/ by Pete Martin
In a world where people often equate sparkling wine with Champagne or prosecco, it’s tempting to call pét-nat new (after all, it’s just now showing up on restaurant menus and in wine shops here).
But pétillant naturel, or pét-nat for short, isn’t new at all. In fact, it is made with an ancient technique called méthode ancestrale that far predates the way most sparkling wines are made today. What is new is its newfound popularity, which has been on the rise since winemakers in France revisited méthode ancestrale in the 1990s.
WHAT IS PÉT-NAT?
Unlike wines such as Champagne that undergo a second, bubble-producing fermentation, pét-nat wines are bottled during primary fermentation, when the sugars and yeast are still active. That primary fermentation continues inside the bottle, capturing the carbon dioxide that is naturally released by the wine creating the festive bubbles so many of us enjoy. Pét-nat isn’t governed by strict production rules, either; it can be made anywhere and with any grape. Most pét-nats tend to be fairly dry, with fresh, bright flavors and lots of character.
“I think the fact of the matter is most traditional sparkling wines taste similar,” says Greg McPhee, owner and executive chef at The Anchorage, which typically features one or two pét-nats on its wine list. “Pét-nat gives you a huge range of flavors and varietals. It represents the sense of terroir, the sense of place and time when the bottle was actually made. The bubbles are smaller and there’s less of a head on the wine itself.”
The Community Tap is stocking it and planning to add more to its shelves. “I think it’s come into vogue in part because of the natural wine movement,” says Ed Buffington, co-owner of The Community Tap. “It’s also a way to get high-quality sparkling wines at a relatively inexpensive level. You can get high quality pét-nats at a more affordable price point than Champagne.”
The rise in popularity of pét-nat doesn’t surprise McPhee. Younger wine drinkers, in particular, are seeking wines they haven’t tried before and desire more-authentic food and wine experiences, he says. Smaller wine producers and younger winemakers have taken notice.
“Plant-based diets, natural wines, farm-to-table cuisines, pét-nat fits right in with that,” he says. “It’s transparent. You know exactly what’s in the bottle. It’s the ‘less is more’ mentality.”
And price is a consideration, too. A good bottle of Champagne can easily top $100 at a restaurant; at The Anchorage, pét-nats typically are $60 or less. On a retail shelf in a wine store, that means you could spend as little as $20 for a bottle of a quality sparkling wine.
In a world where so many sparkling wines taste similar, pét-nat brings something different to the table.
“The pét-nats, at least the ones we have sold, you’re not going to confuse them with prosecco,” Buffington says. “Some of the winemakers are making very fun, playful wines. It’s not an average sparkling wine.”
Another plus, pét-nat pairs with almost anything, from cheese or charcuterie to seasonal fish or sauced pasta. “You can literally eat anything with it,” McPhee says. “The bubbles are going to help to cleanse the fat or complement the dish. I think of it as the perfect patio wine, but it can also hold up to heavier items.”
AVOID THE FLUTE.
Because pét-nat is a sparkling wine, you might be tempted to serve it in a Champagne flute. McPhee prefers a white wine glass. “If you’re really talking about exploring the wine,” he says, “it’s better to have something that has got a little bit larger opening, so you’re able to really allow the oxygen to get in there.”
I recently sampled two pét-nats: a Domaine Jousset Éxilé rosé and a Cruse Wine Co. Sparkling Deming Vineyard Valdiguie. Both wines were fairly dry, nicely balanced and had more body and flavor than I expect from sparkling wine. The Éxilé presented a floral nose, with lots of berries on the palate and a crisp acidity. The Cruse had a yeasty, earthy nose, with intense flavors of fruit on the palate finishing with a just a hint of watermelon.
DEMING VINEYARD SPARKLING VALDIGUIE, $65 on the menu by the bottle at The Anchorage
DOMAINE JOUSSET ÉXILÉ ROSÉ, Cruse Wine Co., $21 on the shelf at The Community Tap