What is Pét-Nat Wine | Flavor and Characteristics

Jan 09 , 2023

Traynor Vineyards

What is Pét-Nat Wine | Flavor and Characteristics

Pét-nat wine is a type of naturally sparkling wine that has gained popularity in recent years. The term pét-nat is derived from the French words pétillant naturel, or "naturally sparkling." The natural and unadulterated qualities of pét-nat wine attract connoisseurs searching for an authentic and organic wine experience.

This bubbly is different from other types like champagne. It comes down to the fact that vineyards bottle pét-nat wine during the initial fermentation process, leading to a much different experience. All of the bubbles in pét-nat sparkling wine are produced from the sugars of the grapes. In non-sparkling wines, all of the fermentation occurs before the bottle, leading to a lack of trapped bubbles.

The traditional process of pét-nat wine produces sparkling, wild tastes with their own character and texture. For instance, Traynor Vineyard in Prince Edward County, Ontario carries a selection of pét-nat wine made using natural and vegan methods. This leads to an organic fresh fruit flavor with bubbles.

The History of Méthode Ancestrale

Pét-nat wine is the new darling of the wine world, but it isn't actually new. The style of fermentation involved with crafting a bottle of pét-nat is actually a centuries-old winemaking method–méthode ancestrale from 1531. This process allows the wine to undergo a single fermentation, and the winemaker bottles and caps the wine before it has stopped fermenting. By doing this, the remaining sugar from the fruit and grapes is converted into carbon dioxide by yeast. This leads to the bubbling glasses of wine that have become so popular.

High-quality pét-nat sparkling wine is made with an organic philosophy attached, with little intervention and no additives. It's in the spirit of the organic production of grapes and wine. While the first wine was credited to Limoux in the 15th century, it took some time for it to gain traction. Méthode ancestrale experienced a resurgence in popularity in the 1990s, and from there, pét-nat exploded in popularity. It's fun and low in alcohol, making it a popular choice for an easygoing wine.

Now that connoisseurs are asking for pét-nat more and more, winemakers are able to experiment more. Classic sparkling wines are only made from a narrow selection of grapes, but pét-nat has shown it can taste great with all kinds of interesting and unfamiliar grape combinations. 

In 2010, pét-nat production became popular in France, and now it's even more common to find pét-nats in other countries. It is becoming even more mainstream as time goes on, especially among trade professionals and consumers. The growing interest in organic, sustainable, and natural wines has propelled pét-nat to popularity, showing no signs of fading soon. Organic vineyard management has made pét-nat an economical choice for winemakers as well, as it allows them to produce a bottle of high-quality wine in an ethical and organic fashion without buckling under the costs of traditional wine-making methods.

Pét-nat is growing because people want to drink something unique yet approachable. It shows that a light, flavorful wine has a powerful market. The price point makes pét-nat accessible to casual consumers as well. With that being said, it's important not to lose sight of the wine's illustrious roots–this bubbly was born from tradition and history.

The Craft of Pét-Nat

Traditional wines like champagne are made by combining dry wines—in other words, wines that have already undergone the fermentation process—using a small, carefully measured amount of yeast and sugar. The combination is bottled and aged. The yeast eats the sugar in the liqueur, creating a second in-fermentation cycle in the bottle that traps carbon dioxide, creating bubbles. Cheaper sparkling wines usually undergo this second fermentation process in vast tanks, or the CO2 is pumped into the wine before bottling. The reason we have champagne is because of pét-nat and this unique process.

While we talk about pét-nat wines, we should be clear that it's not a style of wine but rather a method of winemaking. Most of the process is left up to the winemaker. The wine acquires its sparkling bubbles as it finishes the primary fermentation in the bottle. The winemaker ultimately decides when a wine is ready to be bottled and what variety of grapes it is made from, and it is ultimately a decision that results in wines that range from simple to complex.

The process of pét-nat is similar to the process for Cava and champagne, but instead of blending different dry wines and putting them through a second round of fermentation, pét-nat is bottled while still in the first fermentation process. This creates an unadulterated version of natural wine. It's taken from the tank with nothing added during the process and nothing filtered out afterward, sealed with a crown cap to trap a small amount of carbon dioxide inside.

Loire Valley

Let's pause for a moment and go back to méthode ancestrale. France's Loire Valley wines pre-date champagne, but it wasn't their intention to make pét-nat. Like all good things, it happened first by happenstance. Loire's wines were likely bottled with enough residual sugar that the yeast could feed off of it. Though the wine would be a little cloudy with sediment during this process, it left the wine effervescent with bursting flavor.

Pét-nat sparkling wine goes through a more natural process, which means it's harder to standardize. Each bottle is likely to have different notes of flavor and be entirely unique. Outside of the kinds of grapes used, the natural process changes pét-nat to something new. However, these wines aren't meant for long cellaring, as the bubbles become softer and smaller as they age. Once the sugars and the yeast are in the bottle, winemakers wisely let nature take its course. Every bottle will be a different adventure, spanning a whole range of raw and exciting to clean and spritzy fun.

