6/26/2009

Petit Verdot: The Next Big Thing?

Hello Friends,

It was not that long ago that Cabernet Franc was the ‘red wine’ talk of the town throughout Virginia wine country. To some extent, it still is, but over a short period of time Dezel has noticed that Petit Verdot varietal wines are on the rise and demanding some of the spotlight. Just a few years ago when I was first getting acquainted with Virginia wine, Cabernet Franc was always referred to as the state’s flagship red wine and the grape likely to put Virginia on the wine map.

Now, that was a mere three years ago (time flies when you are sipping!), but more recently, I have heard Petit Verdot mentioned when the talk of “leading red” or “flagship red” in Virginia comes up. Of course, a lot of this has to do with it being the new(er) red in town that’s on the rise, but there is plenty of room for both of these French grape varieties, wouldn’t you agree? After all, Cabernet Franc, when not blended into something its not, is an easy drinking, fruit-filled wine that is approachable young that can be sipped on its own or served up with meats like chicken or lamb. On the other hand, Petit Verdot is typically inky, rich, fragrant, spicy, and potentially high in tannins – it is a wine with a little more oomph that can stand up to the hearty dishes that Cabernet Franc typically cannot.

Petit Verdot Grape Bunch

Both Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot are used for blending in France’s highly famed wine producing region of Bordeaux. Cabernet Franc ripens early and does fairly well in cool climates. It is usually blended in Bordeaux wines with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot and is often times the lesser variety. Cabernet Franc’s early ripening makes it especially useful in Bordeaux when Cabernet Sauvignon is less than average. On the other hand, unlike Cabernet Franc – Petit Verdot ripens very late and sometimes not at all. If I had to guess, this is why Petit Verdot is losing favorability and acreage in Bordeaux. When it does ripen, it is used as a bit player mainly on the left bank to add color, fragrance, and structure to Cab based Bordeaux blends.

While Petit Verdot is losing favorability in Bordeaux, it is making a strong case as a varietal wine in California, Australia, and, oh yeah, right here in Virginia. Whenever I’m in a Virginia tasting room and Petit Verdot is being poured, tasters always comment about the wine’s beautiful deep and inky color – usually, it is love at first sight. In a wine culture that embraces big, jammy, fruity, and structured wines, Virginia might have filled a void with Petit Verdot. That said, I will offer up that not all local Petit Verdot wines are created equal. The quality, style, and consistency differ from producer to producer – some hit, some miss. But, this is the varietal for the local consumer who has been hankering for a fuller bodied and flavorful red meat wine.

Get the North Gate Vineyards Petit Verdot in your glass!

I recently enjoyed the North Gate Vineyards Petit Verdot 2007. This example is deep colored, fragrant, flavorful, bold and expressive – a really nice example from a good Loudoun County producer whose wines I have enjoyed since 2002. Other local Petit Verdot wines to try would be Linden Vineyards, Pearmund Cellars, Cooper Vineyards, White Hall Vineyards, Blenheim Vineyards, Village Winery, and Jefferson Vineyards to name a few. I know I’m leaving some good ones out, but this is a pretty good start for seeking out. It is still a little early to speculate about the future of Petit Verdot in Virginia, but the potential is there. In my opinion, uniformity, consistency, and quality are key areas to the advancement of Petit Verdot. I would be remiss if I did not tell you to get out and find a varietal Australian example as well. These are usually 100% varietal wines that are typically powerful, concentrated, and complex. Remember, the Aussies have no problem ripening Petit Verdot in the warm and dry areas where it is grown. In closing, if you find a rock-star quality example of local Petit Verdot, be sure to send me an email so I can seek it out too.

Happy Sipping!

Dezel

Stay tuned friends ...more to come!

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Dezel


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