Australia accounts for a sizeable chunk of the petit verdot vines planted globally, but its place is typically as a minor adjunct in blends featuring Bordeaux’s more glamourous varieties. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t have an impact, though, with a little going a long way, adding ample depth and freshness.
Also known as
It’s rare enough to find petit verdot on a front label, given that it usually plays a small role in blends, but there are no synonyms commonly in use on wine labels.
What petit verdot tastes like
Petit verdot is often deeply fruited with plum and dark berry notes, and lifted blue florals, especially violet. It is generally quite structured with robust tannins and bright acidity.
Vineyard & winemaking
A late-ripening variety, petit verdot is a thick-skinned grape, which translates to plenty of tannin and colour, allied with bright acidity and deep flavour. Its thick skins also make it resistant to disease pressure, giving it resilience over the long ripening cycle. Petit verdot rarely makes up more than a small percentage of a blend, typically with other Bordeaux grapes, but it has a big impact in those small doses.
Where is petit verdot grown?
Best known as a blending variety in Bordeaux – pairing with cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc and malbec – petit verdot is thought to have originated further south in the Midi-Pyrénées. It makes sense with its late-ripening habits that it hails from a warmer clime, and when it does ripen in Bordeaux it contributes plenty, but ripeness there is a vintage-by-vintage proposition, with genuinely warmer years being the only guarantee. For this reason, it is also far more common on Bordeaux’s Left Bank, where the late-ripening cabernet sauvignon takes the lead, compared to the earlier ripening merlot and cabernet franc on the Left Bank. Petit verdot’s dicey relationship with the climate saw it decline in the 20th century, but its fortunes have brightened due to makers chasing higher quality expressions. Petit verdot is not notably represented elsewhere in France.
Petit verdot around the world
Unsurprisingly, petit verdot has tagged a ride around the world with cabernet sauvignon, merlot et al, though it is represented in a similarly frugal percentage in vineyards and wines. That love affair with the wines of Bordeaux has seen it planted in the US, primarily in California, while it is also found homes in Chile, Argentina and Peru.
Petit verdot in Australia
Arriving in Busby’s collection of the 1830s, petit verdot may have as long a history as most established grapes in this country, but its presence has always been a modest one. That was until the 1990s, when Bill Moularadellis of Kingston Estate took a shine to the late-ripening variety, appreciating the intensity and freshness produced in the warm climate. That saw Australian plantings grow to eclipse those of France fourfold in the early 2000s, with Kingston making up the lion’s share. Those plantings have receded a little, but Australia still has over 1,100 hectares, with it centred in the warmer Murray-reliant zones, with less than 80 hectares in the rest of the country combined. Much petit Verdot is blended, but Kingston Estate and McLaren Vale’s Pirramimma champion it as a solo bottling, too.
Photo of petit verdot grapes seen here, courtesy of Kingston Estate.
Some of the best Australian petit verdot
Happs Three Hills