John B. Reyna
Back by Popular Demand, Primitive Sparkling Wine
Updated: May 29, 2020
When I first heard the name Pet-Nat, I thought, “Why would I want a pet gnat?” Little did I know, Petillant Naturel would become my favorite form of sparkling. So much so, John and I chose a Pet-Nat as the opening beverage at our wedding ceremony. Since the wedding was cancelled thanks to Covid-19, we have enjoyed a stockpile of a favorite Pet-Nat as spring hit.
Often referred to as Pet-Nat for short, Petillant Naturel is lightly sparkling, low in alcohol and often contains some residual sugar. Beyond the cloudiness, you can often recognize them by the beer cap used since there is about half the atmospheres of pressure of Champagne. It’s light and fresh, making it a great any time wine!
Pet-Nat is produced using the Methode Ancestrale, thought to be the original way sparkling was made. Like many other wine productions, it is believed that Methode Ancestrale was first achieved by accident, long before winemakers understood fermentation (yeast transforming sugar to alcohol). They would assume fermentation was finished and place the bottles away for safe keeping. However, an increase in temperature would restart fermentation, resulting in the release carbon dioxide. Given this was a confined space with nowhere for the C02 to go, it would get absorbed into the wine and carbonate the liquid. There may have been a few explosions too.
Unlike the more traditional sparkling wine methods (e.g., sugar and yeast are added to still wine), Methode Ancestrale happens by bottling wine before fermentation completes. Sounds easy, right? Using spontaneous fermentation, the winemaker has far less control over what the final product tastes like. Since the margin of error is small, Pet-Nat making require great skill. Many winemakers have been playing with it to add a sparkling option to their portfolio because it doesn’t require a large investment of new equipment.
Along for the ride on the recent natural wine craze (more on that later), this old school style of sparkling has made a giant come back in the last decade. Regions all over the world have began making Pet-Nat with various varietals.
Pet-Nat can be white, rose, orange, or red. It often has sediment and a hazy color, but some producers prefer to remove the sediment to achieve clarity. It can be drank young, but also keeps well in the bottle for several years. Great with or without food and won't hit you too fast since the ABV ranges from 10-12%. Simple, yet deliciously satisfying. Please enjoy chilled!
*This post was edited on April 30, 2020, to remove some potential confusion about other styles of sparkling wine that have low effervescence. We will revisit those wines in another post.