Around the World Pét-Nat Party! (#WinePW)

“Won’t you take me to funky town?”

I’ve decided I’m going to be all about the bubbles this December (or mostly anyways) and we’re kicking the festivities off with an “Around the World Pét-Nat Party!” We’re going to take a little sipping journey to look at the history of these wines and explore some of the different flavors you might find in these fun and funky bottles.

These bubblies have been slowly creeping up in our rotation, taking up growing more and more of a percentage  of what I drink over the last few years. Not long ago, these were a rarity to me; now I’m grabbing these bottles left and right.

🙋🏻‍♀️ ‘Um, What’s pét-nat?’ I know a lot of you are probably asking this question.

Pét-nat is the affectionate abbreviation for pétillant naturel wines, or naturally sparking. While these wines have been super trendy in recent years, there’s nothing new about them. In fact, this method of making sparkling wine actually predates the méthode traditionnelle (“traditional method”) that is used in making Champagne.

Pét-nats differ from most sparkling wines in a key way. Very basically, the majority of bubblies, including traditional method wines, are made via two separate fermentations. The first fermentation makes a base wine. Yeast and sugar are added to the still wine, kick starting a second fermentation, which creates the bubbles. (If you want to delve deeper into the process, I invite you to check out this post.)

For pét-nats everything happens in one step. Wines are transferred to bottle while there are still sugars yet to be converted to alcohol. The yeast go back to work once they’re in the bottle, creating CO2 in the process. Having nowhere to go, it remains trapped as bubbles. The resulting wine is fizzy, but less so than traditional method wines. This way of making sparkling wines is referred to as the méthode ancestrale, or ancestral method.

You can actually make a pét-nat accidentally, which used to happen a lot. If a wine is chilled down enough during fermentation, it halts the process. So imagine you’re a winemaker back in the day. You start your wine fermentation after harvest in the fall. Suddenly there’s a cold spell. Your wine stops fermenting, so you think it’s ready and you bottle it. Everything seems fine all winter. Then all of a sudden spring arrives and temperatures start to warm up. All of a sudden, wines are fermenting in the bottles again. Before glass could be made strong enough, this would lead to A LOT of exploding bottles in cellars in the springtime since they couldn’t hold in all the fizzy action.

The process is unpredictable, but a few regions figured out how to harness it early. The town of Limoux in Languedoc has claims on being the oldest sparkling wine region in the world, as Abbey of St-Hilaire was producing (deliberately) sparkling wines from 1531, and they started out making their sparkling wines in the méthode ancestrale. By comparison, the méthode champenoise (what we now call traditional method) wasn’t in practice until about a century later (Christopher Merret, an English physician and scientist, presented a paper describing the process in 1662.) You can still find the wines of Limoux made in the original style under the AOC Limoux Methode Ancestrale made from the Mauzac grape.  Nowadays, Limoux also makes sparkling wine under AOC's Blanquette de Limoux and Crémant de Limoux, both of which are made via the traditional method. (Check out Limoux's website for additional info on these.) Limoux Methode Ancestrale wines are a touch sweeter than the other sparklers from Limoux, and are often a bit cloudy as well since they are not disgorged.
I'd hoped to find a  Limoux Methode Ancestrale for this post, but sadly, had no luck. I did find this  La Ferme du Vert L'Angelou Petillant Naturel Brut ($21 at K & L) is from near Calais, however, it is made in the methode ancestrale with the Mauzac grape. It showed note of bruised apples, beeswax, honey comb, yeast, and dried flowers.  To be honest, we didn't love this one because the flavors were a little disjointed. However, it did integrate a bit over time and did pair well with our shrimp with veggies in a light coconut green curry. The recipe is similar to this one, but with shrimp instead of clams.

Which brings us to the question - to disgorge, or not to disgorge? For areas where the point isn't regulated, the question of whether to remove the lees (dead yeast cells) or not is actually debated among pét-nat producers. After all, pét-nat itself is not a regulated term, so there's bound to be debate about what it means. Bottom line is that some do and some don’t. However, it’s very common to leave those yeast cells in, so don’t be surprised if your bottle of pét-nat is really cloudy. Don’t worry – it’s supposed to be that way. For a lot of the winemakers that decide to leave the lees in the bottle, they feel they contribute to the flavor and texture of the wine. You’ll also find that many pét-nats are closed with a crown cap, as the cap is not replaced with a cork, as might be done after disgorging. 

Pét-nat bottles being disgorged at Broc Cellars in Berkeley. 


