I introduce or re-introduce to you two distinct wine styles that are not well known or understood: Pétillant naturel, or Pét-nat, and Piquette. Pétillant naturel, or pét-nat, is becoming a popular new style for domestic wine production. Pét-nat, or Méthode Ancestrale, is a method of sparkling wine production used all over the world.
Unlike traditional-method sparkling wines, like Champagne, which add sugar and yeast to dry, still wine in order to trigger a second fermentation and produce bubbles, pét-nat works by bottling wine that is only partially fermented.
As the first and only fermentation continues in the bottle, the resulting carbon dioxide (CO2) is trapped. After a period of rest that can be as short as a couple of months, the gas is absorbed into the wine as bubbles and the pét-nat is ready to drink.
How pét-nat differs from Champagne?
Pét-nat is essentially the easiest method to get bubbles into a wine and it was the first way that sparkling wine was produced, earning it the name Méthode Ancestrale. This contrasts with the Champagne style, formerly called Méthode Champenoise (a term since banned by the European Union), now primarily known as Méthode Traditionelle, Méthode Classique or simply the “traditional method.”
Although Champagne is the most famous French region for sparkling wine, there are also esteemed appellations in the country that produce in the pét-nat style. Montlouis-sur-Loire Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC), where the grape is Chenin Blanc, gave legal status to the name Pétillant Originel on the label in 2007 to distinguish its pét-nats from the traditional-method sparklers already made in the area. Another French region where pét-nat is highly regarded is Gaillac AOC in Southwest France, home to the Mauzac grape. Pét-nat is so integral to the production in this area that they call it Méthode Gaillacoise, after the region.
Pet-nat has become increasingly popular in New York State as well, including producers in the Hudson Valley region, Long Island, and the Finger Lakes region. Pictured are past offerings from Montezuma Winery, located near Cayuga Lake, and Idol Ridge Winery off Seneca Lake AVA. Both wineries produce these sparklers, like a Rose and Riesling Pet-nat, and a plethora of distilled spirits. Check out their sites for current vintages of sparkling wine and schedule a tasting to learn more about this unique, distinct, and growing style of style of bubbly stateside.
The method behind pét-nat is so simple that sometimes it happens by accident. Wines bottled with residual sugar that haven’t been stabilized can re-ferment spontaneously in the bottle, presenting undesired fizz. With pét-nat, clarity is always in question. Wine that finishes fermentation in the bottle will produce the same sediment as traditional-method sparklers. The difference is that with pét-nat, there is no requirement to remove that sediment by disgorging. Chill the bottle upright in an ice bucket for 30 minutes if you’d like to control the sediment in a hazy wine. The cold keeps sediment at the bottom of the bottle, allowing you to pour four relatively clear glasses.
The traditional method produces the bubbliest sparkling wine, typically achieving 5–6 atmospheres of pressure. That’s comparable to the air pressure in a bus tire, which explains why Champagne corks are so thick and bound by wire cages. While pét-nats are found in a range of intensities, they almost always measure less than 5 atmospheres. Compared to the exciting and violent bubbling of a traditional-method wine, pét-nat displays calmer bubbly, typically with larger bubbles on the palate. Bubbles serve many purposes in wine. Naturally acidic, carbon dioxide creates the prickly tang found in sparkling beverages and cleanses the palate. That’s something appreciated by anyone who has ever had sparkling wine with a cheese plate. The best time to assess sparkling wine is not immediately after it’s opened, when the bead is at its strongest. The softer bubbles and lower pressure of pét-nat make the wine more expressive after opening and allows for a more generous aroma.
Piquette, a low-alcohol wine made from the second pressings of grape pomace, known to have been enjoyed by French farmhands and vineyard workers. It turns out, is a great way to reuse pomace, the dense clumps of grape skins, seeds, stems and pulp that remain after juice has been pressed for wine. They are low in alcohol and with a touch of fizz that makes them reminiscent of wine spritzers, which has quickly gained fans. And it wasn’t just consumers lapping up their drinkability and affordable price point (~$15), but also fellow winemakers. Within a year, more than a dozen small-scale, mostly natural-leaning winemakers from Oregon to Texas and Quebec to New York’s Finger Lakes, announced plans to release their own piquettes.
That figure is growing.
PHOTO COURTESY OF OLD WESTMINSTER WINERY
Where did piquette come from?
Derived from the French word for “prick” or “prickle,” which describes the drink’s slight fizz, piquette dates to ancient Greek and Roman times, when it was known as lora. Considered a cheap-to-produce drink made from the scraps of winemaking, it was given to slaves and field workers.
In France, piquette is said to have been the preferred drink of vineyard workers at the lunch table, as its low alcohol encouraged post-lunch productivity rather than an alcohol-fueled stupor. In Italy, piquette has various names including acqua pazza, acquarello and vinello.
While the style is tied closely with France, nearly all European winemaking countries have their own version of piquette, usually made and consumed by field workers and their families. Despite its working-class roots and deceptively simple recipe—just add water to pomace—modern piquette production comes with its fair share of challenges.
According to winemakers, bacterial infections can occur much more easily when the alcohol levels drop and the pH rises with the water addition. To combat this, many winemakers add a small amount of wine back into the tank. They also introduce honey or sugar before bottling to kick-start a second fermentation, which gives piquette a soft spritz.
Most producers ferment with wild yeast and spontaneous fermentation and don’t add sulfur. Alcohol levels tend to fall between 4–9% alcohol by volume. Because piquette involves the reuse of a byproduct that would normally be thrown out, winemakers often work with whatever grapes they have on hand from their traditional wines. Different varieties yield different results.
“[Piquette] fills the space where many people would drink beer,” says Christopher Missick, owner/winemaker of Bellangelo Winery (now Missick Cellars) off Seneca Lake in the Finger Lakes of NY. “I have had many people comment that our piquette is reminiscent of some of their favorite sour beers.”
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Michael Troy Nagy
Owner & Operator of Grape Expectations
WSET Level 3 Advanced Certification
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