Petit Verdot Showdown Part II

This was my second Petit Verdot showdown in a month, mostly by coincidence. Weather and COVID forced me to constantly change the date of the initial event, to the point that half my friends who bought bottles in anticipation of the first event couldn’t make it when it finally happened. So the only solution was to have a second one.

My previous Petit Verdot blind tasting was a 2017 vintage-only event, so I switch it up in order to avoid being repetitive. This time, I allowed Petit Verdots from any vintage, from any area around the world.

The upside to this was by a varietal tasting across vintages made me appreciate the strong variation our weather causes. I felt the tasting profile of the 2016-2017 PVs were noticeably ‘bigger’ but had a few years to mellow, while the 2018s were notably softer. The 2019 tended towards being ripe and young.

I didn’t realize this at first, but the 2018s were lower in alcohol and at least one was a blend. This seemed to work in their favor, since Petit Verdot on its own is so bold it cries out for a hearty meal, so the easy-drinking PVs showed very well in our event.

The addition of a pair of California Petit Verdots added an interesting dimension. I did a little bit of research and realized that there are only 800 acres of Petit Verdot in California (compared to around 23,000 acres of Cab Sauv).

Most I opened 2-3 hours before the event, although a few guest wines weren’t opened till we started. We sampled 3 wines at a time, plus a ‘winners’ round of the top 3.

  1. 2018 True Heritage (12% alcohol, VA. Also 25% Merlot)
  2. 2016 Turnbull (14.9% alcohol, NAPA
  3. 2016 Glen Manor (14.3% alcohol, VA)
  4. 2019 DuCard (13% alcohol, VA)
  5. 2018 Vint Hill (VA)
  6. 2017 Arterra (14.5% alcohol, VA)
  7. 2014 Linden (13.9% alcohol, VA. 88% PV, 8 Cab Sauv, 4 % Carménère)
  8. 2019 Bishop Hill (14%)
  9. 2017 Pearmund Reserve (13.5%)

Round 1/Bracket 1:

Veritas and Glen Manor have great reputations. The wine from True Heritage was made by Emily of Veritas, although using fruit from a farm near Keswick. Glen Manor needs no introduction; their 2017 Petit Verdot was one of my favorites from the previous event.

The bottle from California was easily identifiable. I suspect this would have showed better in a full Riedel glass with a full meal, but we had to do with smaller sampling glasses.

Wine 1: 2018 True Heritage: 4.5 votes (winner). Well balanced. Not a lot of any one particular note but it seemed to be a well-rounded crowd pleaser. I later saw that this was 25% Merlot, which made it considerably easier to drink as a stand-alone wine.

Wine 2: 2016 Turnbull: 1 vote. Strong alcoholic burn. It also had a sweet liquorish quality to it. The higher-than-expected level of alcohol was a turnoff for many of us, as our group has grown accustomed to Virginia PV. We didn’t do this wine any favors by not serving it with food or giving it a limited decanting time. I suspect either would have upped our opinion of this wine.

Wine 3: 2016 Glen Manor: 3.5 votes. It seemed closed at the time we tried it. It was likewise a crowd pleaser but didn’t seem as expressive as the True Heritage. I opened it over 2 hours before tasting, but it probably could have taken even more time to open up.

Our eight judges were all over the place and some had a hard time deciding a favorite, so I allowed half votes. But the softness of the True Heritage won the round.

Round 1/Bracket 2:

This was my favorite round. DuCard’s 2017 PV was the favorite of the previous event, although the youth of the 2019 showed. I was pretty certain I could identify Arterra’s wine based on the long finish, which many people commented on.

Wine 4: 2019 DuCard: 2 votes. Younger and very expressive wine. Ripe fruit on the nose, some fruit notes. Spice notes and higher alcohol on the palate. I thought the color was a lighter shade than the rest.

Wine 5: 2018 Vint Hill: 2 votes. Smooth. Little spicy but not overwhelming. Also a lighter shade than the rest. I personally voted for bolder, in-your-face wines but the guests who prefer easier drinking wines liked this a lot.

