Petit Verdot: The Underdog of Bordeaux

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Versión en español

Petit Verdot Grapes

One of the six classic Bordeaux grape varieties (the others being Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Carménère, Merlot, and Malbec), Petit Verdot is still not planted in great quantity, although among the more traditional wineries or the ones wanting to make a more complex blend the grape is being utilized with more frequency.  Petit Verdot is a grape that ripens even later than Cabernet Sauvignon.  Frequently, this grape, along with Carménère, are the last two varieties to be harvested.  Because of this many wineries abandoned the variety in the 1970s and 1980s, and in 1988 the plantings of this variety hardly reached three hundred hectares (740 acres) in all of France.

Likely indigenous to Bordeaux and present many years before the appearance of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot was more widely planted and played a more important role in the blended wines of that era.  Like Cabernet Sauvignon, the Petit Verdot vine produces small berries with thick skins intensely blue-black in color, with high levels of tannins, acids and phenolic components.  The grapes are capable of producing deeply colored, concentrated wines rich in tannins.  Also like Cabernet Sauvignon it can produce wines rich in color, tannin, acid and flavor, although pure Petit Verdot wines can lack the elegance of Cabernet Sauvignon.  In the best vintages in Bordeaux, Petit Verdot can contribute color, flavor, alcohol and structure to the wines in which it is blended.  Young wines produced from Petit Verdot tend to exhibit aromas of banana and pencil shavings while more mature wines show notes of leather and violet.  In Bordeaux, the plantings of Petit Verdot are concentrated on the Left Bank of the Gironde River where the gravelly soils are warmer than the clayey soils of the Right Bank where Merlot dominates.  As Merlot ripens earlier it is better suited to these soils, whereas Petit Verdot requiring more time to ripen is better suited to the warmer soils of the Left Bank.  In the Médoc region of Bordeaux, if Petit Verdot is planted in a vineyard it usually represents about one to three percent, although the third growth Château Palmer has used up to ten percent in its blend which also includes a high proportion of Merlot.

Casa de la Hermita Petit Verdot

In Spain, Petit Verdot is permitted in the regions of Andalucía, Castilla-La Mancha, Castilla y León, Extremadura, Murcia, and Valencia.  In the denomination of Jumilla, Casa de la Hermita produces a pure Petit Verdot wine.  The 2004 vintage of this wine received ninety points from Robert Parker’s magazine The Wine Advocate.  In Italy’s region of Lazio, Casale del Giglio produces a pure varietal Petit Verdot, something of an oddity in this country.  In the warmer regions of the New World, in particular Australia and California, Petit Verdot has achieved some success.  The vine arrived in Australia in 1832 as part of James Busby’s collection.  The varietal wine has met with success in the Riverland GI (geographical indication) of South Australia where there are some 600 hectares (1482 acres) planted.  Kingston Estate and Pirramimma are also famous for their Petit Verdot wines.  In California some 780 hectares (1927 acres) of Petit Verdot are planted, principally in Napa and Sonoma, mostly used in blends although Clayhouse Vineyards produces a varietal wine.  Argentina’s Instituto Nacional de Vitivinicultura doesn’t list Petit Verdot among its high quality red wine grapes and doesn’t list planting statistics for the variety although of note is that Catena Zapata does have some plantings in its La Pirámide vineyard in Agrelo.  Wines of Chile lists 266 hectares (657 acres) of Petit Verdot, mostly planted in the O’Higgins and Maule regions.  Notable Chilean wineries using Petit Verdot are Casa Lapostolle in its iconic wine, Clos Apalta; and Montes in its Purple Angel.  Santa Carolina produces its Petit Verdot Barrica Selection, based on Petit Verdot with small quantities of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah, in the Rapel Valley.


About Gregg Smith

Gregg Smith is an American sommelier certified by The Court of Master Sommeliers living in Lima, Peru, and serving as director of the wine and bar program at Central Restaurante.
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