First things first, what’s a pét-nat?
Short for petillant-naturel (the term used in France, where this style of wine is assumed to originate), pét-nat (used by wine industry folks, natural wine fans and people who think they’re cool) is a natural sparkling wine. Whereas most quality sparkling wines go through both a primary and a secondary fermentation, petillant-naturel wines go through only a single fermentation, resulting in a slightly less fizzy, softer sparkling wine that is also normally pretty low in alcohol. The method used to make petillant-naturel wines is known as the Method Ancestral and thought to have been first used by Romans who accidentally bottled wine while it was still fermenting.
There are a couple of things to note about pét-nat wines. Due to the wines being bottled before they have completed fermentation, the lees from the yeast (which enhance a wine’s flavor and texture) in the wine are trapped in the bottle, making the wine somewhat cloudy or hazy.
Pét-nats have been trending in California since the late 2000s when the natural wine craze started gaining real traction. But the wines being made today are leaps and bounds ahead of the ones I tasted a dozen years ago.
At the beginning of the mid to late 2000s natural wine movement, I was living in San Francisco working for a wine import company, regularly tasting with sommeliers and wine buyers at restaurants and wine shops. The U.S.-made natural wines that I tasted during this period lacked freshness, balance, complexity and consistency. Most of my wine industry friends agreed. We were unimpressed.
Fast forward to a decade later, I found that a handful of my favorite Sonoma County wineries had recently started to make pét-nats. I knew that if anyone was going to do a great job, it was going to be wineries like these.
Where the natural wines I was tasting 14 years ago were either almost completely flat, slightly sour or stinky, or simply lacking any complexity, the pét-nats being crafted by the below producers are on another level. Clean, fresh and pretty or bright and refreshing, these changed my opinion of natural sparkling wines.
Cruse Wine Co. Pétillant Naturel Blanc de Noirs of Valdiguié
A crisp, lean, pale and pink sparkling made from old vine, dry farmed, organic valdiguié grapes grown in Wooden Valley, Napa. (www.crusewineco.com)
Joseph Jewell Pétillant Naturel of Vermentino
A fresh, bright wine with a clear pale-golden straw hue and plenty of floral and citrus aromas and flavors. Made from Vermentino grown in the Dry Creek Valley (Raymond Burr Vineyard). (www.josephjewell.com)
Meeker ‘Pet Nat’ Rosé of Pinot Noir
A clean, lean and fresh orangey-pink wine with notes of grapefruit and orange zest. Made from Russian River Valley Pinot Noir. (store.meekerwine.com)
Two Shepherds ‘Natty Pets’
A unique blend of picpoul, grenache blanc and Two Shepherds’ orange wine, Centime (a skin contact grenache blanc), this soft sparkler is light and refreshing. (www.twoshepherds.com)
Other local winery brands that make pét-nats (but are currently out of stock) include La Prenda, Passaggio and Kara Marie Wines.
Get in touch with Brooke at [email protected] with wine, cider or drink related tips.
Being a Pet-Nat does not necessarily mean “natural”. Pet-Nats can be made from chemically farmed grapes, use genetically selected yeasts and be subjected to invasive cellar treatments before bottling. All of which would disqualify them as “natural”.
A Pet-Nat is a kind of wine, of which there are natural, and not so natural, examples.