Lorenzo Zonin on why we need to rethink Petit Verdot

Harry Crowther

20 August 2019

I reckon Petit Verdot (PV) is like the dark knight of the Bordeaux family; a grape variety that often brings muscle and colour to a final blend. From personal experience, a couple of single varietal examples from Australia and The Americas have proven to be successful flag bearers for PV as a standalone grape too. They tend to be bruisers; inky, rich and graphite-y, but no less delicious for it.

However, I think I may have just found a couple of Petit Verdot’s that have cashed in their dark, broody purple dress in place of a bright, fresh crimson number. What makes them particularly interesting is that they are amongst Tuscany’s first ever 100% Petit Verdot wines. 

Petit Verdot is like the dark knight of the Bordeaux family

'I planted Petit Verdot 15 years ago with the idea of one day expressing it as a single varietal wine,' winemaker Lorenzo Zonin (main picture) told me at his family's annual portfolio tasting in London. At the tasting, Zonin asked fellow winemakers how they thought the grape was performing for them. Many agreed it could deliver structure and intensity, but only as a blending component, despite the markedly different experience Zonin had with it.

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Podere San Cristoforo, Divita, 2017, IGT Toscana

Divita is Zonin’s newest planting of Petit Verdot has been picked later than usual. A fairly intense purple-red colour with vibrant red fruit up top and subtle undertones of black jelly and kirsch. Bags of freshness on the palate welcomes a darker, graphite tone. Well knitted tannins play against a ripe flavour profile. Fruit driven, with fairly minimal oak influence. £19.95/70cl, Zonin UK

Podere San Cristoforo, Petit Verdot, 2016, IGT Toscana

From 12-year-old vines. Candied sweet spice, coffee and red fruit pastels combine with moody earthiness. The palate is bursting with opulent black forest fruit. Crisp, fresh and lively with a precise, long bitter finish. This is a very classy wine, drinking well now but will age gracefully over the next ten years. £34.50/70cl, Zonin UK

Podere San Cristoforo, Petit Verdot, 2008, IGT Toscana

The second vintage of 100% PV from Zonin. Sweeter notes of white chocolate and liquorices compliment broody dark berries. Plump body with firm tannins. Vine age plays a role here, eight years younger than the 2016, and perhaps a little less finesse in the mid-palate. Nevertheless, a pleasure to taste. £34.50/70cl, Zonin UK

Keeping it bright

So why the unceremonious shift to a fresher, lighter style? Or rather, how? 'We make sure that we have a short maceration [around seven days] to avoid too much colour extraction,' he explained. The most important factor here though is the soil.

While Lorenzo’s Sangiovese, for example, comes from clay and gravel soils, his PV is from sandy soils. 'Sand gives freshness and soft fruit flavours to wine but lacks structure. 'With Petit Verdot, I have a variety with natural structure, and so it’s a great match.'

Growing pains

Petit Verdot doesn’t come without its challenges however. For starters, it’s no way near as popular as Sangiovese. And with such popularity comes a plethora of clones; a supermarket of styles to choose from.

It is, as Lorenzo describes: 'A domesticated variety… There are over 70 clones of Sangiovese available on the market, so it’s easy for me to pick the right one for my vineyards.'

That’s not the case for Petit Verdot and this affects the wine on a commercial level. It’s low yielding, it grows awkwardly  shoots often grow downwards instead of vertically upwards making harvest tricky and, therefore, costly. This is the diva of the vineyard world.

‘Petit Verdot is a wolf, it is still wild, admits Zonin. 'Unlike more commercial varieties, these are like pedigree dogs they have been groomed for purpose and choice.’

But, like all divas, keep them happy and they usually perform pretty damn well.

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