Petit Manseng is one of the key white grape varieties of South West France. Used predominantly in the Jurancon and Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh wine growing regions it is most commonly vinified as a richly sweet wine standing our through its peach, citrus, cinnamon and medlar notes. A range of exotic fruits (mango, passion fruit and pineapple) round out Petit Manseng's aromatic profile. In Virginia Petit Manseng is becoming a very well loved stand alone wine in Virginia.
The low-yielding variety enjoys a long ripening season, giving the grapes time on the vine to shrivel, undergoing a process the French call passerillage. This is where the grapes' sugar content is concentrated as the excess water evaporates, leaving behind raisined berries that are picked sometimes in waves. Petit Manseng has thick skins and loose bunches allow this to happen without danger of botrytis (Noble Rot: Also known by its scientific name, Botrytis cinerea, noble rot can be a beneficial mold that grows on ripe wine grapes in the vineyard under specific climatic conditions). There are good and bad forms of botrytis.
Petit Manseng's high level of acidity makes this extended time on the vine possible. The late-ripening variety is able to retain this acidity in the warmer climates, balancing out the sweetness contributed by the naturally high sugar content. Fermentation often takes place in oak barrels, imparting a more complex, spicy character to the wines.
Petit Manseng, while most common in South West France, has made its way into Spain, namely the Basque region, and further to Australia and the U.S., most notably Virginia. The grape is grown in far smaller quantities than its larger-berried, more productive cousin Gros Manseng, and is often considered the superior of the two.
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