Piquette: The Perfect Summer Quencher

July 4, 2024
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Let’s get one thing straight: piquette is not your grandma’s wine. It’s not quite wine, and it’s definitely not a spritzer, but it’s a refreshing beverage made from grapes and has a history as colourful as its taste. Piquette is made from the second pressing of wine grapes. Derived from the French word “piquer,” meaning to prickle, piquette tantalizes the palate with its slight fizz and tongue-tingling sensation. Though its origins trace back to France, similar beverages have emerged in various cultures throughout history. Piquette, made by re-pressing fermented grape pomace with water to extract the remaining juice, results in a diluted, low-alcohol beverage that offers a unique, sustainable twist on traditional wine production. And guess what? It’s making a comeback, and it’s here to stay.

Historical Context: A Practical Beverage for Vineyard Workers

In its original form, piquette was a pragmatic solution for winery workers. After the primary winemaking process, vineyard workers would take home grape pomace—the leftover grape skins, seeds, stems, and pulp from pressed grapes. By adding water to the pomace and allowing it to ferment, they created a low-alcohol, lightly effervescent beverage that was refreshing and frugal. This practice not only provided a drink for the workers but also minimized waste. Piquette became the preferred drink for vineyard workers in France due to its low alcohol content, which encouraged productivity after lunch, a concept that resonates strongly with today’s sustainability movements.

The Modern Revival: From Hudson Valley to the World

Fast forward to today, and Piquette is having a renaissance, thanks in large part to innovators like Todd Cavallo of Wild Arc Farm in the Hudson Valley. Cavallo stumbled upon an old book detailing the history of French wine and found a section on piquette. Intrigued by the concept and driven by a desire to create lower-alcohol beverages, he saw an opportunity to revive this almost-forgotten drink. By reimagining Piquette with a modern twist, Cavallo and other winemakers are contributing to a new chapter in the beverage’s history, blending traditional methods with contemporary practices. Natural wine lovers are particularly drawn to Piquette for its lower alcohol content and unique, fizzy profile.

Piquette’s bright acidity and fruit-forward notes make it a playful alternative to both wine and sour beer.

The Two Juices: Understanding the Basics of Winemaking

To appreciate Piquette, it’s essential to understand the basic winemaking process, particularly the types of grape juice involved: free-run juice and press juice.

Piquette in the EU is officially defined as a product obtained through the fermentation of untreated grape pomace macerated in water or by leaching fermented grape pomace with water.

Free-Run Juice: The Essence of Quality

Free-run juice is considered the highest quality juice in winemaking. It is obtained from grapes that have been foot-trodden or crushed and allowed to macerate, typically for seven to thirty days. The juice naturally exudes from the berries under their own weight, creating a soup-like mixture. This juice is highly prized for its purity and is usually drained off before the grapes undergo pressing.

Press Juice: The Richer, Tannic Cousin

Once the free-run juice is collected, the grapes are placed into a press. The initial pressing yields more free-run juice, but as the pressing continues, the juice becomes richer, more tannic, and higher in sugar content. This juice, while still valuable, can overpower the elegance of the wine if not managed carefully. High-quality winemakers often stop the pressing process early to avoid extracting too much tannic juice, leaving a significant amount of liquid in the pomace.

Piquette: A Zero-Waste Solution

For winemakers dedicated to producing high-quality wines, the leftover juice in the pomace represents a potential loss. Compared to white wine, Piquette offers a more sustainable option by utilizing the leftover grape pomace. Instead of discarding it or sending it to a distillery, they can create piquette. The pomace is a byproduct of their traditional wines, allowing winemakers to utilize whatever grapes they have on hand. This approach not only reduces waste but also provides a new, innovative product that appeals to a growing market of eco-conscious consumers.

The Process: Crafting Modern Piquette from Grape Pomace

Each winemaker has their unique method for creating piquette. Unlike traditional red wine, which involves fermenting whole grapes, piquette is made by soaking the pomace in water. Todd Cavallo, for example, soaks the pomace in water for one to two weeks. The mixture is then transferred to barrels or tanks to complete fermentation until dry. To enhance stability and acidity, Cavallo adds back 15% of the actual wine. A small amount of local wildflower honey is introduced to the bottle, which restarts fermentation and creates a lightly sparkling beverage.

The Process: Crafting Modern Piquette from Grape Pomace

Most Popular Grape Varieties for Piquette Wine

Piquette wine, known for its eco-friendly and sustainable production process, is typically made using grape pomace—the leftover skins, seeds, and stems from winemaking. The choice of grape varietals can significantly influence the flavor and character of the piquette. Here are some of the most popular varietals used in its production:

  1. Riesling: Known for its high acidity, Riesling pomace can produce a piquette with bright, tropical fruit flavors. It often results in a refreshing beverage with notes reminiscent of pineapple soda​​.
  2. Traminette: This hybrid grape, related to Gewürztraminer, imparts floral and spicy notes to piquette. It can create a drink with elderflower aromas and a slightly spicy profile​​.
  3. Cabernet Franc: Pomace from Cabernet Franc can yield piquette with a distinct green, vegetal nose, often featuring herbal and earthy tones. This grape's piquette is typically more robust and complex​​.
  4. Syrah: In regions like Australia, Syrah pomace is used to make piquette with deep, rich flavors. This varietal can produce piquette with a hint of pepper and dark fruit characteristics​​.
  5. Nebbiolo: Known for its high tannin and acidity, Nebbiolo pomace creates a piquette with a structured and slightly tannic profile, often with notes of red fruits and floral elements​​.
  6. Mourvèdre: This grape adds a meaty and spicy dimension to piquette. The resulting beverage from Mourvèdre pomace is usually hearty with layers of complexity​​.

