You want me to pet-what?
Natural wine is the movement of the moment, and pétillant naturel is the hip-kid go-to natural sparkling wine. It's tasty, has an adorable nickname (pét-nat), tons of history, and is usually quite affordable.
**~~**In other words, sign me up**~~**
The pét-nat technique of production is called méthode ancestrale, and just as it sounds, it has some deep roots. It's a rustic, low-tech way of producing sparkling wines and is most likely the oldest form of sparkling wine production.
So how does it work?
When most people think of sparkling wine, they think Champagne. Pét-nat is not Champagne.
If Champagne is the carefully, meticulously crafted classical symphony that shines in its complexity and refinement, pét-nat is the jam band that somehow works.
Hell...pét-nat even smells like a jam band sometimes.
Champagne vs pét-nat. Here is the breakdown:
With méthode traditional (Champagne method), the wine is fully fermented. Next, you add the liqueur de tirage (mixture of wine, sugar, and yeast) to jumpstart a second round of fermentation. The vintner then rebottles the wine. In the bottle, the new yeast eats those added sugars, turning them into alcohol. The carbon dioxide byproduct of fermentation is trapped in the bottle, giving us that delicious sparkling effervescence.
Voilà, right? Not yet.
The dead yeast cells (lees) are carefully and time-intensively collected in the neck of the bottle (riddling), then disgorged from the bottle. The winemaker can add more sweetness to the wine by adding a dosage (wine/sugar mixture) at this point. Finally, you have your Champagne.
Pétillant naturel, on the other hand, is a much less labor intensive (and cheaper!) form of production. The wine is pressed, fermentation starts, is paused, the wine is bottled, and that is that. The natural grape sugars determine the amount of sweetness. Once the wine is bottled, it undergoes secondary fermentation and you end up with a sparkling wine.
The major differences are control and intervention.
With the méthode traditional, you know what the wine is like when it goes into the bottle. You know the exact
proportions of your liquor de triage and dosage, determining how alcoholic and sweet you want your final product to be. With méthode ancestrale, you leave a lot in the hands of Bacchus himself, which makes the opening of a bottle of pét-nat all the more exciting, but leaves a lot of room for flaw as well. Additionally, pét-nat is often neither filtered nor disgorgeed, resulting in a cloudy wine with floating lees. That’s pure hipster gold, right there.
Pét nat can be red, white, rosé, or orange. They do tend to have a lighter fizz, slightly lower alcohol, and a bit of funk. However, they can range from bone dry to slightly sweet. A key difference between Champagne and pét-nat is that Champagnes are mostly cuvées (blends of many different vintages). This guarantees some consistency of product. Pét-nat is often a single (young) vintage, giving it a more distinctive, fresh flavor. They are often reminiscent of a spontaneously fermented farmhouse ale (their regular use of a crown cap makes this comparison all the more appropriate).
The resurgence of méthode ancestrale, starting in the 90’s, has come specifically from the Loire. There is a lot of history and tradition of similar styles of winemaking found in Italy (called “col fondo” or “rifermentato en bottiglia”). Today, you can even find some fantastic pét-nats from Oregon, Washington, California, New York, etc.
Where to start?
Go to your local independent wine shop, find the employee with the most tattoos, and ask them for recommendations. Here are a few of ours:
Bulles de Minière Rouge- Loire, France (Cabernet Franc):
Dark red color, floral aromas, red cherry and spices, refreshing, great winter sparkler.
We pounded this on New Year’s with chocolate and it was heavenly
Certified organic (Ecocert), hand harvested
Massimiliano Croci- Emilia, Italy (Ortrugo):
The indigenous Ortrugo grape (found only in Piacenza, Emilia) turned into funky, orange, spontaneously fermented sparkling with a lot of family history.Lemon Verbena, underripe pear, fresh bread, tart, mineral-driven.
Biodynamic, hand harvested
Patton Valley Vineyards- Willamette Valley, WA (Pinot Noir): The most beautiful, vibrant color of rosé. Surprisingly large and lively bubbles, fresh fruit, and restrained funkiness. An elegant version of pét nat. Aromatic like white strawberries, melon, citrus zest, with a refreshing amount of acidity
LIVE certified sustainable, hand harvested