In Italy, there is a related style of Prosecco for which leaving the lees in is key. These wines go by a few different terms such as Sui Lieviti and Col Fondo. Col Fondo is the more common indicator for the style I’ve seen. As in other cases, this style of making bubbly in the region predates the Martinotti method (aka Charmat method, tank method, Metodo Italiano, Cuvée Close, autoclave) which was first developed in 1895, and is more typically used in the region today. (See this post for more info.) The main factor is they're not disgorged, but are also often made in one fermentation – i.e. méthode ancestral. Thanks to those lees in the bottle, these wines are more textured than other Prosecco styles, and they are made in the Brut Nature style (i.e there are no added sugars to keep the fermentation going.) I was loving this style on my recent work trip to Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG ! They traditionally pair these wines with the charcuterie of the region, as it cuts through the fat nicely. Given that extra texture, these wines also pair well with more substantial dishes than the other more delicately flavored bubblies of the region.
Four delicious Col Fondos. I tried the Mongarda Glera Colli Trevigiani Col Fondo IGT,  the Difetto Perfetto sur lie Prosecco di Valdobbiadene DOCG from Sorelle Bronca, and the Malibràn Credamora Col Fondo Prosecco di Valdobbiadene DOCG, were some of my favorite finds from my recent trip to Conegliano-Valdobbiadene. (Please note: this trip was work related as I recently have been working with the region a PR capacity. No other compensation was received for this post.) They were all very different each other and I brought back a bottle of each, so we'll hopefully be revisiting them in the future. The Casa Coste Piane Frizzante Naturalmente Prosecco di Valdobbiadenne DOCG helped cheer up Greg and I after our worst meal in Italy during our trip last year. 
Who knew you could have a BAD meal in Italy?
 

In one sense pét-nat is the easiest style of sparkling wine to make; after all you can end up making one accidentally. However, it’s also pretty unpredictable since they’re often made with natural yeasts and a less controlled fermentation, so the winemaker really has to know what they’re doing.

There is so much about pét-nat that easily alligns with the natural wine movements non-interventionist ethos, so it’s no surprise that the modern wave of wines made in this way has very much been fueled by natural winemakers. While using the ancestral method to make a bubbly doesn’t automatically make it a natural wine, the overlap in the metaphorical Venn diagram of producers making pét-nats and natural wine producers is large, so nowadays, they’re pretty closely associated with that movement, and the popularity of pét-nats has risen right along with it.

Pét-nats can also be made with pretty much any grape, from just about anywhere, and you’ll find versions that are completely bone dry, but there’s also often a little touch of residual sugar (RS) remaining. All of this means you can end up with a REALLY wide range of flavors, so it’s hard to generalize how they taste.  I will say that the yeasts tend to give the wines a different character than the toasty, bready, pastry notes you get with traditional method wines. They’re usually more raw and fresh.  Think about bread dough versus baked bread or pastry. The wines are also often really juicy, which makes them super refreshing and chuggable. Super glou glou. In terms of flavor profile, I find they have a lot in common with sour beers and kombucha. If you tend to like those beverages there is a good chance you’ll like pét-nats.

That said, the unpredictability that goes with these wines means that you might also find some funky flavors you’re not used to in these bottles, so they’re definitely not everyone. At the same time, I would really encourage you to try a few before counting them out, given that they come in such a wide variety of styles and flavors.

They’re also just a lot of fun. They’re not about being serious, they’re just about a good time. 

There's a little irreverent streak that goes with a lot of these wines that gets reflected in the label designs. I haven't tried these three yet, but got a kick out of the images when I recently saw them lined up on the shelf at Bay Grape.
We've had more than one party at Bay Grape celebrating these wines.

I thought I’d share an array of pét-nats here today to give you an idea of the wide set of flavors available, as well as some of the different ways I’ve paired them. Because of the bubbles and their juicy factor, I find these wines are often good options for many hard to pair foods, particularly spicy ones. In addition, because pét-nats are often a little bit funky, they likewise tend to work with foods that are also a little bit funky.

Cue the song. 

This tasty pét-nat rosé of Pinot Noir from Scribe with Sriaracha Kettle Chips which was a weird and fun pairing. The wine was reminiscent of strawberry lemonade. A group of us enjoyed this while prepping for Bâtonnage.
I went to one of Broc Cellars' wine club pick up parties with a friend who is a member a while back, and the Chenin Blanc pét-nat was one of my favorite wines on offer that day. It was a tasty pairing with both tacos and falafel.
On another occasion, I brought a bottle of their Valdiguié pét-nat to the Culinary Cabin and we had it during an afternoon snack session with chips and homemade guac. It reminded my friend Dee of hibiscus agua fresca.
Donkey & Goat is literally next door to Broc in Berkeley and they also make some tasty pét-nat. We had the Lily's Pet Nat of Chardonnay as my friend Delia gave us a dumpling making lesson.
On another trip to the Culinary Cabin, I brought Patton Valley Vineyards pét-nat rosé of Pinot Noir, which tasted of strawberries, watermelon, and guava. We paired it with some AWESOME shrimp puffs Greg made. (Recipe hopefully coming soon to Nibbling Gypsy.) As you can see from the sediment, this one is definitely not disgorged.

