In the hazy, dog-days of summer, heat-parched drinkers want thirst-quenching beverages that feel light and refreshing. Something that goes down easy during those long, sun-soaked hours. Crisp white wines, rosé, and sparklings have always been tried-and-true classics, but last summer saw hard seltzers like White Claw making an explosive entrance onto the summer drinking scene.
But we’re always looking for the next big thing to drink, and this summer, instead of choosing between hard bubbles and wine, there’s a happy medium: Piquette.
When the natural wine craze first kicked off, pétillant natural (or pet-nat) was the poster child bubbly for the movement, up serving chilled, funky bubbles for the hip #nattywine set. Now piquette is stepping up to the plate.
The perfect marriage of the natural wine and alcoholic fizzy drinks movements, piquette is actually not wine; it’s a “wine-like beverage” as Willamette Valley-based natural wine superstar label The Marigny labeled it on the brand’s just-released 2019 Piquette.
“It provides a cheap sparkling experience that still lives inside of a ‘natural’ realm,” says Andy Young, head winemaker of The Marigny and St. Reginald Parish. “I don’t consider this to be wine … I wanted it to be like fancy bubble water, a cross between fancy bubble water like La Croix and some sort of hard seltzer, and it does have kind of a sour beer-like quality.”
Unlike wine, which is made from the fermenting of grapes, piquette is made from pomace, the leftover seeds, pulp, and stems of grapes that have been mashed together from the initial pressing. Water is added to the pomace, which is bursting with natural yeast and sugars, driving fermentation that requires no added sulfur or fermentation agents. After maceration, the liquid is bottled to allow the fermentation (and resulting bubbles) to finish in the bottle. Like pet-nat, piquette is primarily bottled using crown caps.
The result is a light, effervescent, and low ABV drink that, depending on the type of grapes used for the pomace, can range in color from blushing rose to watery lemon. Similarly, tasting notes can widely vary, but the overall style is that of an acidic, tart bubbly. With each producer experimenting with different grape pomaces, each piquette vintage is different and unique in its own way, making for exciting, adventurous drinking.
For its first stab at piquette, The Marigny went with early-picked pinot noir grape pomace, originally picked as a base for sparkling wine, with a touch of pinot gris juice, then filtered (a departure from The Marigny’s famously cloudy vintages), producing a clear, light-tangerine liquid with a sharp, citrusy flavor profile and a dry finish. Demand is always high when The Marigny comes out with new vintages, and the recent release of the 2019 summer wines was no different; the piquette sold out within three minutes.
“I basically tried to make it as close to something that appealed to a broad audience as anything we’ve ever done,” says Young. “It’s supposed to be simple, it’s supposed to be fun.”
Although piquette is easier to make than pet-nat, there are still challenges, like the risk of runaway bacterial blooms ignited by low alcohol levels that can ruin an entire tank. Piquette makers of today generally head this off by adding honey or sugar to give the fermentation a natural kick, or by using smaller doses of water.
But while it’s just starting to catch our attention here, piquette has actually been around for centuries. It originally dates from ancient Greek and Roman times, when it was called lora. In Europe, piquette was favored by field laborers and farmers as a plentiful, affordable, and refreshing beverage, ideal for drinking at lunch so as not to be too tipsy during the afternoon work. Its name comes from the French “piquer,” meaning to prick, in reference to the sharp bubbles, but most European wine-producing countries have their own versions and names.
It was New York-based winemaker Todd Cavallo who got the ball rolling stateside at his Hudson Valley-based winery Wild Arc Farm, experimenting with the style in 2016 and then producing North America’s first commercial piquette in 2017. Other producers like Old Westminster Winery quickly caught on.
And although the piquette revival first kicked off on the East Coast, the West Coast is catching up fast, especially in Oregon wine country. In addition to The Marigny, Kramer Vineyards and Troon Vineyards have also released piquettes this summer, using Müller-Thurgau, Grüner Veltliner, Primitivo, Marsanne, and Tannat pomaces, respectively. A handful of others, like Little Crow and Johan Vineyards, also worked with piquette this year.
Another benefit of joining the Piquette Party is that they are inexpensive; generally, they retail between $15-25 a bottle, making them a total bargain and some of the most affordable natural wines out there. Some vineyards, like Old Westminster and Wild Arc Farm, have even bottled their piquettes in cans for easy portability and enjoyability; Young reports that The Marigny plans to do the same for next summer’s piquette.
With an attractive price point, fizzy, fruity bubbles that tickle the mouth and pucker the lips, and best served, as Young recommends, “Coca-Cola cold,” piquette is perfect for all manner of summer activities, from backyard barbecues to picnics to beach days.
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