Petit Manseng is very similar to its cousin Gros Manseng and is found in the same places – namely between Gascony and the Pyrenees in southwest France. It has smaller berries, as its name might suggest, and is more extreme in its flavours, and more difficult to handle in the winery. It is very low yielding, sometimes giving less than 15hl/ha and like Gros Manseng, able to reach high levels of potential alcohol.
It is even more suitable for sweet wines than its Gros cousin, with the grapes regularly being left on the vine to become passerillé, or shrivelled in Jurançon; Gros Manseng, of which larger quantities are at present planted, may well be more suitable for dry wines than Petit Manseng, but the latter has similar intense floral, spicy fruit and high acidity, and these flavours, together with its considerable finesse, are making it increasingly popular with growers in other regions. It is appearing more and more in Languedoc, where its acidity is prized. Elsewhere, Virginia has had considerable success with it, and both Uruguay and Argentina have a little, as does Australia. One fascinating New Zealand example is made by Churton in Marlborough. Best producers: (France) Arrextea, Bru-Baché, Cauhapé, Clos Lapeyre, Clos Thou, Clos Uroulat, Montus, Souch.
Old Champagne variety now attracting some attention. It has piercing acidity and is difficult to handle in the winery, but Bollinger, Duval Leroy, Tarlant, René Geoffroy, Moutard and L Aubry Fils all have some. Irvine Wines in Australia’s Eden Valley have some, too.
An obscure variety from Italy’s Valle d’Aosta region. It is usually blended.
Petit Verdot may be planted only in small quantities in Bordeaux, but it is often highly valued for its colour, structure and lovely violet scent – and it is proving successful in Chile, Australia, California and even Virginia, both as a useful seasoning for Cabernet Sauvignon, and an exciting wine in its own right.
Petit Verdot fell from favour in Bordeaux because it is so late ripening: it ripens even later than Cabernet Sauvignon, which makes it an impossibility for the Right Bank regions of St-Émilion and Pomerol. It is, however, found in the Médoc and especially in Margaux, where the soils give lighter wines that need the extra tannin and colour provided by Petit Verdot. Château Margaux itself has 6 to 7 per cent Petit Verdot in the vineyard, and most of it goes into the grand vin; it has wonderful scent, but it supposedly lacks elegance, so winemaker Paul Pontallier says he would never want more than 10 per cent in the blend. In the 19th century, by contrast, 30 per cent of the vineyard at Château Margaux was planted with Petit Verdot. In Bordeaux, generally, it was reckoned to reach full ripeness in only one year in five, which made châteaux in less-favoured spots somewhat wary of planting it; in the 1980s this probably changed to one year in three, and more like one in two in the 2000s.
Pontallier describes his Petit Verdot as having a banana aroma when young, and developing violet aromas later. Violets are also a keynote elsewhere: in Tuscany, Spain (where it handles the La Mancha heat well and is also grown on Mallorca), Virginia, Long Island, Chile (Errázuriz is enthusiastic about its potential), New Zealand, South Africa, and Australia. It is of rapidly growing importance in South Africa’s warmer regions. In Australia’s warm, irrigated Riverland, Petit Verdot can give even better results than Cabernet Sauvignon, with better acid retention and fresher flavours. Even Australia, however, has areas too cool to ripen it.
There is an unrelated and less good variety known as Gros Verdot, which may still occasionally be found in Argentina. Best producers: (Australia) Kingston, Pirramimma; Trentham, Zilzie; (Italy) Castello dei Rampolla; (South Africa) Simonsig; (Spain) Dominio de Valdepusa; (USA) Araujo, Benziger, Cain Cellars, Jekel, Newton,