One of the traditional classic black grape varieties approved for blending in Bordeaux, winemakers generally use the petit verdot grape as chefs would use seasoning. The “spice box” contribution this grape adds to wine is dense fruit, dark color, powerful flavors, and heavy tannins. This is a vinous example of “a little goes a long way”: too much petit Verdot in a blend can make the entire wine seem coarse, rustic, or unrefined.
Although the historical origin of this grape is yet undetermined, it is likely that the petit Verdot variety was planted in Bordeaux earlier than was cabernet sauvignon. Among Medoc producers, Chateau Lagrange, in St. Julien, has used the greatest proportion of petit verdot grapes in their wine; even here, it is never more than 15% of the total, and not used at all in some vintages. Another variety, gros verdot, despite the nominal similarity, is unrelated and has so few desirable characteristics and such little regard that it has nearly disappeared altogether.
Usually late-ripening, which limits usefulness in the coolest areas and wherever the season is typically short, petit verdot vines tend to be quite vigorous at producing vegetation, yet inconsistent at producing fruit, and seem to be more sensitive to vintage conditions than other varieties. For these reasons, petit verdot vines were routinely replaced or abandoned by most Bordeaux producers beginning in the mid-20th Century.
Planted in suitable climes and properly cultivated, the fruit develops in relatively small winged clusters, loosely filled with round, dark red-to-black, relatively thick-skinned, berries.
With improvements in vineyard techniques and a string of generally warmer vintages in the decade that spanned the second millennial turn-of-the-century, petit verdot has enjoyed a bit of a comeback in Bordeaux. Australia now claims the largest total acreage of petit verdot with increasing vineyards in the New World, particularly California and Chile, and some experimental-size plantings in a few other American states, Canada, and New Zealand.
Petit Verdot is occasionally, but rarely bottled anywhere as a stand-alone varietal without moderating its too powerful characteristics by blending with other grape types. In fact, it is rare to see this variety making up more than 6% of the total grape mix in wines produced anywhere outside Bordeaux’s Medoc.
|*Typical Petit Verdot Smell and/or Flavor Descriptors|
|*Typicity depends upon individual tasting ability and experience and is also affected by terroir and seasonal conditions, as well as viticultural and enological techniques, so this list is neither comprehensive nor exclusive, merely suggestive.||Varietal Aromas/Flavors:||Processing Bouquets/Flavors:|
|Fruit: vinous, black fruits, blackberry||Terroir: leather|
|Floral: (none)||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|
Although petit verdot is of minor commercial application and the general trend is to focus on the cultivars that are most popular and easiest-to-grow, varietal diversity is crucial to both artisan wine making and broad variety in the consumer marketplace.
by Jim LaMar