Culinary Arts

Learn About Petit Verdot: Grapes, Wine, Region, and Pairings

Written by MasterClass

Jun 6, 2019 • 3 min read

If you like your red wines so densely tannic you can practically chew on them, try wines made from petit verdot. This French grape delivers powerful structure along with new oak richness and pretty blueberry fruit, usually at a remarkably reasonable price.

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What Is Petit Verdot?

Petit verdot is an ancient but relatively obscure red wine grape. Petit verdot is planted in small amounts in the Bordeaux region of France to add color and tannin to red Bordeaux blends but is rarely bottled on its own. This may be changing, as the grape is being rediscovered by some new world winemakers, who are eager to explore what it is like when allowed to stand on its own as a single varietal wine.

What Is the History of the Petit Verdot Grape?

Petit verdot’s origins lie in the Bordeaux region of France, where it was cultivated by the Romans almost a thousand years ago. Petit verdot means “small green,” a reference to the small size of the grapes and the fact that the grapes take a long time to ripen fully, meaning some grapes are still green at harvest time.

What Wines Are Made With Petit Verdot?

In its homeland of Bordeaux, petit verdot plays a role in red Bordeaux blends, where one to three percent petit verdot in the blend lends complexity and color.

In the New World, petit verdot is used in Bordeaux-style blends, which are often labeled “Meritage” in the United States. New World winemakers also produce red wines made from 100% petit verdot.

What Are the Characteristics of Petit Verdot Grape?

Petit verdot berries are small and their thick skins are full of tannin and color. It is a late-ripening grape, which means that it must be harvested after other Bordeaux grapes, like cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, and merlot. Even then, petit verdot often fails to reach full ripeness in Bordeaux. In warmer climates where it can fully ripen, petit verdot expresses itself with floral, black fruit, herbal notes, and gravelly minerality. Wines made from this grape are quite tannic and rich in color and body.

How Does Petit Verdot Wine Taste?

Petit verdot is almost exclusively made in a dry style, with high tannin and a full body. Petit verdot wines often have tasting notes of:

  • Blackberry
  • Blueberry
  • Violet
  • Licorice
  • Pepper
  • Sage

Whether used as a blend or a single varietal wine, petit verdot is usually aged in new oak barrels, which contributes flavors like:

  • Coffee
  • Vanilla
  • Cocoa

Where Does Petit Verdot Grow?

  • France. Petit verdot enjoys the cool temperatures of the maritime climate of Bordeaux in France, but it often struggles to achieve full ripeness by the time the other grape varieties that make up Bordeaux wines are ready for harvest. In this region, petit verdot grows best in well-draining gravel soils like those found on Bordeaux’s Right Bank.
  • Italy. Because it needs a long growing season, producers have found success growing petit verdot in the Old World’s warmer climates. In the central Italian appellation of Maremma, near Lazio, petit verdot finds the ideal combination of dry, gravelly soils and warm temperatures to encourage ripening. This region produces single varietal petit verdot wines as well as Bordeaux-style blends.
  • Australia. Petit verdot grows well in Australia’s warm climate, especially in Queensland, the Barossa Valley, and South Australia. As a varietal wine, petit verdot is made in Australia in a lighter-bodied style, with notes of blueberry and black raspberry.
  • Argentina. Bordeaux-style blends have been popular in Argentina for a number of years, and some producers are bottling varietal petit verdot wines there, hoping to emulate the success of malbec, another Bordeaux grape has success there.
  • United States. California devotes many acres in the Napa Valley and Central Coast to producing petit verdot. California petit verdot is used both for blending with cabernet sauvignon and as single varietal wines that are often aged in new oak for a more softly tannic style.

What Is the Difference Between Petit Verdot and Cabernet Sauvignon?

Petit verdot is unrelated to cabernet sauvignon, but is often blended into cabernet sauvignon-based wines to add tannin and color. They favor the same climate and gravelly soils, and are often grown in the same areas.

How to Pair Petit Verdot

Think “powerful” when pairing petit verdot with food. The wine is dense, chewily tannic, and full of smoke and spice, so match those characteristics in the food.

  • Petit verdot can stand up to complex, flavorful dishes like barbeque, mole, and smoked meats.
  • Echo petit verdot’s dark fruit and spice notes with spicy sausages and grilled meat with fresh herbs.
  • After dinner, strong, savory cheeses like Stilton are a good choice, but avoid pairing petit verdot wines with sweet desserts.

Learn more about wine tasting and pairing in James Suckling’s MasterClass.