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Think of piquette like the session beer of the wine world. It’s fun, fizzy, and has a low percentage of alcohol by volume. Piquette’s rise in popularity is tied, in part, to the natural wine movement, but the style has a unique story of its own.
On this episode of “Wine 101,” VinePair’s tastings director Keith Beavers introduces listeners to the up-and-coming style of wine. There’s some interesting information out there about the style, including the meaning behind piquette’s name, how it got its reputation, and the re-fermentation process used to make it, to name a few. Beavers breaks it all down for “Wine 101” listeners.
Tune in to Episode 8 of the bonus season of “Wine 101” to learn more about piquette.
OR CHECK OUT THE CONVERSATION HERE
Keith Beavers: My name is Keith Beavers. I’m just going to say it: “The Wheel of Time” is better than any other fantasy novel series ever to be written.
What’s going on, wine lovers? Welcome to Episode 8 of VinePair’s “Wine 101” podcast. This is the bonus season. My name is Keith Beavers. I am the tastings director of VinePair. How are you doing?
OK, we’ve got to talk about this thing called piquette. You may have heard of it. You may not have, but it’s coming. It’s around. If it’s going to be around, you should probably know what it is. Let’s just bang it out of the park.
Every once in a while, the wine world will throw a curveball at you. It seems like, since the organic movement started in the late 1990s and early 2000s, we’ve seen a big evolution in styles of wine. We’re at a point right now where we’re hitting a peak and then a plateau of that movement. Some of these wines out there are a little bit confusing. There’s the term “natural wine,” which is extremely confusing to everyone. There’s the orange wine thing, which we covered already. There’s this thing called pét-nat, or pétillant natural, which we’ll talk about in another episode.
Another wine style word that’s been floating around lately is called piquette. It’s becoming sort of popular. You can find it mostly in city wine shops in urban environments like New York, San Francisco, Pittsburgh, and places like that. It’s working its way around the country. But, what is piquette? It’s not a grape. It’s not a region. What is this? It’s a style. We should talk about piquette, because if you’re going to see it around, you’re going to want to know what it’s about. Then, you’re going to want to make your own decision of, “Am I going to drink piquette?” Let’s get into it.
OK, technically the word piquette means “prickle.” We know how wine is made. Grapes are pressed and put into a vat. That’s called the must. Yeast has entered into the situation. Yeast converts to alcohol. Then, we have wine. We draw the new wine off of the organic material. That organic material is now called pomace. This is going all the way back to the first season here. Often, the pomace is used for a couple of things. Sometimes it’s used as fertilizer or compost, to go back into the agricultural side of winemaking. Sometimes it is distilled — especially in Italy — to make a brandy-like wine called grappa. It’s also made into soaps and stuff like that.
There’s one other thing you can do with pomace. This is the stuff that has a whisper of what the wine is. It has nuances of what that wine that was just made is. It doesn’t have the full flavor of it, though. If you were to add water to that pomace, once the pomace is soaked with water, you do another pressing. You’re basically pressing the remnants of what was mixed into the water, and then that can be refermented, whether with ambient yeast or yeast added. What you get is very thin, lean, and has almost neutral hints of fruit. It’s a bubbly wine. What’s happening is that fermentation is happening all over again, but it’s happening at a very low rate. You bottle that, and you can even let it finish fermenting in the bottle and put a crown cap on it. I don’t want to say that what you have is a watered down version of the wine that was made, even though that’s literally what it is. You add water to the pomace and referment. It’s this very juicy, fun, low-alcohol wine. We’re talking 4 to maybe 9, at the highest, percentage alcohol. That’s basically it.
These are made with red and white grapes. Let’s say you have a pomace of Cab Franc and you soak it, referment it, and make this slightly fizzy, bubbly wine. You’re still going to get some fruit flavor and some of the pyrazine-y, peppery notes from that. It’s going to be lean. It’s almost what Jedi Wine Master Jancis Robinson calls vinous. Imagine doing it with a white wine grape where you don’t really get maceration, color, or any of those phenolics. Often, when you drink a white wine that’s been aged or fermented in stainless steel, you’re getting whatever that wine wants to give you without any influence of oak or anything else. It’s giving you as much as it can give you. When you make a piquette from white wine grapes, you are getting just an almost slightly fruity, more neutral, fizzy drink. It’s a fizzy drink. It’s not even really wine, technically.
This is where it gets very interesting, and this is also where it gets really confusing. I think this is pretty fascinating. I was actually reading an article from The New York Times from 1976. This article was about the new French wines that were coming onto the American market. What was interesting about that is that they weren’t talking about Burgundy, Bordeaux, Champagne, and all these legendary wines that we know from France. They were talking about how France was starting to import their lower-price, more affordable wines into the U.S. When the journalist was writing this article, they wanted us to know that, just because the wine was not legendary from these places like Bordeaux and Burgundy, it could still be good wine. It was very interesting because as we know now, that’s absolutely true. Of course, there’s wines from all different price points from France that are great on the American market. In 1976, it was just starting to come on. For the journalists to differentiate good, affordable French wine from what we in the United States sometimes called plonk — or low-quality wine — they referred to that low-quality wine as piquette. I found that very interesting.
