On a recent trip to Napa I was speaking with a winemaker who said that Petite Verdot was his favorite type of grape. It made me do a double take for a couple of reasons: to start Petite Verdot is seldom if ever made into its own wine and secondly to be honest, other then it being a red wine grape......I didn't know much about it.
Petite Verdot is a classic Bordeaux style grape, however there are no official records of when the strand was created or discovered in nature. Given its rather interesting ripening habits in Bordeaux (that is, it ripens extremely late or never at all) it is probably native to another region of the world. Without going into too much 18th century wine making history, or French history for that matter, it is hard to say where the grape would have originated if it did not come from Bordeaux. We could make some educated guesses based on climate that would lead us to either the warmer hills of Tuscany or some inland area of Portugal...again though this is strictly conjecture at this time.
So why even talk about a classic French grape varietal, that isn't even French and is likely to soon be extinct in Bordeaux? Simply put, it is gaining a foothold in California, especially in the northern inland reaches of Napa and Sonoma. Many winemakers in the region are now including petite verdot in their blends in amounts of 1-3%....with some cutting edge winemakers like Jean Hoefliger at Alpha Omega including up to 20% in certain blends.
Why so much do you ask? What does Petite Verdot add to flavor and/or consistency?
It has a beautiful dark purple color and is considered one of, if not the strongest, tannin structures of any varietal currently being produced. This huge tannin input allows great winemakers a further opportunity to have their wines age well over time.
Lastly it is grown and grown well in California(and to a lesser extend Australia and Chile) these days because the warmer climate allows the grapes to fully ripen at a more reasonable date then teh late October harvests which have become commonplace in colder European climates.
Lastly very few, if any reputable winemakers currently make a single grape Petite Verdot bottle, however there are a few Italian wineries which are currently experimenting with the concept and I hope to try their products after this upcoming harvest.