There’s Nothing Petite About Petit Verdot
BY MARSHALL TILDEN III as featured on Wine Enthusiast
If there is one grape variety that exemplifies the phrase, “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” it is Petit Verdot. This small grape earned its name, which translates to “little green,” due to its tendency to ripen later in the season as compared to its Bordeaux cohorts, such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. When allowed to fully ripen, this compact yet dynamic grape unveils jammy black fruits, enticing floral aromas and firm tannins along with a deep, dark purple color.
Due to its long, leisurely ripening period, many Châteaux in Bordeaux have replaced Petit Verdot plantings with varieties that ripen to their full potential more expeditiously. However, many New World wine regions are welcoming Petit Verdot into their vineyards to be celebrated as a single-varietal wine, as opposed to a petite percentage of a larger blend.
In the North Fork of Long Island, New York, Pellegrini Vineyards Winemaker Zander Hargrave believes that “the variety works well because it is late to go through veraison.” This later ripening protects it from early weather fluctuations. Further, the smaller berries are able to concentrate sugars in mid to late October, resulting in depth of flavor and more intense color. The wines exude wild fruit flavors and earthy undertones. In Virginia, many wineries are using Petit Verdot in place of Cabernet Sauvignon to satisfy consumers looking for an alternate big, bold style of red wine. These wines carry vibrant acidity along with ripe dark-berry fruit and, in the best examples, firm and gripping tannins.
Australia’s largest plantings of Petit Verdot can be found in the Riverland region, but it has also found success in the Barossa and Murray valleys as well as Riverina. Its ability to retain acidity in these warmer climates is key, leading to full-bodied wines with a flavor profile similar to Shiraz: intense red berry fruit, black pepper spice and floral notes such as lavender and violet.
With more than 1,600 acres of Petit Verdot planted in Argentina, 72% are in the high-altitude, warm continental-climate region of Mendoza. Today, the regions of San Juan, La Rioja, Patagonia and the Calchaquí Valley all have the grape under vine. “Petit Verdot gets fuller with sweeter, gentler tannins than you find where it originally came from,” says Tomás Hughes, winemaker at Finca Decero.
Easy Easter Ham & Lamb Wine Pairings
Let’s keep this short and sweet, as Easter is just a couple of days away. The classic Easter meal usually features one of two meats, Lamb or Ham. Luckily each of these options has one wine that pairs perfectly with it practically regardless of how it is prepared.
Ham and Pinot – A typical glazed Easter ham has both sweet and savory flavors, along with a touch of salt. So the idea is to match it up with a wine that has high acidity, low tannins and lots of fruit. So a lighter Zin, Rhone or Chianti could work, but West Coast Pinots are really the way to go. Seaglass from Santa Barbara is a great value option and Nielson (by Byron) from the Santa Maria Valley is a little heartier and will cost a few bucks more, but it is full of expressive cherry, raspberry and peppery spice goodness. However if you can get your hands on some juice from the mad genius Rick Moshin from his extensive and ecletic line of Russian River Valley Moshin Pinots, then you are in for truly a heavenly Easter meal.
Don’t like Reds? Then Riesling will probably be the best pairing option. You know how apple, apricot, and pineapple are ideal partners for ham? Well, the same goes for the wine. The apple and tropical flavors contrast perfectly to a salty ham while the bright acidity and light style keep the sweetness levels in check. Wilim Riesling from Alsace is bone dry and an ideal option, especially for around $15. But if you like a hint of sweetness and more body you may want to go with a Spatlese from Mosel. However my favorite white pairing is the Eroica Riesling from Columbia Valley, Washington. Chateau Ste. Michelle and Dr. Loosen partnered up to create this beauty and for around $20 I dare you to find a more luscious, balanced and yummy Riesling anywhere.
Lamb and Cab – Lamb is full of flavor, fat and if it is grilled will have some smoky character too. You need a big boned, tannic wine to stand up to a meat like that. If you are grilling it, the Bordeaux route is preferable as the terroir driven nature of those wines accentuate that grilled, smoky flavor. My favorite value Bordeaux right now is Chateau St. Barbe 2011 as it is a big wine with loads of minerality and a fruit filled, long, dry finish. Best under $20 Bordeaux out there, hands down. Chateau Talbot offers a lovely, classic Bordeaux experience, but will be at least double the Barbe price.
California Cabs will work just as well, particularly if you have a thicker cut and are roasting the lamb. McMannis offers a solid value Cab for under $15 and the new vintage of Twenty Rows 2012 Napa Cab is surprisingly stellar for around $20, as I have not been a fan of past vintages. But the ’12 Peju Napa Cab is off the hook delicious with oodles of big, dark fruit, vanilla and spice. It ain’t cheap at around $50, but it is certainly guaranteed to please your entire Easter crew.
Hands Down The BEST Value Super Tuscan Around!!