The difference between a clearer pét-nat bottle of wine and a cloudier one comes down to the question of disgorging. If you haven't heard of disgorging before, it's the process of removing the dead lees (dead yeast cells) from the finished bottle. The question of whether to remove the lees or not can be a hot debate among winemakers, and that leads to some winemakers degorging and some not. It's common to leave the lees inside, so a cloudy bottle of pét-nat is perfectly normal. The lees contribute to the flavor and texture of the wine in some cases, so it isn't something to shy away from.

Pét-nat comes in many styles and tastes depending on what region it hails from as well. A great place to start experimenting with pét-nat is to try out the ones made in the heart of Prince Edward Wine Country. Enjoy sweeter, fruity bottles with an affordable price tag to get started.

Food Pairings and Bursting Flavor

Pét-nat wines are full of flavor and express the characteristics of the grape varieties and terroir from which they are produced. With the natural fermentation process and the combination of grape varieties, it's easy to say that they can range from dry, crisp, and tart all the way to yeasty, sweet, and fruity. Pét-nat wines are aromatic when first opened, and since disgorging is optional, they may be cloudy or clear. When we say these sparkling wines are unique, we mean it.

Unlike champagne which relies on aging for its aroma, pét-nat wines are created to be drunk young. The little bit of residual sugar and the harvested grapes all directly influence the taste of the wine. With a lighter taste and lower alcohol content, pét-nat wines are wonderful for casual gatherings, like a picnic or a brunch.

Take a dinner party. Pét-nats are slightly off-dry, so the perfect starter to a long evening. A bright and fruity red pét-nat that offers a blood orange finish won't overcrowd other flavors, and the 9.4% ABV makes it taste lighter and fresh, making it easier to digest alongside food. Just make sure you avoid flutes, using a proper wine glass to fully appreciate the pét-nats' flavor.

Follow The Rules

 A lively Rosé works well with all types of meals, and other flavors of pét-nats are paired well with a selection of lighter cheeses, salads, and crisp fruit like apples or pears. Try a bottle with some brie and camembert, or even roasted chestnuts when the season is right. Follow the usual rules for matching food and wine pairings. White wines should go with white meat and seafood, and reds should be paired with darker meats.

If you're looking for something to add alongside your charcuterie boards, seafood, and summertime food trays, pét-nats are phenomenal. Their fruity notes will play off each element on the board without overwhelming them. Before breaking out the bottle for an event, be sure you chill the bottle overnight or upright in an ice bucket for at least thirty minutes. The cold keeps the sediment at the bottom of the bottle, as they do run naturally hazy.

If you have a food you would typically pair with champagne or dry white wine, it's likely that a chilled bottle of pét-nats is going to be a great choice. Try out different combinations and meals to see what really pairs together, though we're willing to bet salmon is a fantastic choice.

Where Can I Buy A Pét-Nat?

Wine isn't meant to be out of reach. Wines that are natural and low intervention convey a sense of life that others don't. Remember, one of the other points to consider when buying wine is why buying organic, biodynamic wine is vital to the industry. By purchasing from ethical, sustainable vineyards, you support eco-friendly practices and living wages. Take steps to heal the planet by buying ethical, natural products that support this growing, powerful trend in the industry supported by natural wines made with minimal intervention.

For organic pét-nats sparkling wine, the grapes used are grown from sustainable practices. Most of the damage from the wine industry comes from growing grapes, so organic, natural wine is a fantastic process for the planet. Vintners who use organic grapes avoid adding harmful chemicals to their wine. Natural wines have no added sulfites, and though that means they aren't meant to be aged, it doesn't make them less of a choice. If anything, it means they are far different than the cookie-cutter bottles of wine most buy from supermarkets.

Wine produced from grapes treated with chemical fertilizers or pesticides, or harvested by workers in poor working conditions, is not considered sustainable wine. For sustainable pét-nats sparkling wines, check out Traynor Family Vineyard. The dedication to high-quality wines is evident, and with organic standards and low-intervention winemaking, you'll be helping the planet and enjoying fantastic wine.

Rustic and Sparkling Wine

Now that you've read all about pétillant naturel, we hope you'll consider popping open a bottle of this sparkling bubbly. With such a wide variety of sparkling wines, finding a pét-nat that is absolutely sippable is a breeze. From the long history of the pét-nat style of winemaking to the current varieties available today, there is always an adventure to enjoy.

If you want to introduce the wonder of pét-nat to your family and friends, try a summer BBQ. You could whip up a roasted peach and fennel salad, served with crispy pan-fried duck breast. Set out a charcuterie board with crisp-tasting foods. High-quality brie, pears, apples, and other summer staples will bring the party to life when paired with a bottle of chilled pét-nat.

Whether you're enjoying a glass of pét-nat by yourself while watching a sunset or you plan to share it around the table at dinner, it won't take long for anyone to realize that it goes down easy and leaves a lingering taste on their palate. It pairs perfectly with all kinds of food because of its refreshing acidity and fruity notes, which play well off any meal. Pét-nat is definitely worth a try if you're looking to expand your horizons with a new and delicious wine.