This white grape variety, from southwest France, comes in the form of small berries with thick skins and very little juice. These durable berries remain on the vine until as late as December, allowing the grape to shrivel to just an intense, withered fruit – a process called passerillage – as a result of the hot sun and warm winds coming in from Spain. At this stage, the juice remaining in the grape is capable of achieving 16 to 24 per cent alcohol, but the long fermentation process is stopped when it reaches 14 per cent. The remaining sugar leads to an intense sweetness which is tempered by a sharp acidity.
Petit Manseng is usually grown in low densities. Its vines are capable of growing to a length of 10 metres, and they are often trained to grow high off the ground. This is useful for a variety that buds early in the year – the grapes are kept elevated from the ground, avoiding the cooler air nearer the ground, especially during March frosts.
Until quite recently, Petit Manseng was more of a rarity. Many growers would opt instead for the other member of the Manseng family, the Gros Manseng, which grows in far higher yields (around 80hl/ha compared to 30hl/ha).
While Petit Manseng is best known for growing in the poudingue stone-rich soils of Jurançon, it is also grown in Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh and Irouléguy, and has been exported to Languedoc and California.
This Basque white grape is one of the main varieties associated with Jurançon in southwest France. Today it is usually used for making dry white wines, which often have a crisp, citrus flavour, and are highly aromatic. Gros Manseng can be used to make varietal wine, or is often blended with varieties such as Sauvignon Blanc and Petit Manseng.
Gros Manseng grapes are hardy, with thick skins that retain acidity and a high concentration of sugar.
While this variety has been used historically to produce sweet whites, Gros Manseng is now used mainly in dry wine production. Its smaller cousin, Petit Manseng, tends to be used instead for sweet white production, but tends to be grown far more sparsely.