Bubbles in your wine is the epitome of class, style and money in the bank. You think I’m wrong? Pull up Juicy by The Notorious B.I.G. on Youtube and don’t act like the lyric “Now we sip Champagne when we thirsty” doesn’t make him sound like a baller.
For starters, Champagne is notoriously (ha) expensive, but there’s also something about a little sparkle in your glass that just feels fancy. “Ah yes, fetch me a glass of bubbly good sir!” Alright, you get the point.
Of course, it’s important to note that not all sparkling wines are created equally, or even using the same techniques. Which brings us to the topic of this next blog post: Pétillant Naturel (aka Pét-Nat.)
A quick note before we dive into the world of Pét-Nats, Champagne is not synonymous with the sparkling wine category. A bottle labeled Champagne must come from the Champagne region of France, and, as we learned from the previous post, must follow the strict rules of the AOC regarding the grapes and techniques used in a Champagne’s production. So that $5 bottle you found at Ralph’s on the bottom row of the sparkling section? Most likely not Champagne.
The Haps on the Pét-Nat
Pétillant Naturel, which directly translates to “Natural Sparkling,” is a type of sparkling wine that existed long before Champagne made its grand debut. And yet, just like skin-contact and natural wines, Pét-Nats are just now experiencing a resurgence of popularity in the wine world, and vintners everywhere are getting in on the action.
Pét-Nats are made using the Méthode Ancestral — a winemaking technique that involves bottling and capping partially fermented wine. As wine ferments, the wild yeast living on the grape skins eats the sugars within the grape and converts it into alcohol and carbon dioxide (CO2.) When wine is bottled and capped in the midst of fermentation, the wine will complete its fermentation in the bottle, thereby trapping the resulting CO2. The CO2 will eventually be absorbed into the wine as bubbles and voilà, you have yourself a Pét-Nat.
Pét-Nat v Champagne
So that’s one way to make sparkling wine. But just to make sure we’re all knowledgeable and smarter than our friends, let’s touch quickly on the Méthode Traditionnelle aka how to make Champagne.
There’s a reason why Champagne is so expensive. Compared to the Méthode Ancestral, the Méthode Traditionnelle is a real doozy. The first step is making still wine, which is wine that goes through one full round of fermentation (i.e. every other bottle of wine that isn’t sparkling.) The next step is bottling that regular ol’ drinkin’ wine and triggering a second fermentation through the addition of sugar and yeast. This will produce CO2 and spent yeast cells, or lees, within the bottle. The lees are collected in the neck of the bottle and later removed. So what I’m saying is, you get what you pay for effort-wise.
Wine of the Week: 2017 Oyster River Winegrowers Morphos Pét-Nat
Oyster River Winegrowers’ Morphos is the Pét-Nat I always recommend to people looking to dip their toe into the Pét-Nat jaccuzi (get it, bubbles.) The first glass will make you go “sweet baby jesus, that’s fresh!” and the second glass (there is always a second glass with the Morphos) will slowly reveal the layers of flavor hidden under the bubbles. I am (mostly) not embarrassed to admit that I have sipped this wine straight from the bottle. You could call the Morphos a breakfast wine. Or maybe a brunch wine, that’s probably more acceptable.
Oyster River Winegrowers
Brian Smith, the winemaker extraordinaire behind the Morphos, is all about pre-industrial winemaking techniques. Though his farm is in Maine, he uses zero refrigeration in the summer and farm-harvested wood for gentle heating in the winter. He sees himself as “nature’s assistant” in the winemaking process, with means he will neither add nor taketh away anything to and from his fruit. His Pét-Nats are unfiltered and contain no sulfites, and everything he produces is hyper organic and sustainable. This is natural wine at it’s best, my farmers market loving friends. It’s practically basically almost sort of totally indefinitely 100 percent good for you! And that’s why I call it a breakfast wine.
If you’re still slightly confused about what this Pét-Nat will be like, let’s go a little deeper. The Morphos comprises of 50% Cayuga and 50% Seyval — two hybrid grapes popular in the US. These grapes are known to produce wines that are crisp, semi-dry and lightly fruity with hints of citrus. The Morphos is released immediately after bottling at the peak of it fruitiness, but will age nicely into more yeasty, toasty aromas, according to the producer. Don’t be nervous if you pour a glass and it seems cloudy with weird sediment floating about — that’s the yeast! Natural is cool people, you heard it here first.
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