A smooth somellier, oenophile and worldwide traveler, guest contributor T.C. Whysal makes his home in Charlottesville and serves as GM for Red Pump Kitchen.
Petit Manseng (“little manseng”), one of the most diverse white grapes you may or may not have heard about, gets its name from its tiny berries. Here in Virginia, this grape has become a proven workhorse for winemakers. In order to understand this varietal of Vitis vinifera (the Latin term for the common grape vine) it’s important to understand its history, vinification, and proven track record for producing quality wine in the region.
Petit Manseng originated in southwest France and was traditionally used to make sweet wines. Virginia has been so successful with this grape that the state is now second only to France as to how many acres are under vine. Three reasons for the grape’s success are its resistance to rot — as we have very humid summers — and its ability to keep high sugars and acid at harvest even in our hotter climate. Last are the clusters themselves, as they are nice and loose, allowing breezes to keep the berries dry to, again, avoid the rot that can plague an area with high humidity. Petit Manseng also loves clay soil and we certainly have plenty of that here in Virginia’s Piedmont. Without the resurgence of this varietal, Petit Manseng was at risk of becoming obsolete.
Petit Manseng can be vinified, or made into wine, from very dry to very sweet. Its versatility is comparable to that of the Riesling grape. The flavors you can expect from wine vinified from Petit Manseng may include white flowers, herbs, honey, citrus fruit such as lemon and lime, and tropical fruits such as pineapple. Being such a versatile grape, it can be paired with a myriad of dishes — especially spicy foods such as Thai — which is why it is becoming a favorite for local restaurant wine programs, wineries and wine shops around the region and beyond.
Petit Manseng definitely basked in the limelight at the 2019 Virginia Governor’s Cup. The Governor’s Cup is an annual competition exclusively of Virginia-grown wines. For the first time, this varietal took the top spot, demonstrating how well this wine can be made in our area. Horton Vineyards in Gordonsville won the prestigious award for their 2016 Petit Manseng. Another local producer, Wineworks, 2016 Michael Shaps’ Petit Manseng, also received high praise in the competition. Happy Tasting!