Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Petit Verdot: Worst Named Best Tasting Red Ever

The inky-dark Petit Verdot grapes produce wines with depth and complexity. Photo by Eric Hwang.


HEAD’S UP: The scheduled arrival of “Argentine Wines: Beyond the Basic Malbec” has been delayed by an unexpected snowstorm. Or something of the sort. Still waiting for an exquisite bottle of wine via the post. In its stead is the formidable Petit Verdot.

REMEMBER the show "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas"? Personally, I never saw it or the Dolly Parton movie, but I love the title. How many contradictions can one name have? Can anything be little in that state of the so-called Texas-sized proportions? Does the word "best" belong anywhere near "whorehouse"? The name is teasingly misleading. And the same holds true for Petit Verdot (pronounced: puh-TEE ver-DOH).

Translated literally from the French, Petit Verdot means “the little green (one),” but the varietal's grapes are not green. Its mature wine is not mild, but heavy, strong and full. Is its name a form of false advertising?

Not quite – just shorthand that creates a humor of its own.

The Language of Petit Verdot
Verdot grapes grow in tight, long and droopy clusters. One varietal produces large grapes – Gros Verdot – while the other produces small grapes – Petit Verdot. The reference to size in the name relates to the size of the grapes, and not to the relative fullness of the wine.

Likewise, ‘Verdot’ does indeed relate to the word vert – green in French – but both Petit and Gros Verdot produce dark blackish-red fruit. The grapes take so long to mature that sometimes a frost comes in, wet weather arrives or some other calamity occurs before they have reached their peak. Often picked somewhat under ripe, the grapes’ wine can remain a little underdeveloped, or green. Verdot relates to the maturation of the grape, not its color.

Terra Savia has a lot of spirit and is not for the fainthearted. Image courtesy of Saniel Valley Vineyards.

So what does the average slightly under ripe Petit Verdot wine taste like? Does it tend toward the fresh, very fruity and light taste of Beaujolais Nouveau or Tempranillo (which, by the way, can be loosely translated from the Spanish as “a tad early”)?

I have no idea. And neither do most people, in fact. Most never taste a young Petit Verdot straight. Used primarily for mixing, it is actually one of the few varietals permitted in Bordeaux blends, imparting both a deep inky color and sometimes a wild tart or zing (tannin).

Ripe Bold Red Petit Verdot
So what is a mature 100 percent Petit Verdot like? Ahhh. That is the question. A feisty grape, the varietal cannot be produced in any great quantity. Producers who manage a few barrels still have to judge whether its strident tannic qualities can be tamed enough for public consumption.

A certain Dolly Parton film makes about as much sense as a red wine with a green name. Photo from Wikicommons.

Well-made, Petit Verdot makes a perfect wine for game, roasts, and the biggest, juiciest, Texas-sized steaks, either found in the best whorehouses there or not. (I wouldn't know. I haven't been.) The ripe grape is racy, and not for the faint-of-heart. White wine drinkers, run away now while you still have a chance. How’s that for a teaser?

OK. And now for substance. Think of Petit Verdot this way: some wines tend toward fruity, delicate, and let-me-sip-a-glass-by-itself-just-because. Petit Verdot is not that kind of wine. Don’t take this one home to Mother. Petit Verdot is a rugged, classy not-so-gentle man. Imagine sipping a red wine while smelling a fine leather bag. In some cases, imagine sipping a wine while smelling a freshly opened pack of cigarettes. Yes, that hearty, that formidable.

Petit Verdot needs food. Spicy food or a hunk of meat. Petit Verdot needs to breathe, to “open up” as some would say. Uncork and let the bottle sit for about 30 minutes to help soften the taste (partially oxidize the tannins). Petit Verdot is so taken with itself that it loves to hear the sound of its own name purred: “Petit Verdot. Petit Verdot. Petit Verdot.”

Finca Decero has the stamina to make it through the meal. Image courtesy of Remolinos Vineyards.

Clearly, Petit Verdot is not for everyone. But for those who dare, it can more than meet your wine thrill.

Finca Decero
2009 Petit Verdot
Remolinos Vineyards (Argentina)

Ever drink a wine that somehow seems too flimsy for the meal at hand? That will never be a problem with Decero’s Petit Verdot. Dense but soft; definitely let the bottle breathe for at least 30 minutes for the layers of flavor to unfold. A wine of beautiful character.

Terra Savía
2008 Reserve Petit Verdot
Saniel Valley Vineyards (Medocino, CA)

Made with organic grapes, Terra Savía is a scotch-lovers wine. Imagine sipping a deep red wine with its own built-in slightly peaty-smoky scotch aftertaste lingering long on the palate (long finish). Can anything pair better with game or steak? I think not. Then again, if scotch is not your cup of tea, then skip this one. Built to last, Terra Savía will store well for years to come.

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