve. And despite the fact that it is aged exclusively in vats (i.e. no oak influence) it has real complexity, with hints of tobacco and dark chocolate and a peppery finish. Ripe but not overtly rich, generous but beautifully balanced.

    2010: Élevage in vat, bottled 2012. Marc [the winemaker] used to call this wine Le Prime Verd, but now that the grape variety is allowed in the Languedoc, he can give it its proper name. Good colour; rounded ripe but fresh fruit. Quite textured. Good balance. Youthful. Supple tannins. Very bordelais. And very original. 2008: Good colour. Light, herbal nose, with some cassis. Quite a fresh palate, but more vegetal, with come tannins.

    This is 100% Petit Verdot ,dark and deep in the glass. The nose is opening up a little bit and there is dark fruit and meatiness there. Lots of acidity on the palate and nice grip from the tannins, not a lot of complexity yet and I feel this needs to be given a bit of breathing space in a decanter. It feels posh but it also feels a bit like Bordeaux, that’s not a bad thing. I just think that if tasted blind I would never have put it in the Languedoc.


  • Jeff Runquist "R" Petit Verdot, $18 - $30.
    (California, Stanislaus County)

    Some quotations and facts:

    The [Jeff Runquist wines] I've had so far have been acid driven, balanced to light bodied wines with minimal tannins and this Petit Verdot continues that trend... its a Stanislaus county 100% Petit Verdot that sees mostly American oak and delivers a nose of black and blue fruit, cassis, caramel, white flowers, pencil lead, espresso, anise, earth, toasty oak and a hint of funk... in the mouth the wine explodes with acidity, which frames the black raspberry, dark chocolate and oak notes with some more mineral and floral aspects... the texture is fairly sumptuous and the tannins are so tamed to be non-existent... its a rich but bright wine that seems like it would work well with food due to the relatively lightness and blazing acidity... a nice attempt at doing Petit Verdot on its own although some Paso Robles makers may have an edge on the overall experience.

    This bottle is dark purple in color, with blackberry, blueberry and lemon cream aromas and a back palate that’s all green tea and cassis. Intense but very good.

    Wary of the heft of petit verdot? Not here, with expectant deep color but also gobs of dark red fruit flavor that is chewy and mouth-filling but never clumsy, always caressingly rich and inviting.

    The result is a relatively small line of beautifully handcrafted red wines, including Barbera, Zinfandel and Petit Verdot. The fruit is allowed to stay on the vines until it’s ripe, so it’s lush without sweetness, the mouth-feel silky smooth. In addition, Jeff uses no pumps when he’s making his wine, as most vineyards do; he’s adamant about not wanting to break the grape seeds. This is a careful craftsman with a sense of daring…If you can get a bottle of the Petit Verdot, or Cooper Barbera, please do so, though I’d be happy with just about any bottle he offers.

    The 2012 Petit Verdot, from Damir Ranch, is smooth and dense, with classic juniper notes.

    The 2012 Stanislaus Ranch Petit Verdot has…been entered in nine competition and drew a gold medal in eight, as well as best of class, best of show and double gold distinctions in various shows.

    The 2010 has a deep purple color with carmine hue. The aromas are loaded with ripe black fruits and cassis. The time this wine spent in small oak barrels contributes a creamy caramel, hazelnut and toasty oak bouquet. On the palate there are rich flavors of black currants and black raspberries, deeply toasted oak, and dark chocolate. Soft integrated tannins add structure and body without dryness or astringency.


  • Casale del Giglio Petit Verdot, $19 - $24.
    (Italy.)

    Some quotations and facts:

    Smokey tones of charcoal and dark granite or slate rise from the nose of this Lazio-based Petit Verdot. Dusty mineral notes are followed by dark, ripe fruit and the wine is long-lasting and penetrating on the close. 88 points.

    Purple color with intense grape jelly, grape bubblegum and blueberry pie on the nose. There are some initial bitter tannins that eventually soften as the wine opens up and a sour finish that also dissipates on the second day. Black currant and black fruit dominate the palate. 87 points. . . Traditionally a blending grape, Petite Verdot still shows nicely as a focal point. Retails for around $17 making it somewhat expensive for the excitement and expressiveness it delivers.

    Particularly interesting are the wines produced with Petit Verdot, a red berried grape from Bordeaux and used for the production of the renowned wines of that area, which Casale del Giglio uses to make a mono varietal wine having extremely interesting and surprising characteristics. Casale del Giglio's Petit Verdot is, together with all of its wines, the witness of the success of its researches.


For a Splurge

Regrettably, the much-praised Australian Pirramimma Petit Verdot—which some say might be the world's best—does not seem to be available in the U.S. (though it is in Canada). A reasonable alternative for a splurge is from Washington State's Januik Winery, to wit the Januik "Ciel du Cheval Vineyard" ("Horse Heaven") Petit Verdot, which has reasonable availability (many Total Wine outles carry it) for about $34 to $40.



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