It’s Natural, It’s Fizzy, It’s Pet Nat (not to be confused with Pet Gnats)

SaberTime

Looking for more bubbly wines to saber? Pet Nat! Try it with a meat cleaver.

No time is a bad time for a glass full of bubbly wine (ok, maybe when operating heavy machinery). Two weeks ago, Williamsburg wine shop Vine Wine, known for its carefully selected natural, organic, and biodynamic wines, dedicated five days to celebrating a niche category of fizz owner Talitha Whidbee believes deserves more consumer recognition: Pet Nat. Although the official celebration has concluded, she keeps shelves stocked year-round with a slew of bubbly options. (See suggestions below).

Pet Nat is short for Pétillant Naturel, and refers to a rustic style of sparkling wine made in the Methode Ancestrale, a term that pretty much sums up the history of the technique: it’s old. Used centuries ago in Europe, the method was nearly abandoned with the advent of commercial yeast, refrigeration, and the pursuit of aesthetics, i.e., crystal clear wines. But modern winemakers with an experimental streak and natural winemaking tendencies have resurrected the practice, applying it to a range of varieties from Chardonnay to Gamay.

To make traditional method sparkling wine such as Champagne, a producer begins by bottling a base wine that has been fermented fully dry. To kick off a second fermentation in the bottle, sugar and yeast are added, and the formation of tiny, prized bubbles begins.  Once the yeast have finished working, the dead cells, or lees, are removed from the bottle through the process of riddling and disgorgement, after which a dosage (sugar and wine) may be added to sweeten it to the house style or winemaker’s taste, before closing again with cork and a wire cage.

Pet Nat, on the other hand, generally doesn’t utilize any additions to the wine, thus its appeal to natural winemakers. The fermentation of the wine starts in a tank with native yeast (as opposed to the addition of commercial yeast); before all the natural sugars have been converted into alcohol, however, the juice is transferred to a bottle to finish fermentation. The lees may be left inside rather than disgorged, so the resulting wines are softly fizzy, tend to be lower in alcohol, frequently have residual sugar, and if the spent yeast is left behind, cloudy.

Although the production method sounds rudimentary, Pet Nat is not the kind of wine a commercially-minded producer makes because results are too unpredictable for the mainstream market. Pet Nat’s become the darling of sommeliers looking for new things to saber and adventurous drinkers who find beauty, akin to a snowflake, in the variability that comes with each bottle.

To talk Pet Net, we tracked down owner of Vine Wine and founder of Pet Nat Week Talitha Whidbee (this year was its second season), to find out why she loves this style of sparkling and which producers really dazzle her palate.

PetNat

How did you come to dedicate a week of tastings to Pet Nat?

I have always felt that Pet Nat is both underexposed and a much larger category than the consumer thinks.  By holding a weeklong tasting event, Vine is able to showcase all of the various styles that are made.  I also happen to be a fan of Bastille Day and what better way to celebrate that holiday than with low alcohol sparkling wine?

Who are some of your favorite producers and why?

Every year my list of favorite producers changes since there is such a difference in the wines from year to year.  Consistently I have found myself drinking Pascal Pibaleau’s La Perlette — this is probably the first Pet Nat I ever tried. Made from Gamay and Grolleau, this wine is earthy and full of wild strawberries, and the most delightful pink color.  Les Capriades is another favorite of mine, this year they have released a Pet-Sec which is almost all Chenin Blanc and is dry and focused with an almost salty quality that is sooooo refreshing this time of year. I am a huge fan of Pet Nat made from Ploussard and currently am enjoying the Noct’en Bulles from La Combe aux Reves: it is under 10% alcohol, has tons of bright fruit, and just enough funk to make it interesting.  Finally, I have to mention that for the first time in the history of Vine, we will have two Pet Nats from the Finger Lakes and a total of six from America.  When I started Pet Nat week, I don’t think we had one from America. It is really exciting to see more American winemakers making Pet Nat.

Why should consumers consider this alternative style of sparkling?

Aside from the obvious reason that it is always the right time to drink sparkling wine, the joy of Pet Nat is that you really get a chance to taste something that is made from passion to express the winemaker’s style.  Given how difficult it is to bottle, and the risk involved in making something as unstable as Pet Nat, it seems to me a great way to get to “know” a winemaker.  I think there is something also inherently joyous about drinking it, and since it comes in so many styles there really is one for every consumer.

