Bordeaux is famous for its age-worth blends, comprised of a number of noble grape varieties. One of those grape types is Petit Verdot, typically a supporting cast member but capable of doing really compelling things all by its lonesome.
For ages, Petit Verdot was used to inject some tanning to Old World red blends (sometimes called claret) or to firm up the mouthfeel of Cabernet Sauvignon-driven New World wines. The name is a telling one, translating to “small green,” a reference to the variety’s ripening issues, which can cause a lot of headaches among growers. A late-ripening grape, Petit Verdot can struggle to fully mature on the vine, especially in Bordeaux, where the growing season can be a little more condensed.
Hence, the grape moved elsewhere, settling especially well in the warmer countries like Portugal, Spain, and Australia as well as certain parts of the U.S. It’s showing real promise in places like Virginia, Texas, Arizona, Washington, and Oregon. Domestically, Petit Verdot does especially well in California, where it’s used as a blending agent but also produced as a singular wine. It’s also known by more synonyms than the average person could keep track of, including Bouton, Heran, and Lambrusquet Noir.
The history around Petit Verdot is a little hazy. Some believe it’s older than Cabernet Sauvignon, at least in the Bordeaux region. It was most likely introduced by the Romans, deliberately or otherwise, and is closely related to Tressot Noir and Duras. Simply put, it’s a heavy number, full-bodied with outstanding color and flavors typically incorporating things like plum, ripe cherry, and herbs. On the red wine spectrum, it’s very much the opposite of lighter, more delicate varietals like Pinot Noir and Gamay.
Much of the depth and color of Petit Verdot is owed to its small, thick-skinned berries. It’s quite tannic, a big reason why it’s utilized for blending, even in Bordeaux where it usually only makes up a drop within the overall wine bucket (2% of the blend is common). And it’s not exactly easy to grow, even in its newer homes, as it buds early, making it vulnerable to spring frost or other inclement weather early in the growing season.
But it’s worth the effort, as a lot of New World vintners are showing. Fortunately, its signature thick grape skin also protects the clusters from disease pressure and rot. It may never gain the traction of its southwestern France chums like Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, but that’s fine. Petit Verdot seems to enjoy just a sliver of the spotlight, although it’s probably worthy of a bit more praise, especially during grilling season.
It’ll be fun to see what the next wave of vintners do with the grape now that we know it can make for a sturdy, stand-up wine on its own. For now, be on the lookout for these four standout American takes:
Launched in 2012, B. Leighton showcases the winegrowing potential of the beer-centric Yakima Valley. It’s a delightful glimpse into what the grape variety can do as a standalone wine varietal, with ample dark fruit and complementary pepper notes, with a subtle hit of wild mint. Try the wine with grilled flank steak or lamb chops and settle into the glory of summertime.
Petit Verdot is gaining a lot of traction is the fast-growing Virginia wine scene. The version from Jefferson Vineyards is lasting, with big, well-integrated flavors. Dialed-in to say the least, the most recent 2018 vintage comes in at a modest 12.5% ABV. The winery suggests enjoying it with heavier cuts of meat or chocolate-y desserts.
Lodi, California producer Michael David makes a mean Petit Verdot, equal parts inky, jammy, and punchy. It demonstrates the grape’s tendency to show both violet floral components and deep, leathery goodness. There’s real density and chewiness to this wine so don’t be bashful in terms of pairing, it can stand up to most heavy dishes.
The high plains of Texas are proving to be another sweet spot for growing and producing Petit Verdot. Eden Hill Vineyard’s riff is opulent, with big brambly flavors and an acidity to back it all up. In true Texas fashion, try it with barbecue, preferably something slathered in sauce.
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