A late-ripening yet full-bodied grape, excellent for blending or on its own
One of the five noble red wine grapes of Bordeaux, the dark-fruited and aromatic Petit Verdot has been traditionally used as an integral yet minor (five percent or less) component of the region’s historic blend. It adds color, tannin, spice and structure to Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot-based wines. Its name, “little green one,” is a reference to the fruit’s small size and late-ripening (or unripe) characteristic. This is problematic since a grape that hangs late on the vine can be difficult and costly to grow, due to unstable weather conditions and the threat of frost. The vines tend to have weak roots and canes. They bud early and are susceptible
to rot after spring storms.
By the last half of the 20th century, French vintners had begun to uproot existing Petit Verdot plantings and replace them with easier-to-manage Cabernet and Merlot. By the 1980s, the varietal was discovered by New World wine makers, particularly in California, Washington state, South America, New Zealand and Australia (which boasts the world’s largest Petit Verdot acreage). Warm, dry climates allow the vines to thrive, producing not only excellent blending wines, but first-rate standalone bottlings as well.
Late-season, warm-weather Petit Verdot wines are full-bodied, structured, and mouth-grippingly tannic. They display opaque, inky red-violet colors and offering a concentrated, saturated nose and palate of blackberries, black cherries, plums and blueberries overlaid with notes of cedar, tar, pepper, herbs and spice. Oak aging, if not overdone, can tame the wine’s aggressiveness.
When young, Petit Verdot can show hints of banana, vanilla, and “pencil shavings,” but as they age, these tonalities morph into notes of violet and leather. Because of their aggressive tannins and firm acidity, these wines are good candidates for long-term cellaring.
Petit Verdot pairs fantastically with dishes that can stand up to its muscular strength — beef and pork dishes; hearty soups and stews; aged cheeses like Grana Padano, Gouda, Pecorino, Cheddar, Stilton and Gruyère; and vegetarian fare such as portobello mushrooms, lentils, beans and wild rice.
EXPERT WINE RECOMMENDATIONS
• CHRIS PECKAT
The PRIDE Beer & Wine plus Spirits 1825 Lincoln Hwy., St. Charles (630 402-9026)
-2013 Girard Petite Sirah (Calif.) $28. A redolent nose of blackberries with hints of vanilla and spices opens to a dense core of black fruit, plums, cherries and blueberries. Nicely balanced with firm tannins and a long finish.
-2012 POV Sinskey Vineyards Bordeaux Blend (Calif.) $38. A Right Bank-inspired blend from Carneros with aromas and flavors of cherries, black and blue berries, plums, herbs and a hint of chocolate. Nicely textured with supple tannins and vibrant acidity.
• JACKIE RAHN
Standard Market Wine Store 333 E Ogden Ave., Westmont (630 366-7030)
-2013 Feraud-Brunel Chateauneuf-du-Pape (Calif.) $37.
A full-bodied Grenache-based Rhône blend bursting with juicy plum and cherry fruit, along with ripe currants and hints of spice. Big and solid!
-2016 Carl Ehrhard Weingut Blanc de Noirs (Germany) $18. A non-sparkling white from the slate hills of the Rhine Valley, with Pinot Noir-driven flavors of strawberry, cherry and cranberry, and nuances of earth and spice. Lots of flowers on the nose and racy acidity with a citrus finish.