Old Westminster in Maryland makes a lot of really cool bubblies. Among the most unique wines I've ever had are their Piquettes. Piquette is a very old school beverage in which water is added back to the pomace leftover from winemaking to make another, low-alcohol wine. This is an orange version (the 2019 was made from Pinot Gris and Albariño, but not sure if the 2018 was the same), but they also make a red version. I have to admit that Greg was skeptical when I brought this one home, but we both found it to be really refreshing, lightly fizzy, and easy to drink. It smelled of dried orange blossoms and apricots. On the palate there was peach skin and tangerines. Greg compared it to peach lemonade with a splash of wine. He also thought it was more vinous for him than other pét-nats he'd had, which is particularly interesting given the process.
We had the Piquette with Wenchang (Hainanese) Chicken Rice based on this recipe from Saveur. I'll admit this is not the most attractive dish, but it's super tasty and cozy. This version makes use of calamansi limes and the wine really resonated with the citrus notes, as well as the ginger in the sauce.
I've mentioned La Boutanche before in this previous post, but it's a really fun line of wines put together by importer Selection Massale of affordable natural wines working with some of the producers in their portfolio. Their pét-nat is made in collaboration with Quentin Bourse of Le Sot de l'Ange in  the Loire Valley and is made with Chardonnay and Sauv Blanc. It was clean with a nice richness to the body, with notes of baked gold apples and heady blossoms on the nose. Beeswax and peaches joined in on the palate. The richness made it a nice match for spicy, Japanese fried chicken take-out from Aburaya here in Oakland, we got for a night in  hanging out with a friend.

My friend Maura and I had this Measure Zero pét-nat from Margins Wine during the initial planning phases of Della Donna, while haning out at The Punchdown in downtown Oakland. It was super juicy. 😋
The Viognier & Sauv Blanc pét-nat from Preston Kalogiros was another juicy and delicious version. The Viognier added texture and aromatics, while the Sauv Blanc brought fresh acidity. I brought this to picnic in the park.
One of my favorite wines I got to taste on my trip to Cahors was this Buzz pét-nat of Malbec at Château Lacapelle Cabanac. I was so bummed that it isn't imported to the US. Super Yummy!
I've been occasionally been amusing myself by doing Emoji Tasting Notes on the Nibbling Gypsy 's Instagram stories. This one is for a pét nat out of Chile by Louis Antoin Luyt.

Bottles from a wine geek picnic celebrating my friend Sam's birthday. You'll notice more than one pét-nat in the group, including versions from Blue Ox Wine Co and Birichino.
 *****

The rest of the Wine Pairing Weekend Crew is also exploring pét-nat wines this month. Check out their posts here:

Resources used for this post & additional reading:

VinePair: What Is Pét-Nat Wine?
Bon Appétit: Pét-Nat, Champagne's Cool Kid Sister, Is the Bubbly You Want to Party With
Wine Enthusiast: Your Pét-Nat Primer
The Press: Pet-nat, the wine world’s trendiest sparkling wine
The New York Times: Bubbles, With Joy: Pétillant Naturel’s Triumphant Return
Punch: The Insider’s Guide to Pét-Nat
Punch: What Is “Pét-Nat,” Really?
Wine-Searcher.com
The Oxford Companion via the JancisRobinson.com



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6 comments

  1. What an amazing roundup of and sparkling wines! I learned quite a bit about pet nats just reading your post. I didn't realize there was a limoux method either. I'm also drinking quite a bit of bubbles this month too. Cheers!

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    1. Thanks Deanna! Just to clarify though, the Limoux Method Ancestrale wines are a different method; they were the original wine specializing in making wines the way Pét Nats are today.

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  2. Wow, this IS a party! And informative, too. You managed to find so many options to taste - and then came up with such scrumptious pairings. The best thing might be that Funky Town is now playing on a loop in my head, reminding me of the crazy 80s. So much fun! :-)

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  3. Such a fabulous post with so much valuable, detailed information - thank you, Nicole!! Will I receive an invite to your next party?? I'll fly in for sure;)

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    1. Thanks so much Cindy, and thanks for hosting as well. You absolutely have an invite to my next party. ;-)

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Thanks so much for leaving your comments and questions. I always love to hear from you!