Purchased at Trader Joe's for $9.99. This clocks in at 13.9% alcohol. I really was looking forward to trying this wine, because Petite Verdot is a unique grape to find bottled on its own, and it's one of my favorites. Plus the price was great. However, I didn't really like this particular bottle, as it had some funky things going on and seemed out of balance.
In the glass, the wine was a dark cranberry in color. Vanilla dominates the nose, it was so strong in fact that it overshadowed some of the berry notes hiding underneath. Tasting it really threw me. The first thing I got was heavy heavy heavy....dish soap! I traveling for a story I was covering, and thought at first my glass just had some soap residue, so I dumped my glass, washed it, and poured some more. Nope, still there. I figured I just didn't wash it well enough, and went to bed. The next few days I had the wine again, this time at home, but that dish soap taste was still in the wine. After that taste subsides, the raspberries come out, and there are slight tannins on the back end, but overall, I couldn't get past that initial flavor.
I'm not sure if it was just my bottle, or the vintage as a whole, so I e-mailed the winery that grew the grapes and bottled the wine, Ancient Peaks Winery.
I asked about how the wine was made, because Petite Verdot is known for its dark color and strong tannins. In fact the varietal is one of France's five "noble grapes," or the grapes approved to be used to make Bordeaux wine. It is typically used in small amounts to give wines a deeper, darker color, and a stronger tannic structure.
Karl F. Wittstrom, the winery's co-owner, responded within a few days with a lengthy e-mail, which was really nice, and informative. Here's what he said:
"There are three major components that affect wine making; soil, climate, and people (i.e. the winemaker and his staff). In the case of the Trader Joes Reserve Petite Verdot, it was grown on a south easterly facing slope in highly calcareous soil on the Santa Margarita Ranch. The Margarita Vineyards are the southernmost Vineyard in the Paso Robles American Viticulture Area (AVA). The soil is littered with giant petrified oysters shells this soil has a very significant effect on the flavor profile and the ultimate quality of the wine.
"Climate is also very important; the weather at the Margarita Vineyards is also somewhat unique the vineyard is nestled against at the base of the Santa Lucia mountain Range near the Cuesta Grade, just 14 miles from the Pacific Ocean. The vineyards proximity to the ocean causes it to be the coolest vineyards in the AVA in terms of degree days. This factor makes for a longer growing season and extended hang time. The extended hang time allows the grapes to reach phenolic maturity without the usual associated higher alcohols. Lastly comes the winemaker and his staff, in this case our winemaker is Mike Sinor he is one of the Central Coast most Highly rated winemakers he and his diligent staff have very exact standards and processes. But even he will tell you most of the flavors and complexities that make a wine unique come from the Vineyard."
Petite Verdot isn't a common grape in California, though you can find it from small producers. According to the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance, less than 1.2 percent of the more than 19,000 acres by alliance members in the Paso Robles AVA were planted with Petite Verdot grapes last year. In California as a whole, Petite Verdot ranked 13th among types of red wine grapes that were crushed in 2007, with 9,313 tons crushed (compared with Cabernet Sauvignon's 422,545 tons), according to The Wine Institute.
It's always interesting to try new kinds of wine, and if you happen to come across a Petite Verdot in the store or winery, it's definitely worth giving a shot. I've had some really nice ones in the past few years, and will continue to buy it despite my experience with this one. In fact I might even buy another bottle of TJ's Petite Verdot Reserve to make sure I just didn't get a bad bottle the first time.