photo by Devon Trevathan
All that glitters may not be gold, but the current favorite in the world of sparkling wine has certainly earned its lauded reputation.
The world has been waiting on bated breath for a new summer sipper that could replace the blush overhaul that’s haunted us for the last few years, and pétillant naturel, a sparkling wine that won’t set you back buckets, is uniquely qualified.
Pétillant naturel, or pét-nat as its been so agreeably dubbed, is a method of wine production that achieves the desired effect of all sparkling wines一bubbles in a bottle一through somewhat unusual means. Champagne producers start their process, called méthode champenoise, by placing finished wine into a bottle and adding yeast and sugar for a second fermentation. Pét-nat, on the other hand, involves bottling the wine before it’s finished its initial fermentation, which results in trapped bubbles that are a natural product of alcoholic fermentation. For this reason, it’s risky, which falls perfectly in line with pét-nat’s riotous appeal. There’s no way to tell unequivocally that the resultant wine won’t be deeply flawed一and some are一but often the flavors at work in pét-nat wine are more appealing: bright, clean, fruity, drinkable.
Due to pét-nat’s inherent instability after bottling, the wine is best served cold, otherwise you risk an experience that could quickly turn messy. Oftentimes, active yeast is left inside the wine to some degree, and without the moderation of a lower temperature they can become excitable once more. This unpredictable style has seen a surge in production in wine-making regions all over the world, from the United States to Australia and just about anywhere in between.
Though this wine may feel very au courant, méthode ancestrale actually predates the traditional champenoise. Modern pét-nat production began in the Loire Valley of France, where it was wholly rejected by French appellations. For this reason, it wasn’t subject to the same restrictions as traditional appellations. This adds to its quirky, nonconforming narrative; yes, you’ll see chardonnay on a bottle, but you may also see chasselas, cot or other lesser known varietals.
Pét-nat can range in flavor and color, from pale yellow to peachy pink. There are pét-nat Lambruscos with flavors of tart cherry and cranberry, as well as the more classic Loire Valley option, which will undoubtedly offer the yeast character that many of us (myself included) have come to covet in sparkling wine. When experimenting with pét-nat wine, keep yourself open to possibility, but one thing is sure: be on the lookout for the crown-capped bottle. It may feel odd to open a bottle of sparkling with a beer-cap opener, but you should know by now that pét-nat is not here to play by the rules.
Wines to Try
2016 Jamesport Vineyards Albariño Petillant Naturel ($26): The father-son duo from North Fork are responsible for this beautifully acidic and mineral-forward sampling that dances on your palate, leaving you refreshed.
Saumon, Frantz NV Vin de France La Cave se Rebiffe Rosé ($24): This bubbling beauty, made of a Gamay blend from vineyards in Montlouis, is the tall drink of juicy fruits that you need all summer long. Bursting with flavors of watermelon and raspberry seed, balanced with hints of pepper, this wine is one to try.
2015 Gamine Grenache Petillant – Non Dosage ($30): This Oregonian sparkler comes in two forms一dosage (with a small amount of wine and sugar that has been added back to the juice after fermentation) or non dosage. While both offer fresh lemon zest over a creamy palate, the electric acidity of the non dosage works best for me.
2017 Kindeli La Lechuza Pet-Nat ($19): Hailing from the Nelson region on the coast of New Zealand’s south island, this wine is 100% Riesling and 100% likely to sizzle your tastebuds with tangy notes of citrus, pear and green apple balanced with a touch of spice.
2015 Ca’ Dei Zago Col Fondo Prosecco ($27): Old-vine Glera is fermented in the bottle in a style called “Col Fondo,” which means with sediment. This wine is easy drinking, with playful notes of toast and warmth for depth.