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Bring on the Bubbly

Posted on Dec 23, 2019 in Wine , Sparkling Wine , Tom Ward , January–February 2020

2020 is here. The New Year! To mark the turn of the calendar, many of us set New Year’s resolutions. We celebrate by gathering with friends, family and loved ones. Sometimes we go to extravagant parties, host or attend get togethers, or we just stay in and mark it however we choose. One thing is for certain. It’s a new year, and inevitably, things will be different, even if it’s just getting used to writing that it’s now 2020.

I tend to celebrate with a party at my house with my friends and neighbors. I usually have bottles of Champagne for guests, and different levels of quality for different parts of the evening. I usually try to introduce people to different styles; vintage and non-vintage, Champagne and sparkling from other regions, dry and various levels of sweetness, varying price-points (the best is often reserved for myself and my significant other). This year I’m throwing a curveball. I’ll be introducing Pét-Nat — a different type of sparkling wine that has been growing in popularity over the past few years.

What makes Pét-Nat different from other types of sparkling wines is how it’s made. To shed some light on this, let’s look at the different methods of making sparkling wine. The first method, méthode champanoise, or traditional method, is how most sparkling wines are made. In this method, the wine is made traditionally, then it is put through a second fermentation in the bottle and is where it gets its bubbles. There is another method that is popular in very inexpensive wines where the wine is made and pumped with CO2 to give it its bubbles. You can tell the difference by the size of the bubbles. Tiny bubbles are indicative of the traditional method. Then there is Pét-Nat, or Pétillant-Naturel, which employs something completely different.

Pét-Nat uses a method that was being used prior to Champagne, called méthode ancestrale. Contrary to the “traditional method,” Pét-Nat utilizes a method where it is bottled before it finishes fermenting. The bubbles are produced by the carbon dioxide released as it finishes its fermentation. There are some lees (dead yeast cells) leftover when fermentation is completed and the CO2 has been produced. Sometimes they filter this out, sometimes they don’t. Lees can add an extra layer of complexity to the wine, so I am not opposed to the unfiltered style. Pét-Nat wines have been produced in the South of France since the 1600s when monks would make them. Today, they are being produced all over and are usually sustainably produced and often have little, to no, added sulfites. On a side note, where would we be without the monks making fermented beverages?

These wines are usually light and fizzy, and can be slightly sweet and low in alcohol, but there are an increasing number of dry ones being produced. They can be white or red as well. These wines are extremely variable and difficult to control with quite a bit of variety in this style of sparkling, and, as one would expect, requires quite a bit of experience and winemaking skill.

Some of my favorite examples of these wines can be found at Ji•Shi Ki•chn, right in the heart of Seaside. They have several examples that showcase the diversity of this style of sparkling. I will briefly touch on two of them. One is Weeping Juan, a rosé from Australia using vermentino and montepulciano grapes. It is yeasty, with sweet plum and cherry notes and lots of acidity. This wonderfully showcases the uniqueness and diversity of this style.

The other that I will touch on is J.Brix and is made from riesling grapes out of Santa Barbara, Calif. It is unfiltered and has no sulfites added. As someone that worked for a German wine producer and sold riesling all over the U.S. for years, I am a big fan of this grape. To see it produced in this manner is amazing and I’ve only experienced it once before when I was in Germany. They called it “new wine” and it was traditionally paired with a loaf of onion bread. Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it, as it was amazing.

Anytime is a good time to broaden your wine horizons and entertain new and exciting options for sparkling wines. Cheers!

Tom Ward ( is the owner and operator of ATL Vineyard Express wine tours in Atlanta, Ga. He has worked in the wine industry for more than 25 years and has his Wine and Spirits Education Trust (WSET) Level 2 certification.

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