While some wines demand lingering olfactory journeys and contemplative moments gazing at light beams cast through your glass, others just want to have fun. Enter pét-nat. For being the oldest style of sparkling wine, pétillant-naturel feels pretty youthful.
Maybe that’s because it has a certain immediacy to it — a live-for-the-moment-drinkability that has endeared it to wine lovers, especially natural wine lovers, in recent years. This sense of “nowness” permeates pét-nat, or sparkling wine made in the ancestral method, from start to finish.
What is Pét Nat?
For young natural winemakers just getting started, pét-nat is an attractive route; it’s much faster than other sparkling wine methods and it’s process draws on some of the most OG and natural ways of making wine. Which makes sense, given that it’s the oldest styles of making sparkling wine: not for nothing is it called methode ancestrale.
After harvest, the grapes are crushed or pressed and fermentation begins, but the wine is bottled before the fermentation finishes. As yeasts finish metabolizing the sugars, carbon dioxide is released. With nowhere to go, it dissolves back into the wine in the form of bubbles.This process is what gives pét-nat its signature soft, bubbly, texture. And, it’s also what gives many pét-nats their signature layer of sediment at the bottom of the bottle; those spent yeast cells fall to the bottom of the bottle after they’ve finished fermentation. Some winemakers choose to remove them by disgorging while others leave them in.
Because pét-nat refers to a method of making wine, not all pét-nats look or taste the same. So how do you know what to expect? Get to know the winemaker’s style. Winemakers can choose to produce a pét-nat that is classic and filtered, with no sediment (although this is less common). They could make a pét-nat that is aromatic and fruity, or a fizzy wine with a little funk. And you can also find a dry pét-nat or one with a bit of residual sugar.
How is it different from Champagne?
There are a few main differences between Champagne and pét-nat. First, Champagne is Champagne. It used to be that any sparkling winemaker might call their wine Champagne, piggybacking on the region’s fame. In fact, there are still American brands that do this, even though in Europe the name has been protected and reserved for sparkling wines from Champagne since 1891.
Since then, people for the most part have respected that Champagne is a wine that can only be made according to very strict standards in a very specific place. While those standards do dictate that it must be made by méthode traditionnelle — with a second fermentation in bottle — they encompass far more than method.
Pét-nat, by contrast, is all about method. It must be made in the méthode ancestrale. But aside from that, it can be made anywhere, from any grape, and is not regulated in the same way that Champagne is.
Beyond geography and production method, pét-nat simply feels different than Champagne. “Pét-nat is anywhere between two to three atmospheres of pressure,” says Dedalus Director of Education Brittany Galbraith, “and Champagne is about five to six,” which is getting close to the equivalent pressure of the tire of an 18-wheeler.
Brittany says that the difference in pressure affects the structure and mouthfeel of the bubbles, and how long the bubbles last once you pour them into the glass. “For me, pét-nat has a more gentle fizz, and I think that makes it more approachable on the palate. It’s like putting pop rocks in your mouth or putting your wine through a soda stream,” Brittany says. “While Champagne can have powerful, glass-filling bubbles: when you pour a glass of Champagne, it’s like whipped cream filling the glass. Or cappuccino foam.”
Why are we hearing so much about it now?
Pét nat might be the oldest form of sparkling wine, but it’s only recently that it began to see a resurgence. It began in the Loire Valley in the 1990s with Christian Chaussard. He accidentally made wine this way, then started looking into it more. His circle of friends soon became interested as well, and before you know it, Thierry Puzelat, Hervé Villemade, and Domaine Mosse were all making pét-nat as well.
Is pét-nat natural?
While “natural” is in the name, not all pét-nat is natural. But much of it is. “I think now with the interest in the natural wine movement, people are also interested in these older ways of making wine,” Brittany says. “Also, it celebrates the most basic way of making wine: using the naturally-occurring yeast on the grape skin to work with the naturally-occurring sugar in the grape juice and capturing the energy from those two elements coming together. “
“On another note, I think it makes sense that a young, natural winemaker would be into making pét-nat,” Brittany continues, “because it’s the least expensive way to begin making sparkling wine. With Champagne, or other méthode-traditionnelle wines, it’s very labor intensive: you have to go through two fermentations and extensive lees aging over a period of months to years. Pét-nat also requires less expensive equipment and has less regulations around what grapes or styles can be used, so it’s a fun, experimental place to start.”
How to enjoy pét-nat
It’s not one for the cellar — buy a bottle and you’ll likely drink it as soon as you get home. And even then, you want to do it fast. “There’s an immediacy to pét-nat, for all involved,” says Dedalus Creative Manager Nicole Bull.
“With pét-nat, you want to drink quickly,” she explains. “You want it to be super cold. And then drink it. You don’t want to leave it on your table for a few hours. Drink it when you’re thirsty.” As for pairings, she suggests pairing a pét-nat that has a bit of residual sugar with spicy foods.
Brittany opts for salty pairings. “ Salt and wine love each other. Saltiness in food accentuates the frothiness and fruitiness in bubbly wine. So when it comes to pairing lightly effervescent wines, I’m grabbing a bag of potato chips or ordering extra fries with my burger. I especially love tacos with chips and guacamole with rosé pét-nat. Chill it, pop off the crown cap, order takeout, and enjoy a night in.”
Who we’re drinking
Domaine Mosse were some of the first winemakers to revive the tradition of pét-nat in the Loire in the 1990s. Founders Agnès and René Mosse were inspired by the winemakers they met while they owned a winebar in Tours, and were later taught by another pét-nat revivalist, Thierry Puzelat. When they bought their 17 hectares in St-Lambert, they decided from the get-go that they would farm organically and use biodynamic preparations.
René retired in 2020, and now wines are made by Agnès and their sons. They make a pét-nat called ‘Moussamoussettes,’ from Pineau D’Aunis and Grolleau Noir, which is made in Anjou but is intentionally declassified. Rather than the typical crown cap, they use a Champagne cork. “It’s delicious, classic, and fruity,” says Nicole. “One of my favorite pét-nats hands down.”
The Brand brothers — Daniel and Jonas — are likely the first real producers of pét-nat in Germany. Their energy and enthusiasm matches that of their wines, which have somewhat of a cult following.
“We always have Brand on the glass list in the Wine Bar,” says Nicole. “Right now, we have their pét-nat blanc and rosé in the shop. They’re a pretty clean and classical style of pét-nat. The white is super thirst-quenching, and kind of reminds me of spritzy lemonade but it’s not sweet.”
Another of our favorite pét-nat producers comes from Australia. Babche makes “wines like grandma made ‘em,” and is a small négociant in the process of procuring their own vineyard in Timboon, Victoria. They only use fruit from parcels that they tend to themselves, or that they source from growers committed to sustainable farming.
One of their pét-nats is called ‘Farmer Fizz,” which is another name for grower Champagne. It’s made entirely with Chardonnay and spends nine months on the lees before disgorgements. Everything is handpicked, fermented with native yeast, and bottled unfined and unfiltered.
Babche is Slavic for Grandma or Nana. Their wines, then, are “an ode to the matriarchs in our families who made wine this way, by hand and unadulterated.”