Living dangerously. Iago opens his first sparkling wine
Natural wine aficionados will no doubt be familiar with the term “Pét Nat” which is short for Pétillant Natural, a style of sparkling wine otherwise known as Methode Ancestrale, a traditional style of sparkling wine production that dates back centuries, a style of wine that is becoming more and more popular at natural wine fairs throughout Europe. As natural wine producers from Georgia have been attending these fairs for a number of years, it was only a matter of time before this style of wine should make a debut in the homeland of wine itself. Just as the foreign influence of female wine makers on Georgian wine has produced a new generation of women in wine, Georgians are embracing this Pet Nat style and making great wines. Georgians have a special and notable talent for maintaining tradition while progressively working towards the future. Wine is about people and communication, and it is exciting that a country with an 8000+ year wine history is open to the influence of wine styles from across the globe.
Pétillant Natural wines are sparkling wines that have been made for centuries in Europe and are often refereed to as farmhouse sparkling wine. It is a very simple style of wine making that results in deliciously fresh and lightly sparkling wines, perfect for what meteorologists are predicting will be Europe’s hottest summer since the deadly 2003. The basic method is allowing the wine to ferment normally, but before fermentation is completed vignerons bottle the wine while there are still sugars that haven’t fermented yet, and fermentation continues in the closed bottle. The reconditioning in the bottle creates CO2 that has nowhere to escape and voila! Bubbles! Usually wine makers choose to leave the yeast in the bottle (often labeled sur lie), so these wines are often not as clear as their more commercial cousins Champagne and Prosecco. Unlike the Champagne method or Charmat method produced sparkling wines, no additional yeasts or sugars are added. Fermentation is completed in the bottle.
I have witnessed the reemergence of this very natural style of sparkling wine production at many of the natural wine fairs in recent years. Every year there are more producers making them. I secretly wished that a producer in Georgia would make one from wine made in qvevri, and as luck would have it, it happened and quite recently. My first tasting of a qvevri made Pet Nat was at Iago’s Winery in Chardakhi in December, 2014. It was made from the chinuri grape from the 2014 harvest. When I tasted it, it was just a little more than a month old, so it was still fermenting and quite sweet. Much more similar to a vino novella than wine, but as Iago is a meticulously clean wine maker, I knew the wine had a great potential. A few months later, I found myself in Tbilisi where I ended up at a tasting/party of Swiss wines and Georgian wines with various wine makers and wine lovers from Georgia at Vino Underground and was introduced to more Pet Nat style wines by my friend Malkhaz Jackelli of Jackelli Wines. My interest was piqued. Who was the first to make wines in the style in Georgia? Who was making the initial wine in qvevri? Which Georgian grapes were best suited for sparkling wine production? I was to be in Tbilisi again one month later, so with the help of my friend Ramaz at Vino Underground, we organized a tasting of these wines and all my questions would be answered while I tasted the wines and spoke with the wine makers.
It turns out that a French man by the name of Vincent Jullien was the first to make Pétillant Natural wine in Georgia. He was at the tasting and was a delightful addition to our group of wine lovers and vignerons. He was charming and an obviously well integrated foreign addition to the natural wine movement in Georgia. I asked him why he wanted to make a Pet Nat in Georgia and he said he wanted to be able to make a wine with zero added sulfites. With grapes from Ateni, a region with limestone soils that create wines high in acidity that is perfect for both sparkling wine and natural wine.
We started the tasting with two Pet Nats I brought from Italy then moved onto three Georgians. There are currently four producers making this style in Georgia and we got to taste four of them. Three at Vino Underground and one at Iago’s a couple of days later. Two were made from qvevri wine and the other two were made in stainless steel. All were well made and very pleasant to drink, and I hope to see them in the western markets soon. On a personal level I really enjoyed the earthy quality the qvevri imparted on the wines, and I learned that every Georgian wine I like doesn’t have to be an orange wine. I have come to prefer wine made from the Chinuri grape without skin contact.
- Okro’s Wine, Mtsvane-Jon Okruashvili of Okro’s Wine was the first of this new generation of vignerons to make a qvevri pet nat. We tasted his Mtsvane, but I have also tasted his Rkatsiteli. John crushed the grapes and started fermentation in qvevri and then after 14 or 15 days when the brix level reached 2.5, he bottled it for fermentation. Golden apples, toasty notes, earthiness with racy acidity and bubbles that danced on the tongue. It was well rounded and well balanced.
- Jakelli, Chinuri and Mtsvane Goruli-Malkhaz is more well known for his delightfully wonderful Saperavi, but his Pet Nat is certainly a wine to look out for. It is made with 60% Chinuri and 40% Goruli Mtsvane. He fermented in tanks until the brix level reached 2 and then bottled for reconditioning the bottle. There is no skin contact, so this is a well made white wine with a tropical nose, ripe apples and minerality, a really enjoyable wine for the summer. I hope it is on the market soon.
- Art Villa Garikula, Chinuri and Mtsvane Goruli-Vincent Jullien is a French man who married a Georgian women and is the man responsible for bringing the pét nat craze to Georgia. Like Malkhaz he makes his with a Chinuri/Goruli blend in Ateni. Made in steel tanks and then reconditioned in the bottle and disgorged, so his wine is not sur lie (on the yeasts). It was the most elegant of the four wines, with more of a suggestion of must aroma and citrus. On the palate it had just the slightest residual sugar that danced on the tongue. A truly well made wine.
- Iago’s Winery, Chinuri- I tasted this wine back in December when Ettore and I visited, so the reconditioning the bottle was not yet completed and the wine was still more on the grape juice side than wine. On a more recent day trip to Kartli, our final winery stop was at Iago’s winery where we tasted a number of his wines including his now gorgeous 100% Chinuri pét nat. This wine was like drinking a song. Iago made the wine without skin contact in the qvevri and when the wine reached about 2 or 3 brix he bottled it. Really well balanced, fresh and toasty notes, with a firm earthiness that I have come to associate with wine made in qvevri.
Thank you so much to Ramaz Nikoladze and Malkhaz Jackelli for answering my countless messages on Facebook about how pét nats are made. It took a tasting in Georgia for me to finally comprehend. Thanks so much Ramaz for setting up this tasting! Thanks to all the vignerons for sharing their wine expertise. It was a wonderful and informative evening.
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