Are you a fan of sparkling wines? I have to say I was never a huge devotee till I tried pét-nats. These natural bubblies sparked my interest as I’m generally not too fond of fizz, be it in alcoholic or non-alcoholic drinks. And when I discovered that pét-nats contain no added sugar or preservatives, I got to like them even more. They’re simply natural! And I’m happy to say that Slovenia introduced me to this treasure trove.
What are pét-nat wines? Here’s a quick overview.
Short for pétillant-naturel, they’re the bubbly equivalent of natural wines, so they’re made with very little or no chemical and technological intervention. Since they’re bottled before the first fermentation is completed (ancestral method), pét-nats are much less bubbly and sweet than the traditional-method sparklers like Champagne. The traditional method involves a second fermentation that’s set off by adding yeasts and sugars to produce carbon dioxide and therefore the bubbles.
Head into the clouds
The cloudy, rustic, unfiltered character of pét-nats is precisely what I like about them. I first had the opportunity to try one at the Salon of Sparkling Wines in Ljubljana a few weeks ago. Miha Kelhar from the Keltis wine cellar popped off the bottle cap (pét-nats are often sealed with a crown cap rather than a cork) and poured this musty, yellow liquid into my glass.
Hmmm… What a lovely, perfume aroma!— subtly floral.
Miha passionately revealed its ingredients: “Three grape varieties: Muscat Ottonel, Chardonnay, and Yellow Plavec… Made by the ancestral method using grape must, with no sulphur”.
I doubt I’ll ever look back after heading into the clouds—this is certainly a great swap for the sugar-loaded fizz!
Can sparkling wines be natural?
This was the hot topic up for discussion at the 6th Salon of Sparkling Wines held at Hotel Slon in Ljubljana on 15 February. Nina Levicnik, founder of the event, invited me to the workshop, and of course I jumped onto the wine wagon! The discussion was held in Slovenian, but I got the gist with my little knowledge of the language (who needs language when you have wine?), to be thoroughly saved at the end of it by Primož Štajer, promoter of natural wines and co-organiser of Karakterre—Central and Eastern Europe’s leading salon of organic, biodynamic and natural wines.
Primož very kindly explained the pertinent facts on how naturally-sparkling wines are made:
“It starts in the vineyards using the organic or biodynamic way to get the clean base wine for the second fermentation in the bottle, which must also be natural.”— Primož Štajer, Promoter of Natural Wines
He said the second fermentation can never be completely natural as you need to add something to ignite it, but that something can be wine must instead of liqueur de tirage (a syrupy blend of wine, yeast and sugar).
In the case of pét-nats, “the must starts to ferment in the same way as it does during the still wine making process, the level of sugar is measured and when it goes below around 15 grams per litle it is bottled, so the fermenting must goes into the bottle, it’s closed and the last part of fermentation takes place in the bottle, which results in bubbles.”
White, rosé, or red?
Pét-nats come in all three varieties, and since I’m a red wine lover, I have a preference for red sparklers. My favourites at the Salon were the Teranova Penina Tera Brut 2017 from Vina Kobal in Kras, which won a Glass of Bubbly 2018 gold medal award (Summer Days Category)—only very slightly acidic, with hints of strawberry—and Vina Čarga‘s deep ruby-coloured Donna Regina Noir Sec from 2013.
Even though I prefer reds, I did find the Semiška Penina Barrique 2011 and Victoria 2010 rather intriguing. The vanilla and oak aromas expelled by the Semiška Penina as it was being poured into my glass quickly reached my nose, qualities that were equally intense in the mouth. The rich taste of this bubbly from the Ivan Simonič Estate is due to the wine having been aged for a year in oak barrels before being bottled.
Vina Kauran’s Victoria 2010 had a powerful citrus and floral bouquet, and I could see it going down well as an aperitif, pairing well with white fish. Both these wines are winners of the Salon of Sparkling Wines Competition 2019.
The famous six
If bubblies are up your street, you won’t have a problem picking your favourites. But if you want to cut to the chase, here are all six winners of the Salon of Sparkling Wines Competition 2019:
White sparkling wines:
- Vina Kauran, Victoria 2010
- Radgonske Gorice, Zlata Radgonska Penina Selection 2015
- Semiška Penina (Ivan Simonič Estate), Semiška Penina Barrique
Rosé sparkling wines:
Crème de la crème
The salon presented the crème de la crème of Slovenia’s sparkling wines. With this class of wine gaining huge popularity in the country, there were just under 50 winemakers and 150 wines at the show.
I have one piece of advice for you sparkling wine lovers: If you want to find some of the best bubblies you’ve ever tasted, look no further than Slovenia’s Salon of Sparkling Wines.
(Photos: Denise Rejec)
My Sparkly Valentine
If your one true love is sparkling wine, you can fully embrace your special bond with it at the 7th Salon of Sparkling Wines on February 14, 2020! Where? Right in the heart of the city of love: Ljubljana. (Did you know? The Slovenian word ‘ljubljena’ means ‘beloved’.)
My special bond is with natural sparklies… Let’s see what pét-nats they’ll have on offer for our next Valentine’s!
(Photos: Denise Rejec)
Salon of Sparkling Wine: Quick Facts
Dr Nina Levičnik, Founder
Radovan Černelić, Coordinator
Rado Stojanovič, General Manager
The 7th SALON OF SPARKLING WINES will take place on February 14, 2020, in Hotel Slon, Ljubljana