I got my hands on a couple British Columbian wines recently, two bottles that weren’t exactly common pours.
We often get the opportunity to compare and contrast local Pinot Noirs, Merlots, Rieslings, and so on, but the two wines in front of me were single-varietal Petit Verdots—definitely outliers when it comes to what we’re used to on the home front.
When it comes right down to it, it’s rare to see single-varietal Petit Verdot from anywhere. For many years in the Vancouver market, Pirramimma’s Petit Verdot out of McLaren Vale, Australia, has had a cult following. Many have enjoyed its inky intensity, blueberry compote, dashes of barbecue sauce, and spoonfuls of molasses.
Although I’ve had the odd local example of the grape (Sandhill has featured it as part of their Small Lots program for many years), it is only recently that I’ve seen other wineries take the leap to see what they can do with it.
Most of us know Petit Verdot as a supporting player in red Bordeaux blends. Red wines from the iconic French region are generally composed of a mix of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc, but the secondary grapes that round things out are Malbec and then Petit Verdot.
In the vineyard, the grape buds pretty early, but it’s late to ripen. Its hallmark is deep, dark berry fruit, often carrying a pinch of spice, and it carries a good balance of alcohol, tannin, and acid.
The reason it’s not a marquee name is likely that propensity for ripening late, making it not an ideal variety for a good handful of global regions. As well, although its richness and intensity make for a good blending grape, on its own it may be a little much for the common palate.
When it comes to the geek factor, sure—there’s a lot to play with since it’s usually thought of as a blending grape, rarely basking in its own spotlight.
The opportunity to try two of them from the same part of the world—from different producers, side by side—rarely comes up, but here’s our chance to play.
First up, we have Moon Curser Petit Verdot 2016 ($30.99, online). Proprietors Chris and Beata Tolley are no strangers to homing in on obscure varieties, as glances toward their Arneis, Tempranillo, Dolcetto, and Tannat attest. The fruit for this wine comes from Osoyoos, in the deep south of the Okanagan Valley, where the sandy loam and granite soils are dotted with wild sagebrush and cacti, culminating in a rugged setting for a concentrated, rich, wintery wine.
Aging in French oak, 25 percent of it new, frames mulberries, blueberries, and deep, balsamic flavours, all rich and jammy but tethered to tannins that give great texture and an acid component, bringing a liveliness to the wine. It’s big, and you can feel the purpleness of it seeping into your teeth at the first sip, yet it still glides across the palate, not sinking in too deep.
Next, over the mountain pass is Corcelettes Estate Winery Petit Verdot 2016 ($52.09, online), a Similkameen Valley gem that’s, wait… 52 bucks?
The price on this struck me as being a little ambitious until I dug a little deeper, uncovering its exclusive nature. Coming from just under a half acre of plantings, this Petit Verdot grown in stemwinder soils is the epitome of a limited release: only three small barrels were made, which translates to just 70 cases of unfiltered, handcrafted deliciousness.
There’s an elegance here, with violets and dusty cocoa on the nose, then truffles, stewed raspberries, cherries, and currants on the palate. Although the tannins are well-placed, the wine’s structure is that of a bottle maybe a couple years older, a little more ready to drink. Perhaps it’s the limestone-rich soils, but there’s a liveliness of structure here, crushed rocks and brilliant acidity rising to the surface.
The fruit shines with both wines, in their dark, berry-driven ways. The comparison—which is recommended as part of these cozy wine-friendly, wintery days—ends up being more of a glance at the Okanagan and Similkameen valleys through this Petit Verdot lens.
Moon Curser’s take is a little more in that hotter climate’s opulent, fruit-forward style, whereas Corcelettes’s is a tad rustic in some components, providing a little more nuance.
Really, it doesn’t come down to one versus the other, because whichever one you might choose, they’re both winners. The real win is in nabbing a bottle from both wineries, and enjoying the exploration of this unique variety, from two wineries that handle it well.