A few eclectic bottle suggestions  (tastings notes provided by Chase Granoff of Indie Wineries):

Vincent Caille’s X Bulles
“100% Pet Nat Muscadet aka Melon de Bourgogne!
A delicious dry Pet Nat with the salinity you would expect from Muscadet and just a touch of yeast.” chasegranoff
Paolo Brunello’s Val di Spin
“I love this blend of Garganega, Glera and Pinella! It takes it’s name, Val di Spin, from the wild valley that the Garganega grows in. Naturally re-fermented “sur lie” in the bottle aka Pet Nat aka delicious!” chasegranoff
Uroš Rojac’s Royaz 
“I had the pleasure of meeting the wild man Uroš recently. He is a whirlwind of energy and some of that ends up in this unfiltered, undisgorged, Zero S02 Pet Nat of Refosk and and bit of Syrah. Fresh strawberries and funk.” chasegranoff

Vine Wine, 616 Lorimer Street, 718-349-1718

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NYC EVENT: Death by German Riesling and Other Musings, Led by Paul Grieco

terroir
NEW YORKER ALERT!!
(or anyone willing to drive/fly/bike/run/skateboard to get in on small-group action with Paul Grieco):
Next Wednesday, July 30th from 7-8 p.m.,  Terroir Murray Hill is offering an “awesome, super affordable German Riesling tasting.”
The Terroir folks are still doped up on the natural high of Germany’s World Cup win, so to celebrate, legendary Paul Grieco, will host a tasting of eight Rieslings, from dry to sweet, for only $34.
Get yer tickets here and preview the wines here (hint: it’s the same link).
Terroir Murray Hill, 439 Third Avenue (30th-31st Streets), wineisterroir.com, @terroirny

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Postcard from Anderson Valley, California

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View from the apple drier cottage at Goldeneye Winery, Anderson Valley, Mendocino, CA

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Skip the Caipirinhas, Drink Brazilian Wine During the World Cup

BrazilianWinesSaltonorig

Brazilian wines sweating with the rest of us at a World Cup match

Brazil. Quick: what springs to mind first?

FIFA World Cup, Rio Carnival, postcard-pretty beaches, oversized rainforest insects, and unlimited amounts of sizzling skewered meat served tableside? Or perhaps caipirinhas and cachaça, Capoeira, or the upcoming 2016 Olympics?

Of the hundreds of thought permutations possible, few likely included Brazilian wines. That is slated to change.

Last year, Wine Enthusiast declared Brazil a top wine destination for travelers. This year, the World Cup has helped spotlight the Brazilian wine industry. According to Cassie Hitchner of Countertop Wine Collection, an NYC wine importer and distributor who carries Brazilian producer Vinicola Salton in her portfolio, her clients have exhibited greater interest in Brazil than wines from classic European regions. “Everyone wants to taste Brazilian wines right now,” she said.

World Cup attendees can sip on Brazilian wine while watching the fútbol matches, too. Lidio Carraroa, a respected producer of still and sparkling wines, beat out larger rivals for the coveted opportunity to be the official wine supplier of the Cup. Curiously, the brand characterizes itself as “boutique” and espouses dedication to “preserve [sic] the authenticity of each grape variety, each terroir” but then doubled its production to meet the demand requirements of the event, including creating a new line of easy, approachable wines with “global appeal,” as reported in Decanter.

Where do Brazil’s wines come from? Most of the country’s viticultural pursuits occur near the Argentinean border in the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul; the area accounts for nearly 90 percent of the country’s production. Within Rio Grande do Sul, the most developed and important region is Serra Gaúcha within which lies the country’s first Denominación de Origen, the sub-region of Vale dos Vinhedos, awarded in 2001 for Merlot and Chardonnay. (The system of Origin Indication is modeled off of Europe and imposes restrictions on yields and grape varieties within a notable, delimited geographical area).

Despite Brazil’s deep Portuguese heritage, Italian immigrants who settled in the region in the 1800s founded the wine industry. True modernization and expansion started in the 1970s, particularly with the arrival of Moët et Chandon upon its recognition of the area’s potential for sparkling wine. The company built its own facility to produce fizz from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay for the local market. Other important names have invested in the region, and famed “flying winemaker” Michele Rolland has been retained by the Miolo Wine Group to produce high-quality still and sparkling wines.

Although Brazil’s core wine production has been in Serra Gaúcha, acclaimed wine journalist Jancis Robinson and co-author of World Atlas of Wine, 7th Edition, Hugh Johnson, question whether the soil and climate are optimal for the finest expression of vitis vinifera. They observe that “rainfall is exceptionally and inconveniently high and soils tend to drain poorly,” explaining why a preponderance of rot and mildew resistant hybrid grapes, like Isabel, are grown. They note that important producers “have been moving south, developing the Campanha region on the Uruguayan border and neighboring Serra do Sudeste with their drier climate, longer days, and less fertile granite and limestone soils.” Sounds like a promising region to follow over the next several years.

Although the U.S. is an important and leading export market for Brazil, and the last two years saw slight export growth; the wines still remain elusive to consumers (and wine journalists hoping to review them). Fortunately, I was introduced to Ms. Hitchner, who provided samples of her Vinicola Salton collection, which are available in NYC.

