“The brown bag doesn’t lie” is one of my favorite quotes. Virginia does Petit Verdot exceptionally well and it’s one of my favorite varietals not just in the state, but in the world.
Some friends and I tried 6 different Petit Verdots in a blind tasting, with two ‘bonus PVs’ from Italy and New York to top off the night. The NY one was good (and the Italian bottle may have been slightly off) but based on this small sample size felt Virginia is clearly the leader in this varietal.
Petit Verdot is a Bordeaux grape but only used there for blending, giving red blends color and tannin. The name translates as ‘little green one’ because it rarely ripens well in this region. Full varietal Petit Verdot wines are a rarity in France, with this grape comprising around 2% of Bordeaux’s red grapes.
But Virginia’s warmer climate allows the fruit to ripen while maintaining its acidity, and its thick skin and loose clusters makes it well suited to our weather. As of 2019 (the date of the last detailed Virginia grape report), there were nearly 300 acres of Petit Verdot in the state, making it Virginia’s 3rd most planted varietal (after Chardonnay and Cabernet Franc, and a touch ahead of Merlot).
I picked 2017 for two reasons. Most importantly, I find high-acid, high-tannin wine need time in the bottle. Virginia wineries seldom have the luxury of having enough wine in stock to wait until they are ready. Fortunately, 2017 was something of a bumper crop and I’d been stocking up on this vintage in particular.
The 2017 vintage was also one of the best in recent decades. This year was Virginia’s 4th hottest summer since 1895 and had limited rainfall. It also had cool nights, so growers enjoyed the best of both worlds.
We had a good array from of producers from around the state, including several of my all-time favorite Petit Verdot makers.
- Maggie Malick 2017 Petit Verdot (Loudoun Valley)
- The Barns 2017 Petit Verdot (growing site unknown)
- Glen Manor 2017 Petit Verdot (Front Royal)
- Hark 2017 Petit Verdot (Monticello AVA)
- The Wine Reserve at Waterford 2017 Petit Verdot (Northern Virginia)
- DuCard 2017 Petit Verdot (Eltan, near the middle of Shenandoah Park)
Round 1 / Bracket 1
- Maggie Malick (Wine #1) 2 Votes
- The Barns (Wine #2) 4 votes, Winner
The Maggie Malick was probably the lightest PV of the evening. Herbs and eucalyptus on the nose. Some red fruit notes. Soft initially but had a bitter back-end.
The Barns was almost stereotypical “Virginia PV”. It hadn’t been open for very long so we found this bottle to be rather one-dimensional (it opened up during our next tasting). Graphite on the palate. It also surprised us with a loooong finish. Not complex but very drinkable.
Round 1 / Bracket 2
- Glen Manor (Wine #3), 1 vote and three half votes, Wildcard to next bracket
- Hark (Wine #4) 2 votes and three half votes, Winner
This was our toughest round, and we went back and forth on our favorite. We were so torn I allowed people to split their votes. Eventually the Hark won by a tiny margin, but we loved the Glen Manor so much we gave it a wildcard to the next bracket.
The Glen Manor was very smooth and easy drinking. It had bright acidity and light pepper notes. Gravel and black fruit on the palate.
The Hark was more tannic but still smooth. Herbal notes on the nose and body to back it up. Some of us detected tart cherry. Complex but still approachable. Less acidic than the Glen Manor.
The deciding factor here was food. We hadn’t broken out the BBQ yet, but we did have cheese plate that offered lots of small bites. That’s when someone discovered how awesome the Hark was when paired with a bite of sautéed Andouille chicken sausage.
It was hard to argue with the logic of “Yes!! But the sausage!!!!”, which was probably the best single food & wine pairing I’ve had all year. Sausage + Hark PV = not just winning this bracket, but winning in life.
Round 1 / Bracket 3
- The Wine Reserve (Wine #5)
- DuCard (Wine #6) 6 votes, Winner
The Wine Reserve got stuck in a tough bracket. It did have a great nose, which one guest described as “Smells like Christmas”. Red fruit and some tartness on the palate. I did think it was a little harsh.
The DuCard had this wonderfully deep, pronounced fruitiness. Berry and plumb on the nose. Soft and easy drinking.
It was DuCard all the way here.
We stopped the tasting to indulge in some BBQ before continuing to the next bracket.
Round 2 / Bracket 1
- The Barns (Wine #2) One half vote
- Glen Manor (Wine #3) 5 votes and one half vote; Winner
Words were getting difficult here, but I’ll try.
The Barns had improved with some aeration. I was starting to sense the tannins and the nose had a whiff of graphite.
But that Glen Manor? That had such a great mouthfeel. We went with Glen Manor.
Round 2 / Bracket 2
- Hark (Wine #4) 2 votes and one half vote
- DuCard (Wine #6) 3 votes and one half vote, Winner
Another tough round. We detected some spiciness on the Hark. Most importantly, some extra bites allowed us to conclude it was the best food wine of the evening.
The DuCard by comparison was less acidic, and I was getting a cooked fruit quality on the palate. Smooth.
If we had more sausage we may have given Hark the win, but since we were trying to judge these on their own the DuCard took this round.
Round 3 / Final
- Glen Manor (Wine #3) One vote
- DuCard (Wine #6) 5 votes, Winner
Put simply, we loved both wines. Both were similar in that they were easy drinking yet complex. I could have picked either one, but in the end we gave the DuCard the win for best of the evening.
I’d hate to say that this event ‘proves’ anything. Even if we repeated the same wines with the same people, we could easily have gotten different results. But overall, I’m still not surprised these two made it to the top.