Wine growers, winemakers and consumers are starting to take notice of this once-overlooked, bold Bordeaux variety.
ONE UP-AND-COMER in the world of Washington red wines is an all-but-forgotten Bordeaux variety expected to add an edge to red blends.
Petit verdot is capturing the imagination of grape growers, winemakers and consumers, with a growing interest in new plantings throughout the Columbia Valley. The resulting wines are uniformly delicious, though rarely bottled alone.
With our state winemakers’ commitment to cabernet sauvignon, merlot, malbec, cabernet franc and carménère, it makes sense that interest eventually would turn toward petit verdot, the remaining red Bordeaux variety. Likely, vintners experimenting with small batches of petit verdot ended up with barrels too good to blend away, so instead they bottled it for wine clubs or tasting rooms.
Five petit verdots to try
Here are five superb examples of Washington petit verdots for your consideration. All are made in small quantities, so your best bet is asking for them at your favorite wine shop or contacting the winery directly.
Tero Estates 2013 Windrow Vineyards petit verdot, Walla Walla Valley, $41: Aromas of moist chocolate cake lead to exciting flavors of bold, dark fruit, including ripe plum and blackberry syrup, paired with vibrant acidity and taut tannins.
Smasne Cellars 2012 Three Vineyard petit verdot, Columbia Valley, $38: Yakima Valley winemaker Robert Smasne blends grapes from three vineyards. The result is a big, dense red that reveals aromas of vanilla fudge, fresh-from-the-oven chocolate-chip cookies and hints of mint and blackberry pie, all backed by strong structure that relies on bold acidity.
Barnard Griffin 2014 petit verdot, Columbia Valley, $40: This bold red reveals aromas of intense dark chocolate, black pepper and ripe plum, leading to flavors of blackstrap molasses, spices, plum and a note of burning leaves. Available only to wine-club members and in the Richland tasting room.
Fidelitas Wines 2014 Ciel du Cheval Vineyard petit verdot, Red Mountain, $50: An intense red that opens with aromas of chocolate cake with raspberry filling, then deepens into notes of cured meats and smoky plum sauce. Its long finish is propped up by boldly structured tannins that give this plenty of aging potential.
Northwest Cellars 2013 Scooteney Flats Vineyard petit verdot, Red Mountain, $48: Smasne crafts the wines for this Kirkland winery, using grapes from an up-and-coming vineyard on Red Mountain. It’s loaded with ripe flavors of red fruit, including plum, mint, black raspberry and blackberry syrup, backed by notes of smoke and crushed dried leaves.
The resulting wines tend to be dark and dense, with ample structure to attract those of us who adore petite sirah or big cabs. Stunning, penetrating flavors make me wonder whether perhaps author Joseph Conrad was drinking petit verdot when he wrote “Heart of Darkness.” With all the fruit balanced with bright acidity and sturdy tannins, it’ll be interesting to see how they cellar. Magnificently, I suspect. The obvious pairings are grilled, smoked or braised beef, or perhaps a rich venison stew.
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We are seeing an uptick in petit verdot plantings in the Horse Heaven Hills, Walla Walla Valley and Red Mountain — just the areas we’d expect bold red-wine grapes to thrive. Bob Betz, Master of Wine and the dean of Washington winemakers, said if he could go back in time, he would have included the fascinating petit verdot in his repertoire. He thinks it has a real future.