Vinicola Salton proclaims to be the first winery in Brazil, celebrating over 100 years of continuous production since the company was officially established in 1910, by…Italian immigrants. Brothers Paulo, Ângelo, João, José, Cézar, Luiz, and Antônio formalized the business started by their father, Antonio Domenico Salton, an amateur winemaker (like most Italian immigrants who arrived at the time).

I received four samples: a dry sparkler; a semi-sweet white blend of Gewürztraminer, Malvasia, and Moscato; a Pinot Noir; and an older 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot/Tannat blend.

For those who don’t mind — or prefer — a touch of residual sugar in their wine, the 11.3 percent alcohol NV Salton Flowers makes a lovely, summer aperitif with aromatics of a blooming garden and warm baked peaches.

However, of the four wines, the NV Traditional Salton Brut sparkling for $15, a blend of Chardonnay and Riesling, surprised me most with its satisfying, consistent bubbles (despite being made in the charmat method) and attractive, crisp flavors of green apple and citrus.

It’s a fine effort that I would be pleased to bring to a party — or the next World Cup match. Fortunately, both the U.S. and Brazil squeaked into the next round of play, so I’ll be watching with a glass of Brazilian bubbles in hand.

Where to Buy: 
Alphabet City Wine Co. (carries all four wines),100 Avenue C, 212-505-9463
Astor Wines 399 Lafayette Street, 212-674-7500

Where to Try: 
Fogo de Chao 40 West 53rd Street, 212-969-9980
Calle Ocho 45 West 81st Street, 212-873-5025
The Fourth 132 Fourth Avenue 212-432-1324

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Postcard: Hallstatt, Austria

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Hallstatt, Austria

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Two Wine Blog Award Nominations! Voting Open

I’ve been quiet on the blog front over the last few weeks due to my WSET Diploma Unit 3 exam studies which morphed into a full-time job for about three weeks. The day after my exam (12 blind wines and 3-hours of theory) I departed for Austria where I currently sit and write this post.

I came to attend the fantastic Vie Vinum Wine Fair, a spectacular event of 500+ Austrian producers and their global fine wine counterparts. Today will be the fourth day of attending, and I’ve only conquered 8% of the wines and regions. One really needs two weeks to do this properly, but I digress.

VieVinum

While in Austria, I found out I had been nominated as a finalist for two wine blog awards this year. You may recall I won Best New Wine Blog last year. This year, I am up for Best Blog Post of the Year for my coverage of the struggles facing the Turkish wine industry and preserving Turkey’s indigenous grapes, and also Best Writing on a Blog. I’d love your support if you agree with the nominations.

You can vote here:
You’ll find my blog listed in the first category, Best Blog Post:
and the seventh category, Best Writing:

I’ll leave you with a postcard shot from the vineyards of Vienna, looking back at the city. Yes, Austria is the only city in the world with a city-owned winery and vineyards within the city limits (that make very good wine).

WienVineyards

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How Do I Drink, Shoot, and Eat My Way Around the World?

I  was asked to share a few secrets, so I did.

The saying “it takes a lot of great beer to make great wine” should be amended for a writer to: “it takes a lot of great coffee and tea to write a good story on beer and wine.” Booze and writing share a very small window of compatibility; I’ve found quality caffeine makes a better companion to prose.

Last week in Vancouver, I addressed the British Columbia Association of Travel Writers  as the keynote speaker at their 2014 symposium on The Taste of Travel: Describing and Photographing Food and Wine.

The full-day affair was held at the River Rock Casino (no, I didn’t sneak into the gaming area and bet it all on black, although I fantasize about doing that one day). The symposium featured a photo seminar by pro Craig Minielly and a beer, wine, and spirits tasting panel, along with my speech on how the heck I drink, shoot, and eat my way around the globe without being fat, broke, and lonely. I didn’t have great insights for the latter three (hotel gym!?), but could address the former trio of topics.

I spoke for 52 minutes, touching on the evolution of my wine and travel writing career: why I exchanged a soul-crushing job in the legal profession for one in the also thankless, and much less lucrative industry of writing.  The answer? I get to uncover and share what I find most fascinating in life: how culture is reflected through the lens of drink, and through the few lenses I’ve acquired for my Canon 70D. I also gave practical tips on what has helped me such as blogging, improving my photography, and networking.

Since jumping into the world of wine journalism, I’ve expanded my beverage repertoire to include coffee, tea, and beer  — they share fascinating similarities, and I’ve found that in general, a culture that respects one, will respect them all.

Dip into the video of my speech for a few minutes or the full 52; perhaps you’ll glean a few insights or relate to my experiences.  If you’ve got a story or suggestion to share, please comment — your ideas can only help propel me along my endless journey to touch every corner of our beverage loving planet.

 

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