The specific flavors and characteristics of piquette can vary widely depending on the grape varietal used and the winemaking techniques applied. These varietals are favored not only for their distinctive flavors but also for their ability to create a balanced and enjoyable piquette, leveraging the unique qualities of the pomace.

Aromatic and Flavor Profile of Piquette Wines

Piquette wine is known for its unique and refreshing aromatic and flavor profile, which distinguishes it from traditional wines. Here are some key characteristics:

Aromatic Profile

  • Fruity Aromas: Piquette often exhibits vibrant fruit aromas. Depending on the grape varietals used, you might detect notes of tropical fruits like pineapple (especially from Riesling), citrus, or berries.
  • Floral Notes: Some piquette wines, particularly those made from aromatic grape varieties like Traminette, can have floral scents such as elderflower or rose.
  • Herbal and Earthy Tones: Varietals like Cabernet Franc can impart herbal and green, vegetal aromas, adding complexity to the bouquet.

Flavor Profile

  • Light and Refreshing: Piquette is generally light-bodied with a refreshing quality, making it a perfect drink for warm weather. It has a lower alcohol content, typically between 4-9%, which contributes to its easy-drinking nature.
  • Slightly Fizzy: Many piquette wines have a gentle effervescence, akin to a light sparkling wine or a wine spritzer. This fizz enhances the refreshing sensation.
  • Tart and Tangy: The fermentation process, which often involves wild yeasts, can give piquette a slightly tart or tangy flavor, reminiscent of sour beers or kombucha. This tanginess is a result of the lactic acid bacteria that thrive during the fermentation of rehydrated pomace.
  • Unique and Varied Flavors: Depending on the grape varietals and production methods, piquette can showcase a range of flavors from tropical fruitiness (like a tropical pineapple soda from Riesling) to floral and spicy notes (such as those from Traminette), and even earthy and green flavors from grapes like Cabernet Franc.

Best Food Pairings for Piquette Wines During the Summer

Piquette wine, with its light, refreshing, and slightly fizzy profile, is an excellent choice for summer dining. Here are some of the best food pairings to complement piquette's unique characteristics:

Best Food Pairings for Piquette Wines During the Summer
  1. Light Salads: Fresh, crisp salads with seasonal vegetables are perfect for pairing with piquette. Think of salads with mixed greens, cucumbers, tomatoes, and a light vinaigrette. The wine's acidity balances well with the crispness and freshness of the vegetables​​​​.
  2. Seafood: Given piquette's refreshing and slightly tart nature, it's an excellent match for seafood dishes. Pair it with shrimp, oysters, or a light fish like tilapia or cod. Seafood ceviche or sushi can also be delightful, as the acidity in piquette complements the flavors of the seafood​​​​.
  3. Charcuterie Boards: A charcuterie board with an assortment of cured meats, cheeses, olives, and fruits can be a great companion for piquette. The wine's lightness and effervescence help cut through the richness of the meats and cheeses, making it a versatile pairing​​.
  4. Grilled Vegetables: Summer is grilling season, and grilled vegetables like zucchini, bell peppers, and eggplant go wonderfully with piquette. The smoky flavors from the grill enhance the wine's natural fruitiness and slight fizz​​.
  5. Light Pasta Dishes: Opt for pasta dishes that are not too heavy or creamy. Pasta primavera with fresh vegetables, lemon zest, and a light olive oil sauce can pair nicely with piquette's refreshing qualities​​.
  6. Cheese: Soft and mild cheeses such as goat cheese, brie, and mozzarella work well with piquette. These cheeses complement the wine's subtle flavors without overwhelming its delicate profile​​​​.
  7. Picnic Foods: Piquette is ideal for picnics. Pair it with cold chicken, light sandwiches, or even simple crackers with hummus. Its portability and refreshing nature make it a perfect outdoor beverage​​.

These pairings highlight piquette's versatility and make it a delightful choice for various summer dining occasions. Whether you're enjoying a casual picnic or a light seafood dinner, piquette can enhance your meal with its unique, refreshing profile.

Common Questions About Piquette

The Basics and Definition

  • What does piquette mean in wine? Piquette is a beverage made from the second pressing of wine grapes, diluted with water and fermented to create a low-alcohol drink.
  • What is piquette beer? Piquette beer does not exist; piquette is strictly a grape-based beverage. Confusion might arise because both Piquette and beer can be low in alcohol and fizzy.
  • What does Piquette mean in French? The term “piquette” comes from the French word “piquer,” which means to prickle, reflecting its slightly fizzy nature.
  • What is the meaning of piquette? Piquette refers to a slightly effervescent, low-alcohol beverage made by fermenting the re-pressed grape pomace with water.