Wine 6: 2017 Arterra: 4 votes (winner). This wine seemed all about the finish. Oddly enough, it didn’t seem to have as much going on in the front of the palate, at least during this initial tasting. I later learned this was one of our higher alcohol level (14.5%) wines, although that surprised me since it wore the alcohol level very well. The Arterra improved the most with decanting.

Round 1/Bracket 3:

This event was a bit lopsided since I believe the 2017 Pearmund had cork taint, a problem that occurs roughly 2% (maybe more?) of all bottles. The Linden was very easy drinking and showed as a younger wine than it really was, which is a huge tribute to Jim Law’s winemaking.

I enjoyed the 2019 Bishop’s Hill. This wine’s California heritage (but made in Illinois) was easy to spot but didn’t come off as the alcohol-bomb the California Turnbull wine was. The only thing holding this back is its youth. This Petit Verdot earned Best in Class (up to $39.99) and double gold at the 2021 San Fransisco Chronical Wine competition, so it was a great addition here.

Wine 7: 2014 Linden: 6 votes (winner). Easy drinking, bright fruit, slightly acidic. We thought it was a higher alcohol wine but actually not. I later discovered it was 88% Petit Verdot fruit, with 8% Cabernet Sauvignon and 4% Carménère, which added to its drinkability.

Wine 8: 2019 Bishop Hill: 2 votes. This bottle seemed to conform the most to the ‘book definition’ of what a PV should be like. Blueberry nose. Ripe fruit. Although it was only a tad higher in alcohol than its Virginia counterparts, for some reason it seemed more obvious about it than I anticipated.

Wine 9: 2017 Pearmund: 0 votes (corked). I’m convinced there was a fault somehow. Very musty and funky. It was earthy but in a bad way. We were all surprised to learn it was a Pearmund wine, since a number of us have visited Pearmund and tried this very same wine and enjoyed it.

Round 2/Final:

We stopped for a food break before resuming. I think the Linden wine lost some ‘ooomph’ by this time, while the Arterra was gaining steam. Maybe there’s a sweet spot in how long wine should aerate, but we did the best with what we had.

The True Heritage continued to be the favorite for those seeking a smooth, easy drinking wine. The Arterra gained in popularity not just because it was ‘good’, but compared to the others it was ‘different’. Being interesting to drink made it a winner for this event.

Wine 1: 2018 True Heritage: 2.5 votes. Our notes were all over the place. Several noted it was very tart and improved. I thought it actually lost something from an earlier round. Others felt it was very consistent, well balanced, and drinkable.

Wine 6: 2017 Arterra: 4.5 votes (winner). Earthy, notes of black fruit. Smoother than the other two. Someone detected mocha on the nose and felt it was well balanced. It was one of the highest alcohol level wines of the evening, but unlike the California wines the alcohol level wasn’t as prominent.

Wine 7: 2014 Linden: 1 vote. This had become a tad milder from the previous round. Full mouthfeel. One of us kept insisting it was a higher alcohol level wine but that was proven wrong.

I’m not the least bit surprised that Arterra won. Winemaker Jason Murray has a very impressive track record with bold reds (his Tannats are some of my favorite in the state) but this Petit Verdot really blew everyone away.

I think part of that was its uniqueness, which I believe is from the use of natural yeast (Arterra’s trademark). It was high in alcohol but didn’t seem that way; smooth yet racy. It just stood out for a lot of reasons that I can’t put my finger on. Not surprisingly, their 2017 Crooked Run won a similar event.

I asked winemaker Jason Murray for some details, and he explained the perception of a lower degree of alcohol was due to a combination of Virginia’s weather (hot, humid), good site selection, and his viticultural practices (especially late picking and lower yields).

The use of native yeast also brings out more vivid fruit flavors. It also creates a different form of molecular alcohol, which may be why our palates perceived it differently.

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