WWC24 – Ice Ice Baby, by Christy Frank

'Rescued from the cloud: visual proof  that street ice happened' - Photo is the author's own

In today's 2024 wine writing competition entry, writer and wine retailer Christy Frank describes the magical moment of drinking pet-nat with an interesting twist.

Christy Frank writes Christy Frank is a freelance writer and a leader of the independent wine retail scene with 20+ years in the wine and spirits industry. She has held positions in all tiers of the US wine trade from large, global drinks firms such as Moët Hennessy USA, to small, boutique distributors to on- and off-trade retail. She is currently a partner at Copake Wine Works in the Hudson Valley/Berkshires region and recently launched Hamlet Hound canned cocktails, featured on The Business of Drinks: Season 1. She is an Advanced Sommelier with the Court of Master Sommeliers, holds a WSET Diploma, and works as an educator and mentor for various organizations, including the Roots Fund where she was the 2023 Mentor of the Year. A 2024 Fellow for the Wine Writers’ Symposium, her writing focuses on the business of wine and has appeared on Sevenfifty Daily, Wine Review Online, and her blog, Bending Elbows.

Ice Ice Baby

After hours in a wine shop can be a magical time. Not all nights. Not the nights when you’re hiding behind the counter, counting out the register by the dim light of a bathroom, trying not to be spotted by that would-be customer lurking outside the door, hoping for a sign that there’s someone inside willing to sell them that bottle they forgot about needing for that party they’re heading to.

No, those nights aren’t quite so magical. But some nights, after a particularly successful tasting when the wines are showing their best and the sales rep pouring them is cheerful and quick with the puns and the customers have been eager and willing to taste and talk and buy… those are the nights when you don’t want to rush out the door after dimming the lights and counting the register.

Those are the nights when extra bottles appear from the sales rep’s rolly bag. Or in the case of my shop, bottles are pulled from the never-fully-contained row of samples lining the floor by the back wall behind the cash wrap. Or on very magical nights, we might pull a bottle from the avalanche shelf, so called because the bottles didn’t sit evenly and would often dash themselves to the floor in unexpected avalanches. Ironically, or perhaps more accurately, stupidly, some of the fanciest wines in the shop lived on this shelf, usually with little posted notes attached, with scribbled messages along the lines of “don’t you dare even think about opening this bottle unless Christy says it’s OK.”

One night we opened a bottle of why-the-heck-not-tonight, Ledru Rosé de Saignée. Another night it was a bottle of some fabulous Bourgogne Rouge that had fallen off the shelf, breaking at the neck with a decent portion of the wine remaining in the bottle (yes, we filtered out any potential glass… safety first!) Older bottles of Chateau Musar and Coteaux Champenois had a way of popping up.

But not every bottle was quite so fancy. One of those not-fancy bottles was from Spain. A pink petillant natural, the old school bubble-making method that these days, is as familiar to certain corners of the wine cognoscenti world as traditional and tank methods. But back then, whenever then was (2013? 2014?), you had to be very in the know to know about pet’nat

And the shop staff was indeed in the know. We were all collectively obsessed with this bottle. I think the label was simple black typeface on beige paper with torn edges. Surely it had a pop top. The region? No recollection beyond Spain. The grape? I can’t recall. The details are lost somewhere on my hard drive, or among the thousands of photos floating in the cloud. But at the time, we were all itching to open this bottle. So on one of those magical nights when the tasting table had been hopping and the sale rep’s banter especially witty (and I’ll be honest, it was winter and we were all a little reluctant to head out into the deep cold) we did. 

We popped the top, poured it into our glasses and realized… it needed to be chilled. And nothing dims the sparkle of after hours magic like a bottle that needs a good chill when the ice bucket has already been dumped out for the night. 

The wine purists might want to stop reading at this point, because what happened next isn’t exactly textbook. We needed ice. There was freshly fallen, densely packed snow-ice just outside the door. So I grabbed some. And popped it straight into our waiting glasses, already filled with wine. Yes, dear reader, I effectively used ice cubes for a super speedy chill. (And yes, I made sure the cubes in question weren’t yellow and hadn’t come from straight off the ground… I am a professional after all!)

The wine was lovely (and of course, cold) with subtle cherry notes, sunbaked raspberries and a bit of apple-cider twang. The most important note? It was accompanied by heaps of laughter as we, a store full of oh-so-serious wine people, joked about proper street ice harvesting technique and how if we drank the wine fast enough, dilution wouldn’t be an issue.

Was it the best bottle of wine I ever had? Maybe not. But was it magical? Definitely.

The above photo, captioned 'Rescued from the cloud: visual proof that street ice happened', is the author's own.