Today is another bottle I picked up at the Adelaide Cellar Door Festival a few weeks back, and again it’s a varietal that is slightly unusual. I wouldn’t exactly call it alternative as a variety, but as a varietal perhaps. It’s the Spook Hill Petty Criminal Petit Verdot 2010.
What’s unusual about this is not so much Petit Verdot the grape, but the fact that it’s bottled in this instance on it’s own. It’s a classic Bordeaux grape, and while somewhat out of favour and constituting only a small portion of plantings, it’s a grape that every beginning wine student knows as a component of the red Bordeaux blend and slightly more advanced students should know that it ripens late relative to Cabernet Sauvignon, has thick skins, and gives tannins and colour to blends. The late ripening quality is likely a contributing factor in its decline, as there are certainly years in Bordeaux where it does not ripen fully.
Fortunately, there are places where Petit Verdot has found a home outside of Bordeaux and can consistently ripen, in particular Napa and Sonoma in California where it is used in their version of the Bordeaux blend called Meritage, and in the Riverlands of South Australia, which coincidentally is where this wine is from.
I spoke a bit about the Riverland when I described the 919 Petit Manseng a little while back, and the Spook Hill website doesn’t go into much detail regarding their particular terroir, but I can tell you a bit about the company. They were started in 1999 by a group of grape growers and red wine enthusiasts. I don’t have any figures, but guessing from their production methods, I would say their operation is fairly small. They hand pick, use open fermenters, and a hand operated basket press. They also seem to be enthusiasts for American oak, with each wine being given at least 18 months in barrel. All of that suggests either huge costs, small production, or both. In their case, their most expensive wine is just over $100/half case (that is, less than $20/bottle) so it has to be a fairly small operation. They produce only red wine (with one being fortified) with the three usual suspects of Shiraz, Grenache, and Cabernet Sauvignon, but also a Tempranillo and this wine, all as varietals.
This wine was a deep ruby, almost purple in the glass, with a developing nose of medium intensity. It had aromas of plum and red black currants. On the palate there was immediately some alcohol, though I found it warming rather than jarring. It was dry, fairly tannic, and with a weightier than average body. I didn’t make a note about the acidity, so it wasn’t remarkable either way. The flavour had solid intensity, and the profile was more about the oak than the fruit, with vanilla and sweet spice being the main flavours, though there certainly was fruit as well in the form of more plums. There was a touch of chocolate that may have been a hint as to what to expect from this after a few years. The finish was neither long nor short – somewhere in the middle.
I liked this wine and thought it was well made, but in the things I enjoyed I can see what others might not. It’s a big wine, particularly as far as tannins and alcohol go, but also the vanilla and spice from the American oak is strong. I don’t mind that – while American oak is somewhat out of fashion, I think it certain has its place. It doesn’t always jump out at me with Red Rioja wines, and sadly I don’t get to drink very much wine from the USA in American oak, but if I had more money than I know what to do with I’d sit down with a case of Grange and become reacquainted with it. So I will give this wine a thumbs up, but with the qualification that I’m not sure I would go so far as to recommend it, given that I know it will not be to the liking of most people. But if you’re after a style that’s somewhat uncommon, with a grape that’s likewise, you can certainly do a lot worse.
And hey, for those keeping track, this is my 100th post. The numbers will likely get jostled around if/when I go back and clean up my early student posts and break them into posts about studying and posts about particular bottles, but hey, 100 posts isn’t bad for a blog that started at the very end of November 2011. Thanks for reading.
Map location approximate, based on their P.O. Box, as they don’t seem to have a cellar door, just a funky bus.