Petit Verdot: The Forbidden Fruit

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Petit Verdot: The Forbidden Fruit

I got my inspiration for this article while vacationing in Mallorca at Marc Wölffer’s beautiful Farm or "Finca." He has a special vineyard growing Petit Verdot (sometimes referred to as PV in this article). Writing about the Petit Verdot grape is perfect timing since Long Island is experiencing a heat wave making it seem as though I am back in the Balearic islands.

What is particularly interesting is that the variety PV is a "forbidden fruit" in Mallorca. The Government, under the D.O. (Denominaciones de Origen) rule, does not allow wines made from this particular grape to carry the Denominaciones de Origen distinction, as they do not meet the standards of what is considered to be classic wines of the region. This makes it - of course - even more special!

PV is normally found in Bordeaux. It is usually used in blends to add tannins, color, acid and flavor to other wines (Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Malbec). Being a late ripening fruit and thus running into the problem of staying green in the cooler years, it has become less of a player in Bordeaux. However, in the wine regions of the "hot" new world, the PV has found a happy home, ripening more consistently.

What is special about this fruit is that it grows as very small clusters with tiny berries. This allows sunshine to get to every single berry and results in a very high skin to juice ratio during fermentation which explains why there is so much color, tannins, acidity and a lot of flavor.

Here on Long Island (under normal conditions considered a cool climate) we have the saving grace of being close to the same latitude as Mallorca or Madrid providing us with ample sun. With meticulous vineyard care, a little bit of luck, a warm or hot season and the longest hang time for grapes on the East Coast, we can ripen this fruit in most years. Although mostly used in red blends a couple of wineries have created some special Petit Verdots in the hot years. Our microclimate with our inherent good acidity makes these wines especially food friendly and unique.

Interviewed below is Chef Douglas Gulija of the Plaza Café in Southampton and Shinn Estate Vineyard Winemaker, Anthony Nappa regarding Petit Verdot.

Interview with Chef Douglas Gulija of the Plaza Café:

When and why did you start cooking and what was your biggest influence?

I started out as a dishwasher at the age of 13 and continued to work at the same Southampton establishment even through college. When my brief college basketball career was coming to an end I decided I better get serious about a career and decided to fall back on what I knew best - so I transferred to a culinary school.

Do you have a dish that would go nicely with Petit Verdot?

As we are a predominately seafood restaurant we don’t have a signature recipe to pair with Petit Verdot. But were I to come up with one, I would be thinking rich and maybe something with cheese that I think would work with the varietals, high tannins, and acidity. I would create a dish using a slow cooked pork belly served on top of a goat cheese polenta and maybe finished with a foie gras sauce.

Where would the ingredients be from?

I would probably lean towards Niman Ranch for the Pork and Catapano Farms on the North Fork for the cheese.

Why is this dish special?

Because I just made it up and now want to give it a test!

What is the biggest mistake made in home cooking?

Not buying and using the best ingredients possible.

What was your greatest moment as a chef?

Waking up every day and knowing I love what I do.

Interview with Anthony Nappa, the Winemaker at Shinn Estate Vineyards:

What is the name of your Petit Verdot?

Shinn Estate Vineyards Petit Verdot.

Where are the grapes from and what is special about the wine?

The grapes are estate grown at Shinn Estate Vineyards and we only made a varietal Petit Verdot once in 2007 and it’s 100% Petit Verdot grapes.

What inspired you to make Petit Verdot?

It is a great grape for Long Island with small berries and less rot problems. It is a great wine particularly for blending because it has high acid, tannin and color and can be useful for rounding out other wines.

What are you doing to make it different from other red wines?

I make all of my reds about the same - hand sorted, gravity, long ferment, aged in French oak, bottled unfiltered, unfined.

Why will this wine go well with food?

High Acid red makes for great balance with food.

How did your career prepare you to make Petit Verdot?

I have previously worked in cool climates with high acid wines. Managing the acid and tannin of Petit Verdot can give you natural balance without having to blend other varietals to achieve it to make a straight Petit Verdot.

Which wine do you always keep stocked up in your home?

I am well stocked with wines I have made, but otherwise we have a lot of Italian wine.

What is nice here in America is that we are allowed to grow whatever grape variety we want and there are not imposed restrictions regulating free choice. So in that spirit I invite you to be more daring when it comes to your wine selections. Try the fabulous choices from any of the Long Island vineyards and don’t always drink the same old stuff. And remember, one person’s enjoyment is another person’s forbidden fruit.

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