If you’re one of those people who scans the sparkling wine and champagne list at every hip restaurant you visit, you’ve probably noticed a lot of biodynamic bubbly. If you’ve ordered one, hopefully you’ve been thrilled with the luxurious mouthfeel, exotic aromas and exuberant flavors.
What the list probably doesn’t tell you is that these wines often are made using a process called pétillant-naturel or pét nat for short. For me, it’s one of the most exciting, unpredictable and delicious styles of bubbly to drink right now.
A pét nat sparkling wine employs a minimal style of winemaking perfect for multi-taskers. It’s a one-step process that creates wine and adds bubbles at the same time. While the yeast is still eating sugar in the grape juice and producing alcohol and CO2 during the primary fermentation, the whole mixture is bottled. While fermentation happens inside the bottle, like with champagne, but the final wine is very different from the precise and controlled méthode champenoise.
That’s because with pét nat wines, the yeast, effervescence, aromas and flavors that develop stay inside the bottle until you get ready to disgorge and drink it. Also known as méthode ancestrale, this hands-off technique produces lively wines of such character that it’s been embraced by many biodynamic winemakers today.
I’m looking forward to trying more pét nat wines like the Johan Vineyards Melon de Bourgogne from Oregon — they also make a pét nat pinot noir rosé — at the Demeter International Biodynamic Wine Conference on May 6-7, 2018 in San Francisco. In the meantime, here are a couple of my favorites:
One night while making our way down Mississippi Street in Portland, we stopped at Olympia Oyster Bar. The wine list was overflowing with carefully sourced biodynamic and organic treasures. I loved all three sparkling wines, but the one that spoke to me was the biodynamic Mélaric Globules Rosés from the Loire. This cabernet franc wine delivered an intense explosion of wild strawberries, red plums, earth and toast that immediately reminded me of Billecart-Salmon Brut Rosé with a sauvage edge. The stunning thing is that the Mélaric delivers so much flavor and impact for right around $22 a bottle — a fraction of the Billecart-Salmon.
The next day, the next week, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. But when I went home, I couldn’t find it
anywhere. I sent plaintive emails starting with “AIDEZ MOI” to a handful retailers in France. But in the end, I located the wine at Corkscru, an indie wine importer and retailer in Portland run by a guy named Dan Beekley. He writes wonderful emails that evoke a sense of adventure and discovery. Read one and you’ll feel like you’re with him on a bicycle bumping down a dirt road in the Loire to meet a family and try their little handcrafted wine.
Aymeric and Mélanie Hillare, the duo behind Mélaric Globules Rosés live in the south Saumur, a beautiful region that’s a hotbed of biodynamic winemaking. They met studying viticulture at Montepelier and worked together at wineries in Bandol, Sauternes and Chinon. In 2006, they moved to the new appellation Saumur Puy Notre Dame, acquired vineyards and started making wine.
The Mélaric isn’t listed on the Corkscru website, but call and they’ll be happy to send you a bottle or six.
I met Sarah and her husband Guy a few years ago at a picnic during the Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival. The dinner line was moving slooowly and Sarah has a big smile, so we started talking. I learned that her dad, Kurt Schoeneman owned the acclaimed Ferrington Vineyard, which supplies pinot noir and chardonnay grapes to Williams Selyem for a vineyard designate bottling, along with Poe and Schramsberg’s J. Davies brand, among others.
We’d been out of touch for a while when we reconnected by email, and Guy told me about their family winery called Fathers and Daughters. Their first bubbly is a chardonnay blanc de blancs made in the pet nat style. It’s a slightly wild form of bubbly, since the yeast does its thing and stays in the bottle until you decide to carefully chill the bottle, open it and drink it.
I almost don’t have words to describe this wine. It was a multi-sensory experience, starting with my heart racing a bit as as I got ready to disgorge in the kitchen sink. I followed the instructions to get it really cold first , so when I uncapped it over the kitchen sink, so I didn’t lose much.
Aromas ranged from fresh golden apples to peanuts to white flowers. The wine had a beautiful mousse like a fluffy meringue. At times it tasted like chardonnay, other times it was like drinking a dry cider or an aromatic wheat beer.
It felt like the wine was alive — which is part of the joy of pét nat wines.