A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of sampling the rather nice Erdità blend from Clos de Chacras at my new favourite Buenos Aires wine bar. It’s a wine dominated by two of this country’s usual suspects, Malbec (50%) and Cabernet Sauvignon (35%). This is a common combination here in Argentina; the Malbec gives rich fruit and a certain softness and roundness to the wine, while the Cab beefs up the tannins and structure.
What really caught my tongue, though, was that mysterious remaining 15%. It’s that stalwart, underappreciated workhorse, Petit Verdot. It’s the kind of grape that lurks behind the throne unsure whether to speak up while all those “noble” grape varieties bag all the glory. This is true nowhere more than in Left Bank Bordeaux, where it’s often used as mere seasoning to pep up those Cab-heavy blends with extra colour, tannins and bold violet aromas. PV-friendly producers are scarce; a quick “googling” (is that a real word yet?) just turned up Le Petit de Malescasse from Château Malescasse in the Haut-Médoc and Château Mirambeau Papin’s 2009 Papin.
A clue to poor old Petit Verdot’s unpopularity in Bordeaux lies in the name. For those of you who couldn’t order a croissant in Paris if your life depended on it (myself included), it literally translates as “little green”. In Bordeaux, with it’s cool, maritime climate, PV grapes often don’t ripen very well. At harvest time they can look a bit green (hence the name) and peaky. All this whingeing for a warmer climate and longer ripening period was the catalyst for French growers uprooting huge amounts of PV vines and putting in more early-ripening Merlot and Cab Franc from the 1950s onwards. Tit for tat, I guess.
These days the majority of true PV fans are either in Spain or out in the New World; the USA (especially Washington State and California), Australia, Chile, and my current homeland, Malbec-mad Argentina. Single varietal PV wines are typically big fellas – earthy, tannic, deeply-coloured and potentially age-worthy. They’re often known as “spice box” wines for the rich peppery, leather, tobacco notes which frequently occur in decent examples. Most do significant time in oak to prepare them for a smooth introduction into society, boosting those spices and rounding out those vigorous tannins.
Here in Argentina, sticking an exotic 100% PV on the books is starting to look like a prerequisite for ambitious winemakers; Achaval Ferrer, Luigi Bosca, Ruca Malén, and Trapiche are just a few of the big name producers who’ve jumped on the PV bandwagon. Most are planting in areas like Tupungato the Uco Valley and Maipú in Mendoza. These vineyards benefit from significant altitude (800-1100m), enabling those fickle PV grapes to ripen nicely while retaining reasonable acidity levels thanks to the diurnal temperature range (the difference between daytime and nighttime temperatures).
Like other reds grown in these areas, say Malbec and Cab Sauvignon, these PVs often exhibit a distinctive menthol or eucalyptus character which means they go jolly well with your Sunday roast lamb in mint sauce (does this happen in the US?). I never thought I’d say this, but it’s making me slightly homesick for the lofty highlights of British cuisine – a nice pub lunch complete with oodles of packet-mix gravy and crispy Yorkshire puddings (I’m not even going to try to explain that one). And probably a slightly-warm lager.
Ahem. Moving on. It also makes a fabulous match for earthy vegetable dishes with mushrooms, lentils, truffle, aubergine/eggplant, black olives, and nuts. Yummy.
Have you tried a single varietal Petit Verdot before? Let us know in the comments below, and if you’ve enjoyed reading this post, why not join us here at The Wine Culturist by simply clicking the follow button in the sidebar… We always love making new winelover friends!