A blog devoted to exploring wines made from unusual grape varieties and/or grown in unfamiliar regions all over the world. All wines are purchased by me from shops in the Boston metro area or directly from wineries that I have visited. If a reviewed bottle is a free sample, that fact is acknowledged prior to the bottle's review. I do not receive any compensation from any of the wineries, wine shops or companies that I mention on the blog.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Petit Verdot - Jumilla, Spain

Petit Verdot is one of those grapes that probably every (somewhat serious) wine drinker has had at some point, though until recently, it was probably only in a blend.  In its best known incarnation, Petit Verdot is one of the "classic" varieties planted in the Bordeaux region of France.  It has never been a majority player in Bordeaux, but it is popular with wine makers there for its ability to add color, structure and aroma to the classic Bordeaux blend.

The major problem with Petit Verdot in Bordeaux vineyards was that it ripens very late, even later than Cabernet Sauvignon, so the grapes only reached full ripeness in the warmest years (its name means "little green" because of the fact that under improper ripening conditions, the grapes never undergo veraison and remain as unusable small green berries).  As a result of this, many estates pulled out their Petit Verdot vines in the 1960's and 70's, reducing the total vineyard area of the grape to less than 300 ha by the 1980's.  As vintages have gotten progressively warmer through the 90's and 2000's, many estates are replanting Petit Verdot vines (or, in some cases, tending to vines that they had previously abandoned) and are using a bit more of it in their blends.  By 2000, total acreage in Bordeaux had reached about 400 ha.

Many new world climates are much warmer and less variable than Bordeaux, so plantings of Petit Verdot have started to appear and have taken off in some regions.  Australia leads the way with four times more Petit Verdot plantings than France and a fairly substantial number of varietal bottlings.  That California is very high on the list (with about 900 ha planted) shouldn't be too much of a surprise given the large number of Meritage bottlings in the area and the fact that varietally labeled wines can have up to 25% of other grapes in the blend (so some Petit Verdot probably sneaks in to quite a few wines labeled simply "Cabernet Sauvignon," "Merlot," what have you).  Petit Verdot is used mainly as a blending grape here, though there are a few varietal bottlings as well.  When I visited Long Island, NY, wine country a few years back I was surprised to find a few varietal Petit Verdot bottlings which were much better than I expected them to be.  It pops up in other states throughout the US as well, with Virginia in particular doing a lot with the grape.

Spain doesn't figure in any of the statistics for Petit Verdot given by Wikipedia or The Oxford Companion to Wine, but there is apparently quite a bit of the grape planted here.  According to one source, the grape may be native to southern Spain and was brought to the Bordeaux region by the Romans several thousand years ago.  The grape's ripening profile certainly points to an origin outside the cooler Bordeaux region, but the lack of specific records and an unknown parentage mean that for now, the grape's true origins are shrouded in mystery.  Whatever the case turns out to be, parts of Spain are nearly ideal environments for ripening Petit Verdot properly as the growing seasons here are longer and warmer than in Bordeaux, giving the grape a chance to make it all the way through the ripening process.

The wine that I was able to find was the 2005 Finca Omblancos "Denuño" bottling from the Jumilla region of Spain which I picked up for a mere $10 (it is 90% Petit Verdot with 5% each of Monastrell (the local name for Mourvedre) and Syrah).  Jumilla is located in the broader region called the Levante, which is the elevated, extremely dry and extremely warm area right in the middle of Spain.  Summer temperatures here can reach 104 degrees Fahrenheit (40 Celsius) and the dry climate means that the growers/producers can let the grapes hang on the vine until they're ripe without worrying too much about harvest time rains.  In the glass, this wine was an opaque, inky purple-black color.  The nose was nicely aromatic with blackberry and blackcurrant fruits along with some smoke and bacon.  On the palate the wine was full bodied with medium acidity and fairly high tannins.  There were dense flavors of blackberry and blackcurrant fruit with substantial earthy flavors of smoke and charcoal.  Right out of the bottle, this wine is a pure bruiser and the tannins are fierce.  After being open for a little while though, the tannins settled down a bit, but this is a wine that needs food badly unless you enjoy having the insides of your cheeks stripped out by tannins.  It is a big big wine for the shocking price of $10 and is tailor made for a smoky grilled steak.

1 comment:

Pete Kercher said...

I've just discovered your blog and am risking spending far too much time reading it, when I should be working...
Just a point about the geographical location of Jumilla: I would not describe the Levante as belonging to the central area of Spain (which is La Mancha). As the name implies, Levante is in the east, in this case it is the inland area of the province of Murcia, in the south-east of the country. The Jumilla area is only about 50 km inland from the coast.