Of the six official red grapes of Bordeaux, the one that we don’t often see standing on its own is the bold and burly petit verdot.
Wine lovers, particularly those in Washington, are delighted to see a growing interest in this rare variety. Little more than 1,000 tons are harvested each fall in Washington, and much of that ends up in Bordeaux and meritage-style blends. Fortunately, a few winemakers hold back enough to bottle separately, often resulting in spectacular wines.
If you’re a lover of big, bold reds, such as broad-shouldered cabs or the bigger petite sirah or the rarer tannat, you will find a wine to love with petit verdot. In addition to their signature big structure, petit verdot often will exhibit notes of ripe plum, blackberry, violet, dark chocolate and cocoa powder. It pairs well with braised or barbecued meats and spicy Latin American dishes.
Logic would dictate that balanced examples should age well, becoming more interesting after a few years tucked away in a dark, cool cellar.
Here are six examples of petit verdot grown in Washington we’ve tasted recently. Ask for them at your favorite wine merchant or contact the wineries directly.
Cloudlift Cellars 2015 Stratus Petit Verdot, Yakima Valley, $32: Rising SoDo vintner Tom Stangeland makes a bold move in this petit verdot that includes a nice burst of merlot. The aromas are brooding and dark, showing off deep blackberry, date, raisin and smoky plum. The palate delivers on tannins at the onset, leading to a strong backbone to the lush dark fruit. This work received a unanimous double gold medal at this year’s Cascadia International Wine Competition.
Cellardoor Winery 2014 Petit Verdot, American, $24: This winery in Lincolnville, Maine, used Washington-grown fruit and its winemaker, Aaron Peet, is a graduate of the Walla Walla Community College wine program. His petit verdot opens with aromas of mocha, herbs, blackberries and blueberries, then replays them on its lush palate, adding a hint of chocolate and spice, then finishing with nice acidity and smooth tannins. This received a double gold medal at the 2018 Cascadia International Wine Competition.
Barrister Winery 2014 Dionysus Vineyard Petit Verdot, Columbia Valley, $41: Attorney-led Barrister Winery in Spokane produced this standout. Smoky aromas of dark plum, cherry pipe tobacco, espresso and raisins mingle on the racy palate as blackberry and pepper keeps this petit verdot bright and exciting. This 2014 vintage is showing bright and fresh, but with a maturity in body that one would expect from Dionysus Vineyard fruit. This won a rare double gold and earned best of class at the sixth annual Cascadia International Wine Competition and later was awarded the honor of Best Red Wine at Purdue University’s 2018 Indy International Wine Competition.
Armstrong Family Winery 2014 Dineen Vineyard Petit Verdot, Yakima Valley, $38: Pat Dineen and the Rawn brothers grow grapes for more than 30 wineries in Washington, and their higher-elevation site in the Rattlesnake Hills above the Yakima Valley produces a sturdy snapshot of this lesser-known Bordeaux red. Tim Armstrong tailors this to be massive, cellar-worthy and compelling. There’s a large whiff of coffee and dark toast with blue fruit and squid ink. Inside, its drinking profile of pie cherry, pomegranate and ripe plum comes with sturdy tannins, a wealth of acidity and sweet herbs.
Northwest Cellars 2013 Scooteney Flats Vineyard Petit Verdot, Red Mountain, $48: Totem Lake vintner Robert Delf has been producing standalone bottlings of this Bordeaux for nearly a decade, shifting his focus recently from the Horse Heaven Hills to Red Mountain. This is a slightly lighter style of petit verdot, bringing aromas and flavors of Chukar Cherry, blackberry, Dr Pepper and mulling spices with restrained tannins and a finish of montmorency cherry and sweet dill.
H/H Estates 2013 Coyote Canyon Vineyard Reserve Petit Verdot, Horse Heaven Hills, $50: Watercolor artist Marti Andrews co-owns H/H Estates, the reserve tier of Coyote Canyon Winery in Prosser, and her work adorns the label of this two-barrel lot of petit verdot off the Andrews family vineyard. It’s part of their inaugural Horse Heaven Hills artist series, and there’s density to this petit verdot filled with montmorency cherry, boysenberry, a pinch of earthiness and rewarding tannins.
Andy Perdue and Eric Degerman operate Great Northwest Wine, an award-winning media company. Learn more about wine at www.greatnorthwestwine.com.