Welcome to Ask a Somm, a column in which experts from across the country answer questions about wine. Today’s installment: What comes after skin-contact wine?
While keeping up with the trends that abound in the world of wine is an endless task for a consumer, no one is as responsible for that upkeep as the sommeliers, beverage directors, and wine shop staffers constantly fielding queries about what to drink right now. And what’s everyone been sipping lately? Well, if you ask those very wine professionals, it’s skin-contact — or “orange” — wine; that’s white wine made like red wine, where the grape skins remain in contact with the juice for days or even months.
Skin contact is the new pét-nat (sparkling wine that’s made by taking still-fermenting wine and letting it complete fermentation in the bottle), which was the new rosé at its prime. So, what comes next, trend-wise, after skin contact?
“People are all over piquette lately,” says Philadelphia-based sommelier and Eater Young Gun Kaitlyn Caruke (‘18). Miguel de Leon, the general manager and wine director of New York’s Pinch Chinese, agrees. “The wine is never too precious nor expensive,” says de Leon. “It provides a happy medium.”
Piquette is technically not wine, as it’s not made from fermented grapes; instead, it’s made by adding water to grape pomace (the leftover skins, seeds, and stems of the fruit) and fermenting what’s left of the sugars. Employing byproduct that would otherwise be thrown out, piquette can be made from countless numbers of grapes that winemakers are left with after bottling their traditional wines. The centuries-old method is known to have been enjoyed by vineyard workers and family members; it’s characterized by an exciting jolt of fizz and a lower ABV (around 4 to 9 percent, compared to, say, lambrusco’s 11 percent). “The bubbles make it all seem very appropriate for any occasion,” says de Leon. “I’ve personally drunk piquette at the beach, in a restaurant, during a cookout, and discreetly while walking around town — when it’s in a can.”
If piquette does experience the renaissance that both Caruke and de Leon foresee, it will have Hudson, New York-based winemaker Todd Cavallo to thank. In 2016, Cavallo made his initial piquette, becoming the first producer to make it commercially in North America. Today his Hudson Valley farm Wild Arc offers a rainbow of piquettes ranging from riesling, cabernet franc, and teroldego grapes — and has inspired a legion of American winemakers to do the same. “It’s hard to say if it will trend as rapidly as pét-nat,” admits Caruke, “but I am fielding more questions about the style than ever before, [and] that’s in large part due to Todd’s work.”
“I think [Cavallo is] redefining the relationship between the Hudson Valley and New York with his winemaking,” says de Leon. “More and more younger winemakers are daring to make truly American wine by couching those identities with grapes that have yet to define themselves.”
The winemakers at Maryland’s Old Westminster Winery started making their own piquette after trying Cavallo’s; Hill Country winemaker Regan Meador of Southold Cellars likens his piquette to a sweet, tart sour beer chugger; it has 4 percent ABV. Revered Australian natural winery Lucy Margaux has started bottling a piquette, too.
For all the winemakers playing with piquette, the response has proven overwhelming. Piquette is often sold at a much lower price point, and a lower-in-alcohol option is always a welcomed alternative. Even avid beer drinkers might find it a comfortable replacement once in a while. “Trend-wise, I think piquette has a place since there’s never really been ‘session wine’ before,” says de Leon. “It’s something you can drink plenty of and maintain a low buzz.”
It’s all to say that what’s popular these days was popular centuries ago. Skin-contact wines were made in Georgia some 8,000 years ago, and piquette is nothing new in terms of style. Both Caruke and de Leon cite a return to the unfussiness and pure joy of wine drinking when it comes to the rise of piquette — it’s that attitude which they see as the trend sweeping the wine world.
“I think [overall] the cool kids right now are drinking glug-able Italy,” says Caruke. “Juicy, fresh, lower-alcohol, Italian reds that are just dancing with so much energy and life.” For Caruke personally, piquette is a fresh-feeling option for when she wants to drink something like a gamay or a wine with a bit more oomph than a rosé.
“I have drank a number of Italian red wines lately that I am completely wild about,” she says, “I find myself looking for glou glou from countries other than France nowadays.” Glou glou wines are wines that invite glugging — invoking the chugging sound made while drinking them or pouring one out — and they tend to be both lighter in alcohol, tannins, and body. Still, they have pronounced acidity and minerality.
De Leon is also seeing a lot of guests ask for “lighter” reds that can be served cold when he’s working service at Pinch. “A lot of it is weather temperamental, sure, but it’s nice to hear people asking for it,” he says. One of his current favorites? A German glou glou from the Brand brothers that is a perky red-fruited joy ideal for parties — and only 10 percent ABV.
The grape making up 85 percent of Brand’s red is portugieser, a red found primarily in the Rheinhessen and Pfalz and wine regions of Lower Austria and Slovenia, but largely obscure stateside: another reason people are starting to seek it out, says Caruke.
“I think the people are looking for not as internationally recognizable grape varieties,” she says. “If you go into your local wine shop and see a nero di troia, you’re going to be like, ‘What is that? What does that taste like? Why is the winemaker working with it?’”
The curiosity only leads to more opportunities to learn, and, perhaps, to expand far away from something recognizable, like chardonnay. Chances are your somm is already drinking exactly what you’re looking for.