I looked around and found that the word piquette has often, throughout history in France, been used to describe wines that are low-quality, meaning just not the best of the best. I went even further back. You could even go back into antiquity. You can go into the Roman era, where they had a wine they made that was of this style. They called it lorca. What I find really crazy is that this piquette style — or lorca — was reserved for slaves, farm workers, and women. The reason I say that is because, in antiquity, those three titles were lesser than the Roman men. That’s just the way it was. It has this connotation throughout history of a “lesser-than” wine.
I also found out that the word piquette is French, of course, but the EU does not allow the sale or export of any wine labeled piquette. I went online and started looking for wines imported from France that are piquette. I found none. All I found was piquette from California, Michigan, Oregon, Texas, Virginia, Maryland, and Vermont. They’re calling it piquette. I think what’s going on here is that we, as an American winemaking society, have adopted the word piquette. In this organic, biodynamic, “natural wine” movement, there is this move to get the most out of a winemaking process. The word piquette, meaning prickle or prickly, worked for the American winemaker. It worked for them to say “Oh, we’re going to call it piquette because it’s a little bit prickly and a little bit fizzy.” Maybe “lorca” was just too ancient. I don’t know.
I actually did see one on the American market from Slovenia. I find that pretty interesting. Slovenia is calling it “piquette” as well. The term has become so popular with this style of wine, but one thing to understand about piquette is that there are no real rules. There’s no appellations. There’s no government anywhere, saying anything, except for “Don’t sell it if you’re in the EU”
What this is is a fun thing. It’s something fun that winemakers do to get the most out of their agriculture. They could do the other things that people do with pomace. They can distill it. They can make it into soaps. They can use it for agriculture and all that. They can do that after they make the piquette, too, but they try to just get the most out of the wine.
They’re often going to be in Burgundy-style bottles. These are bottles that look like a Pinot Noir bottle. They’re going to always have crown caps on them because they’re fizzy, but not so fizzy that they have as much pressure in them as a sparkling wine. It’s going to have the fizziness of a beer, almost. You pop it up, it makes a “tss” sound, and it’s done. Speaking of beer, because it’s a new and playful category that is on the modern wine market, you’re going to notice the labels are very playful as well. The beer world is going through a very colorful design phase for their labels, and it seems like the piquette category is also having fun with it.
When you listen to the Champagne or sparkling wine episode, you realize how much work and effort goes into making wine out of something like that, with that kind of pressure, time, and labor-intensive stuff that is required to make not only Champagne, but other sparkling wines around the world, like Cava. This is not that. You’re not going through a labor-intensive process to create subtle complexities. You’re not doing very critical things in the vineyard or in the winery to make sure that this particular style of wine has a legacy to it. This is literally something fun to do.
Wines like Champagne and Cava are made with such care that, while you’re drinking the wine — just like any other wine — it does evolve as you’re drinking it. Also, these wines age. Piquettes do not age. They’re not complex. They’re not age-worthy. They might as well be in the cooler with the beer. They’re fun and fruity. Sometimes, they’re not fruity. That’s a hit or miss depending on who you get it from. Piquette isn’t really about having the conversation of, “Hey, guys, this is the new style of wine. It’s going to have a legacy on the American market.” That’s not what it is. The beer world has these things called session beers. They’re low-alcohol beers. You can drink multiple cans or drafts of them, get together with friends, not get too crazy, and be able to get home and all that. It feels like this is the wine world’s answer to session beers. Sometimes, piquettes come in cans.
That’s what it is. We are on a wine journey, and we are looking to explore all kinds of different things. Piquette is just one of those fun things to explore. You don’t need to collect piquette. It’s not going to be a “thing,” but it’s going to be a fun thing. Either you’re going to enjoy it, or you’re not going to enjoy it. You’re going to dig the fact that it’s just light, fizzy, and fun, or you’re going to feel like you’re not getting enough and it’s not really what you’re looking for.
Just like orange wine, every piquette is different. One you’re going to like. One you’re not going to like. You may not like any of them. It’s just this new thing playing around in the wine world. I don’t know how long it’s going to last. It’s probably going to be around for a while. It’s kind of being promoted as a skin-contact wine, and that’s not necessarily true. It technically is skin contact, but you’re actually just re-fermenting water and whatever you can press out of the pomace.
That’s just about it. If I keep on talking about piquette, I’ll keep repeating myself. We’ve got the gist of it. I wanted to do this episode because I wanted you guys to know what you’re looking at when you see it in a wine shop and know what you’re enjoying when you enjoy it.
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And now, for some totally awesome credits. “Wine 101” was produced, recorded, and edited by yours truly, Keith Beavers, at the VinePair headquarters in New York City. I want to give a big ol’ shout-out to co-founders Adam Teeter and Josh Malin for creating VinePair. Big shout-out to Danielle Grinberg, the art director of VinePair, for creating the most awesome logo for this podcast. Also, Darbi Cicci for the theme song. Listen to this. And I want to thank the entire VinePair staff for helping me learn something new every day. See you next week.
Ed. note: This episode has been edited for length and clarity.