Want to know more about this summer-friendly bubbly?
Pét-nat the champagne’s country cousin, is versatile and is gaining ground with American winemakers and drinkers, because of its natural method and its playful vibe. It’s a sipper with ice for a picnic in the park, encouraging you to toss off your shoes, relax and nibble on some cheese (any food, really).
What it is
Short for pétillant naturel (a.k.a.méthode ancestrale), pét-nat is a lightly effervescent Old World sparkling style that’s dry to slightly sweet and has low alcohol, making it great for summer. It nearly disappeared with the advent of modern commercial winemaking—except in rural corners of Europe. Pét-Nat’s recent resurgence originated with French natural winemakers who embraced its “nothing added, nothing taken away” ethos.
While most say “pétillant natural” on the label, a crown cap—not a cork—is often a dead giveaway that you’re holding a pét-nat from the growing crop of American producers. Pét-nat earned the moniker “winemaker’s wine” because it’s sipped within a year of being made and can be the first real indication of a vintage’s quality.
Champagne vs. Pét-Nat
Made from any grape variety, pét-nat ferments once in the bottle. It’s often cloudy thanks to naturally occurring yeast. The wine is usually released very young, boasting big fruit notes. By comparison, Champagne has strict rules on the varieties that can be used and ferments twice—once for the base wine and again to produce the bubbles. The yeast must be removed (so it’s clear) and the wine requires aging.
Why America Loves It
Once the domain of the French, pét-nat is trending worldwide, especially in the U.S. where its rustic roots appeal to our love affair with farm-to-table fare. Free from the rules of Champagne production, American adopters learned to bottle wine with unfermented sugars by mastering timing—capping juice too early risked bottle explosion, too late could cause the wine to lose its sparkle.
Now the fizz bug has spread from predictable locales like California and Oregon to underdog Maine and Vermont, where producers are making hardy French-American hybrids. Despite its growth, pét-nat producers remain boutique outfits that find joy in the inherent imperfections of a drink fermented with limited human intervention. Pét-nat will never be churned out on a factory line, with a recipe that aims for consumer-driven consistency year after year. Its purpose? Provide a pleasurable, whimsical expression of a time and place.
Five to Try
- Salinia Wine Co. Twenty Five Reasons (Mendocino)
- Birichino Malvasia Bianca (Monterey)
- Cruse Wine Co. Valdiguié (Petaluma)
- Donkey & Goat Lily’s Cuvée (Anderson Valley)
- La Garagista Ci Confonde White (Vermont)
By Lauren Mowery, WineEnthusiast