Tasting Notes: This Il Fauno has easily become my new favorite Italian wine under $25. When I first tasted this gem I had it pegged as a $50 Super Tuscan, so at half the price this is just a tremendous value. Black cherry and blackberry fruit cascade over the brown spice and chalky tones. Firm tannins, lively acidity, a discernible mineral character and a silky smooth finish make this something to enjoy now but will also age for the next 3-7 years or so. Simply a delight…
More info on Il Fauno di Arcanum 2007 IGT Toscana, Tenuta di Arceno:
The Jess Jackson family purchased the Arceno estate in 1994. Located in he southeast corner of Chianti Classico, it has 223 acres of vines. But unlike most estates in the region the grapes are all Bordeaux varietals; Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. This is an ideal showcase for the remarkably talented Pierre Seillan, winemaker for the Jackson’s Veritas wines as well as his Grand Cru Chateau Lassegue in St. Emilion. Here, Seillan blends 57% Merlot, 24% Cabernet Sauvignon and 19% Caberent Franc. The grapes for this wine come from a warmer, well-exposed section of the estate, where the grapes get well ripened and take on a voluptuous quality. Il Fauno is aged for 12 months in 30% new French oak barrels.
Unlike Miles…I AM Drinking Some F@#$%&g Merlot! But From Which Region?
If you have seen the movie Sideways, the title should make perfect sense. For those who have not seen it (in which case it needs to be at the top of your Netflix list), the main character (Miles) is a huge Pinot Noir snob. The thought of drinking Merlot while out to dinner enrages him to the point of dropping a well placed F bomb that has become legendary in the cinematic wine world. But I’m here to tell you, Miles is f*#&$^g wrong! There is so much great Merlot out there right now, and from various wine producing regions. Below are my top three in ascending order.
3. Bordeaux – Even though Bordeaux is infamous for it’s Left Bank Cabernet Sauvignon wines (the wines of Margaux, St. Estephe, Pauillac, Medoc, etc.), it is Merlot that is the basis for the majority of Bordeaux wines. St. Emilion and Pomerol wines are almost exclusively made from Merlot and offer some of the best value in the region. Merlot from here is typically soft, floral and even a bit earthy and usually carries a raspberry component along with black cherry flavors. It can soften some of those powerful Cabernet driven blends and can stand on its own when grown in the right areas. So go and find some 2009 or 2010 St. Emilion or Pomerol wines and then tell me you don’t like Merlot.
2. Napa – Good Merlot in Napa is like Cabernet Sauvignon light. It can carry all the same cassis, black cherry and plum flavors but with softer tannins and even some floral notes. It’s typically not as bold or powerful, but can be just as flavorful and alluring. I have to stress that I am talking about GOOD Merlot here, which most of it is in Napa. But don’t confuse this with your cheap California style of Merlot, I am definitely in full agreement with Miles on that one. However I’ll drink Whitehall Lane Merlot for around $20 over most Napa Cabs at that same price point.
1. Tuscany – I have tasted a number of Super Tuscan wines as of late that use Merlot as the main, or even ONLY, grape variety that have been simply stunning (Il Fauno di Arcanum 2007 and Re di Renieri 2009 to mention a couple). The coastal Tuscan influence does wonders for this varietal imparting blueberry and blackberry fruit flavors along with licorice and floral nuances. This was a large factor why these Super Tuscan producers basically told the Chianti DOC to go screw…because they thought they could make better wine by blending Sangiovese with Cab and Merlot, and man were they right!
So try not to be a sheep and hate on Merlot…next time you are at your local wine shop pick up a bottle. Just make sure it’s from one of these three regions and if it’s any of the specific wines mentioned above you are in for a real treat!
What’s The Deal With These High End Chilean Reds?
Recently I had the opportunity to taste some of the “best” wines that come out of Chile. Many Chilean wineries will produce a high end Carmenere red blend that usually includes Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and possibly some Petit Verdot, Malbec or Syrah. Caremenere was one of the original grapes allowed in the production of Bordeaux wines, but after falling out of favor in France it has found a new home in Chile. It can exude the softness of Merlot, but is typically a little more rustic and spicy. The inexpensive Carmenere wines tend to be dirty and chewy while the high end wines can be super smooth and lush carrying just a pleasant hint of that earthiness.
After tasting a variety of these top tier Chilean reds (such as the Montes Purple Angel, Vina la Rosa Ossa, Errazuriz Kai, Casa Lapostolle Clos Apalta and a handful of others) I am left with one reaction… Meh. For you Simpons fans, I need not say more. For the non Simpsons fans, Meh is a feeling of indifference or boredom…a verbal shoulder shrug if you will. Aside from the Clos Apalta, these wines were all just OK. They were rich, smooth and good expressions of the Chilean terroir (a word that encapsulates soil, climate and location), but they also tend to be super expensive! These wines can range anywhere from around $50 to over $100…so for them to just elicit a Meh reaction is frankly not good enough.
