Your American Pét-Nat Primer

Your American Pét-Nat Primer

Champagne’s country cousin, the versatile pét-nat is gaining ground with American winemakers and drinkers for its natural method and its playful, pretense-free vibe. It’s a sipper made for ice chests and blankets in the park, encouraging you to toss off your shoes and nibble on charcuterie and farmhouse cheese (any food, really). Turn a cartwheel and blow a wish on a dandelion puff—it’s the carefree summer of your youth, bottled.

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.

Your Pét-Nat Primer

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. It’s purpose? Provide a pleasurable, whimsical expression of a time and place.

Five to Try

Salinia Wine Co. Twenty Five Reasons (Mendocino)
Birichino Pétulant Naturel Malvasia Bianca (Monterey)
Cruse Wine Co. Valdiguié (Petaluma)
Donkey & Goat Lily’s Cuvée (Anderson Valley)
La Garagista Ci Confonde White (Vermont)

Published on May 27, 2015
Topics: Wine Basics