A rare variety, Petit Manseng originates from southwest France, most famously, the Jurançon region, at the base of the Pyrenees Mountains. Often undergoing desiccation, the grape’s sugars and flavors concentrate on the vine, producing a sweet nectar once used to baptize a king. It is often blended with other rare varieties, notably Gros Manseng, to make some of the most interesting and complex white wine I have ever tasted. Les Jardins de Babylone (sec), is a pristine example of a dry version. Outside of France, it is grown in very few regions, including Spain (where it is called izakiriot and blended to make Txakoli), Uruguay, and Virginia. Some of the most exciting examples are from Virginia, where it is quickly becoming one of their star grapes.
Its small berries, loose clusters, thick skin, and high acidity make it a perfect fit for Virginia, where high summer temperatures coupled with high humidity makes it challenging to produce wines that aren’t flabby. The color is usually a bright medium yellow, with a hint of green. Petit Manseng has beautiful aromas of honeysuckle, citrus, and passionfruit. When I tasted it for the first time, my eyes lit up in amusement and inquiry. It has a waxy and weighty texture on the palate. A long and integrated finish elongates notes of pineapple (a signature flavor), passion fruit, citrus, and spice. It’s propensity for sugar development means the timing of harvest is critical for producing a dry wine that has enough phenolic development to balance the high acidity, without an abundance of sugar.
Virginia makes some notable examples including those from Walsh Family, Early Mountain, Michael Shaps, and Horton. Forget Virginia’s signature white grape, Viognier (sorry if that hurts) and try Petit Manseng as a pairing for your next cheese plate. It also goes very well with richer seafood dishes and asian cuisine.
For my friends in the DMV, pay special attention to Horton Vineyards’s version for an eloquent example that will awaken your taste buds and impress even the most fervent french wine lover. At $25, it’s a steal for a 2019 Governor’s Cup Winner, not to mention a visit to Horton Vineyards is a beautiful day escape. This wine is not for the casual wine drinker. It is a serious, world-class wine that deserves your full attention and contemplation.