For a $50-100 wine I want to be wowed, I want to be excited, I want my taste buds to dance and sing and to praise me for having put something so delicious into my mouth. But most of all I want to feel like I am getting my money’s worth, and at the end of the day I don’t think that’s the case. Granted, I didn’t actually buy theses wines… but if I did I am fairly certain I’d be more than a little pissed off. Having shared some of these bottles with friends and family, most people thought these wines were in the $20-25 range. So to rationalize price tags 2 to 4 times that amount is just not realistic.
So aside from the Casa Lapostolle Clos Apalta, which is probably Chile’s finest juice, stick with the value reds from Chile. For $15-20 you can grab some great Cabernet and Carmenere wines from these same wineries that are not that far off from the quality level of their top tier offerings. Some of my favorites right now are The Seeker Cab, Veramonte Primus, the Casa Lapostolle Cuvee Alexandre line, Santa Ema’s Reserve & Ampus lines and the Santa Rita Medalla Real line of wines. Remember, just because a wine is expensive doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily great, just that it was intended to be.
California Wine Classification of 2012
Recently I have been teaching a wine class along with a colleague of mine (Josh Farrell of Wine Express) and we were going over the 1855 Bordeaux Wine Classification. For those who don’t know what that is, over 150 years ago professionals from the wine industry ranked the wines of Bordeaux (Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are the most prominent grapes used) according to a certain Château’s reputation, price and of course on the quality of wine.
However there were some politics involved and many equivalent quality wines did not get the top distinction because they didn’t have the brand recognition nor did they demand the ludicrously outrageous prices. Four wines at that time (now five wines) were awarded the elite distinction of Premier Cru Classification and this system is still in tact today. After discussing this in class my friend Glenn had a great question…”so what are the Premier Cru wines of California?” That got me thinking…
While California has never classified wine this way, there are certainly a small group of wines that are considered elite. If you have ever heard the term “Cult Cab”, many of those wines would fall in that top classification category. Cult Cabs are typically an extremely low production, high quality wine that you cannot even purchase unless you wait years to get on a mailing list or go to auction and pay 2-3X what the winery retails it for. They can cost anywhere from a couple hundred to a couple thousand dollars and while they are some of the best wines you may ever taste in your life, they can also be the most disappointing.
The reason being is the expectations are set so high for a wine of this nature, that it is almost impossible for it to deliver. Think about the first time you were able to afford to go to that fancy five star restaurant that you had heard so much about. By the time you finally were able to dine there, did it live up to everything you had envisioned? Usually the answer is no… how could it?! With expectations that high, unless it is an utterly life changing experience it almost has to be somewhat of a disappointment. That’s not to say these wines are disappointing, as they are arguably some of the best wines produced in the world. But when shelling out that kind of dough, it’s tough to monetize the level of enjoyment of a wine.
With all of that said, I have listed below what I consider the “Premier Cru” Wines of California, the “Grand Cru” Wines (a small step below in terms of quality, price and a bit larger production and availability) and my “Value Cru” Wines ($20-25 wines that over-deliver on a Quality-Price Ratio, or QPR, and are consistent values every vintage). The Value Cru Wines are readily available at most Westchester wine stores as well as online.
Harlan/Bond Estates Cabernet Sauvignon, Oakville
Chateau Montelena Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
Joseph Phelps Insignia, Napa Valley (Top Pick)
Screaming Eagle Cabernet Sauvignon, Oakville
Shafer Hillside Select Cabernet Sauvignon, Stag’s Leap District
Grand Cru (2nd Growth)
Ridge Monte Bello, Santa Cruz Mountains
Far Niente Cabernet Sauvignon, Oakville
Pride Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa/Sonoma (Top Pick)
Opus One, Oakville
BV Georges de Latour Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Artemis Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
Silver Oak Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
Paul Hobbs Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley
Duckhorn Merlot, Napa Valley
BV Napa Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
Rodney Strong Estate Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoma (Top Pick)
Beringer Knights Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoma
Franciscan Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
Buehler Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
Sterling SVR(Platinum) Reserve Red, Napa Valley
Leave it to the Donald to produce some quality Virginia juice!
Donald Trump and his entourage have taken over what was once Kluge Estate Winery and Vineyards, and are already producing some pretty solid wines. Virginia reds have never really appealed to me as the terroir has been seemingly incapable of producing quality grapes. However, this 2009 New World Red Wine is proving otherwise. Definitely crafted in the old world Bordeaux style, the alcohol is a very understated 13% (most California reds like this would have alcohol levels of 15% or so) and the wine has an overall subtle feel. Enticing aromas of black cherry, plum and cassis are surrounded by sweet spices and a nutty edge. The acid and tannins are well balanced, making it a rather food friendly option, while the finish hangs around for much longer than I had anticipated. Would I spend $35-40 on this bottle… probably not. But I think this is a promising sign of things to come from Trump Winery, and hopefully Virginia wine in general.