The other night, I reached into the fridge and grabbed a simple green bottle with a bottle cap stopper. I grabbed an opener, popped the cap off, and poured a glass. Immediately, I could sense its unapologetically raw and unfiltered nature through the bright and light bubbles. And, no, it wasn’t a bottle of beer but rather a natural sparkling wine called Pet-Nat.
Pet-nat, short for Pétillant-Naturel, is a natural sparkling wine that embodies the charm of minimal intervention winemaking. Unlike its more traditional counterparts, such as Champagne, Cava, or Prosecco, Pet-Nat’s appeal lies in its unpredictable, rustic character and its ability to showcase the terroir and grape varieties like no other sparkling wine.
The journey of Pet-Nat begins with the primary fermentation of grape juice, much like still wine production. The wine is then bottled while it’s still fermenting, allowing the natural sugars and yeast to produce carbonation inside the bottle. Unlike many sparkling wines, Pet-Nat is typically unfiltered, resulting in a cloudy appearance and a more authentic, untouched taste. Pet-Nat is all about letting nature do its thing. There are minimal additives and manipulations, allowing the grape’s true character to shine through. For those who want to throw fancy terms around, this is what’s called the méthode ancestrale.
The roots of Pet-Nat trace back to France, specifically the Loire Valley. Winemakers in this region have practiced the méthode ancestrale for centuries. Today, this method has spread far beyond the Loire Valley to wine regions worldwide, including here in the US, particularly California and Oregon. You can likely find a bottle at your local Trader Joe’s or Total Wine.
Aside from the name, Pet-Nat is a bit quirky. Because of the natural fermentation process, the flavor and carbonation levels can vary from bottle to bottle, adding an element of surprise to each tasting experience. They can be effervescent, dry or slightly sweet, and display a range of fruity and floral notes. The flavor profile can vary widely depending on the grape, terroir, and winemaker’s choices. They also have a lower alcohol level, which may be appealing for those watching their caloric and buzz-inducing intake. If you want an more festive appeal, you can even find a rosé version. I tried the Turra from Portugal and loved it.
Pairing food with pet-nat wines can be a delightful experience since they can complement a variety of dishes. They are great companions for light appetizers like bruschetta, fresh oysters, ceviche, or seafood salads. Or, take a sip or two to cut through the creaminess of mild to moderate cheeses, like brie, camembert, or goat cheese. If you favor spicy Thai, Indian or Mexican food, the slight sweetness and effervescence of pet-nat wines can help tame the heat. Also, just like Champagne, pet-nat is a zinger with fried foods like tempura, fried chicken, or crispy calamari.
In the world of sparkling wines, Pet-Nat is a breath of fresh air. Whether you’re a seasoned wine aficionado or just curious about exploring new flavors, Pet-Nat offers an exciting journey into the world of natural, unfiltered, and beautifully imperfect sparkling wines. So, the next time you’re looking for a wine that’s unique and refreshing, consider reaching for a bottle of Pet-Nat. You might just discover your new favorite bubbly companion. Cheers to the sparkling revolution!