Production and Ingredients

  • How do you make piquette? Piquette is made by soaking grape pomace in water for a period (usually one to two weeks) and then fermenting the mixture. Some winemakers add a small amount of original wine or wildflower honey to aid in fermentation and add complexity.
  • What are the ingredients in piquette? The primary ingredients are grape pomace and water. Some variations include adding a small amount of the original wine or wildflower honey to enhance fermentation.
  • What is grape pomace? Grape pomace consists of the leftover grape skins, seeds, and stems from pressed grapes after the juice has been extracted for winemaking.
  • What is the Piquette method? It involves rehydrating grape pomace with water, allowing it to ferment, and sometimes adding a small amount of original wine or honey to the mix.
  • How is Piquette wine made? Piquette wine is made by soaking grape pomace in water to extract residual sugars and flavours, fermenting the mixture, and often adding original wine or honey to enhance the final product.
  • How long to ferment Piquette? Fermentation typically takes one to two weeks, depending on the desired flavour profile and fermentation conditions.

Characteristics and Storage

  • How long does piquette last? Once bottled, piquette can last several months if stored properly. However, it is best consumed within a few weeks to enjoy its fresh and effervescent qualities.
  • Is piquette alcohol? Yes, Piquette contains alcohol, but at a much lower level than traditional wines, typically ranging from 4% to 9% alcohol by volume (ABV).
  • Is Piquette wine sparkling? Piquette can be slightly sparkling due to the natural fermentation process, especially if honey or other fermentable sugars are added.
  • What type of wine is piquette? Piquette is considered a type of low-alcohol wine or wine-like beverage made from the re-pressed pomace of wine grapes.
  • What is the Piquette style? The Piquette style is characterized by its light body, low alcohol content, slight effervescence, and refreshing acidity, making it an ideal summer beverage.

Comparisons and Legalities

  • What is the difference between grappa and piquette? Grappa is a distilled spirit made from grape pomace, resulting in a high alcohol content. In contrast, piquette is a low-alcohol beverage made by fermenting rehydrated grape pomace.
  • Why was Piquette banned? Piquette was banned in the European Union to protect the wine market from oversupply and avoid consumer confusion. The legislation allows its production only for distillation or private consumption by winegrowers’ families.
  • Why is piquette illegal? Piquette is not entirely illegal but is heavily restricted in the EU. To protect the traditional wine market, it is allowed only for distillation or private family consumption by winegrowers.

The EU Ban: Regulatory Hurdles

Despite its growing popularity, piquette faces regulatory challenges in the European Union. EU legislation restricts the production of Piquette for commercial purposes, allowing it only for distillation or private consumption by winegrowers’ families. This regulation aims to protect the wine market and prevent consumer confusion. However, with clear labelling and transparency, Piquette can be differentiated from traditional wine, potentially paving the way for regulatory reconsideration. In the evolving wine world, trends like piquette, lighter red wines, and lesser-known grape varieties reflect changing consumer preferences.

The EU Ban: Regulatory Hurdles

The Future of Piquette: Low Alcohol Wine, Sustainability, and Innovation

The revival of Piquette aligns with contemporary values of sustainability, waste reduction, and mindful consumption. By transforming what was once considered a byproduct into a desirable wine-like beverage, winemakers are not only preserving an ancient drinking tradition but also meeting the demands of modern consumers. Piquette’s low alcohol content makes it an ideal choice for those seeking lighter, more refreshing drinks that can be enjoyed throughout the day without the risk of overindulgence.

Environmental Impact and Sustainability of Piquette Wine

Piquette wine is known for its eco-friendly production process. Here are some key points about its environmental impact and sustainability:

Waste Reduction

Piquette is made from grape pomace—the skins, seeds, and stems left after making wine. Instead of throwing this material away, winemakers use it to create piquette, which reduces waste and makes full use of the grapes​​​​.

Lower Carbon Footprint

Since piquette uses materials that are already available from the winemaking process, it requires less energy and fewer resources to produce. This means it has a smaller carbon footprint compared to traditional wines​​.

Sustainable Packaging

Many piquette producers choose eco-friendly packaging, like lightweight cans or recycled bottles. This helps lower transportation emissions and makes recycling easier​​.

Water Conservation

Making piquette uses less water compared to regular wine production. Even though water is added to the pomace, the overall water usage is much lower, which is beneficial, especially in areas where water is scarce​​.

Soil Health and Biodiversity

The leftover pomace that isn’t used for piquette is often turned into compost for vineyards. This compost improves soil health and supports a diverse range of plants and organisms in the vineyard​

Final Thougths

Conclusion: Embracing the Prickle for Natural Wine Lovers

Piquette is more than just a drink; it is a testament to the ingenuity and resourcefulness of winemakers past and present. As it continues to gain traction, Piquette offers a perfect blend of history, sustainability, and innovation. Whether you’re a wine enthusiast looking for something new or a conscious consumer seeking environmentally friendly options, Piquette, much like natural wine, provides environmentally friendly options.