Petit Verdot first gained fame as a blending grape for making Bordeaux wine. However, because Petit Verdot often has difficulties reaching full phenolic ripeness, not much of it is planted or used in Bordeaux today. Yet, that was not always the case. In fact, Petit Verdot, which takes its name from the small size of its berries, was one of the more important grapes for many Bordeaux chateaux in the Medoc during the 1700’s. However, quite a bit of Petit Verdot in The Left Bank was removed after the devastating attack of phylloxera in the late 1800’s. What little Petit Verdot remained was once again removed from the vineyards in Bordeaux following the frost of 1956. Petit Verdot began to reappear in California in the mid 1970’s. Most of those vines came from older plantings placed in vineyards located in the Mt. Veeder appellation.
The Petit Verdot berries need very specific conditions to ripen, starting with the correct weather during the flowering period. If the weather does not cooperate in the spring, the fruit will not ripen well, displaying green flavor and color. Petit Verdot enjoys cooler temperatures than many Bordeaux varietals. Petit Verdot is very sensitive to water stress and ripens later than the other main Bordeaux grapes. This lateness in ripening and harvesting dates often precludes the fruit from being included in the final blend for most producers. When Petit Verdot is added to the blend, due to its thick skins and natural acidity, it helps bring additional tannins, color and freshness, along with a spicy character. Petit Verdot is most often harvested in Bordeaux after the Merlot has been picked and just before the Cabernet Sauvignon is harvested.
Interestingly, Petit Verdot has a unique characteristic not found in most grape varieties. Petit Verdot produces more than two clusters per shoot. The grape is much older than Cabernet Sauvignon. The origins of Petit Verdot are unclear. But it’s possible the fruit was created from a cross of Duras and Tressot. It is thought that the grape is one of the first varieties originally planted in Bordeaux by the ancient Romans. Today, Petit Verdot is more popular in the Medoc. Not much is planted in the Right Bank. It seems to do best in the gravel based soils found in the Left Bank.
Petit Verdot is not always used in the final blends, due to its issues with achieving ripeness. However, when it is part of the assemblage, it adds additional tannin, color and a unique flavor profile that can manifest itself with aromas of flowers, olives or when very ripe, blueberry characteristics. When not fully ripe, Petit Verdot tends to be a sharply acidic, unpleasant grape for wine.
Petit Verdot is a hardy grape with a lot of tannin. That makes Petit Verdot in wine and food pairings a natural fit for rich, meat dishes, grilled steak, spicy pork, veal, lamb, all types of game and sausage. Spicy foods pair well with Petit Verdot and it’s perfect for a myriad of different hard and semi soft cheeses.
In Bordeaux, 99% of the time, Petit Verdot is used as a blending grape, especially in the Medoc. Chateau Pichon Lalande in Pauillac has some of the largest plantings of Petit Verdot in the Medoc. Chateau Palmer in Margaux and Chateau Lagrange in St. Julien are also known for including ta large percentage of Petit Verdot in their Bordeaux wine, provided the berries were able to fully ripen, which is not always easy in southwest France. Chateau Fonbel in St. Emilion could have the largest amount of the fruit planted in the Right Bank at close to 10%. Chateau La Lagune might have the most Petit Verdot of any 1855 Classified wine in modern times as 10% of their vineyard is devoted to the variety. Chateau Belle-Vue in the Haut Medoc appellation has 20% of the vines dedicated to Petit Verdot. Chateau Belle-Vue (Haut Medoc) has recently stared producing a small amount of wine from 100% Petit Verdot called Le Petit Verdot. However, the largest plantings of Petit Verdot in Bordeaux are probably located at Chateau Bolaire in the Bordeaux Superieur region. In some vintages, as much as 40% of their blend could be Petit Verdot!
Interestingly, there are a few small producers in Bordeaux making wines from 100% Petit Verdot! The most famous estate is located in the Haut Medoc, Chateau Malescasse, which produces Le Petit de Malescasse from a 1.27 hectare parcel of vines. You can also find 100% Petit Verdot wines from Chateau Moutte Blanc Moisin, Bordeaux Superieur, Chateau d’Osmond and Chateau Mirambeau Papin who all produce wines solely from Petit Verdot grapes. Dominique Leandre Chevalier in the Cotes de Blaye appellation produces Tricolore, which is made from 100% Petit Verdot that is planted with a vine density of 33,000 vines per hectare. The vines are all ungrafted, pre phylloxera. The wine is sold as a Vin de France.
Petit Verdot is grown in several other countries other than France. Argentina, Australia, Chile, Italy, Portugal and Spain all have vineyards planted to Petit Verdot. The grape has shown to produce high quality wines in America as well where it has been used as a blending varietal and for wines made from 100% Petit Verdot. In America, California and Washington State are the most popular areas making wines from 100% Petit Verdot. Hendry Ranch in the Napa Valley is one of the better Petit Verdot producers from California. Pahlmeyer, a top producer in the Napa Valley also makes a wine from 100% Petit Verdot. Jean Hoefliger the winemaker at several Napa estates is now making a wine from 100% Petit Verdot called “Decades 5” from vines planted in the Stagecoach Vineyard.