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Petit Verdot - a grape with a future in SA

Cathy convenes a tasting to look at an unusual grape variety.

by: Cathy Marston | 11 Oct 2010

Ask most people what the 5 black grape varieties of Bordeaux are and very few will get beyond Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Of the other 3, Cabernet Franc makes celebrated wines in the Loire Valley and Malbec is raising a storm in Argentina and the Southwest of France – but Petit Verdot (meaning ‘Little green one) rarely gets a chance to shine alone.

The number of stand-alone PV’s is increasing every year, as is usage in blends and general interest in the variety altogether. Petit Verdot needs a lot of sunshine and takes a long time to ripen which means it is more suitable to a warmer climate such as SA or Australia. However, according to KWV Cellarmaster, Richard Rowe, the key thing to making successful Petit Verdot is to control the pH (the active acidity) in the grapes and, since a very hot climate generally leads to higher pH’s than are desirable, this constitutes something of a challenge.

We gathered some of SA’s leading examples at Cape Quarter’s Cru Café last week along with their winemakers and some top tweeters and bloggers. The debate raged online as to whether this is a grape variety strong enough to stand on its own – the UK’s Robert Joseph being particularly unsure about the inherent quality of the variety – but the general feeling after the tasting was overwhelmingly positive. Bearing in mind that most of the vines are still young and that there are few leading international examples for winemakers to follow and learn from, it may take some time before we see South African Petit Verdot taking centre stage. But keep an eye on this variety and try it when you can, because there is definite potential for the ‘little green one’ to go big here in SA.

Producers showing their wines at the tasting included KWV, Moreson, Antonij Rupert Wines, Bellevue, Zorgvliet, Signal Hill and Haut Espoir. My favourites from the evening were as follows:

KWV The Mentor’s Petit Verdot 2009  
Slightly medicinal nose giving way to sweet elegant black fruit with perfume and spice. Tannins are starting to soften and the well-integrated oak is beginning to add complexity and depth. Long finish.

Zorgvliet Petit Verdot 2007
Neil Moorhouse had 3 vintages on show with the 2005 still exhibiting huge, brooding tannins and good fruit. I felt the 2007 had the most potential with plenty of dense black chewy berries and a lovely creamy finish.

Moreson Petit Verdot 2007
Dark and intense with high alcohol (15%) and nicely-managed oak. Tannins not as dry as expected from the colour and the wine finishes with a savoury/spicy edge.

Signal Hill Wines Petit Verdot 2004
Jean-Vincent Ridon had 4 vintages of Petit Verdot to show with the oldest coming from 1999 and tasting of licorice and spice with soft, juicy tannins. I felt the 2004 had plenty of potential with its green, slightly stalky entry, ripe black fruit flavours and concentrated spice.


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