Perhaps you have never heard of “Pétillant Naturel”, or “Pet-Nat” as it’s known on the street. Well not for long, because people are starting to get really excited about it. Or perhaps you have heard of it under another of its aliases, such as “Ancestral Method” or “Natural Sparkling Wine". Or perhaps you already drink it by the litre, but it just still isn’t quite clear what the difference is compared to other sparkling wines… Well, even some winemakers appear to have the same troubles – check this video out.
There are broadly 3 different ways of making sparkling wine, each creating different possibilities. So what’s in a name? And more importantly, what’s in your glass of bubbles!? Well here’s the cheat sheet, to keep you bubbling along. Read more here.
Traditional Method (or Methode Champenoise) is the most famous, and involves 3 major stages. First, you make a still wine, usually of low alcohol and high acidity. Second, the wine is aged and blended (or not, for single vineyard or vintage wines) and put into tightly sealed bottles, along with a spoonful of sugar and active dry yeast that will ferment inside the bottle. The fermentation creates CO2 gas, which is trapped in the wine in the sealed bottle. Finally, after a period of ageing, the dead yeast deposit in each bottle is expulsed (disgorged) and the lost volume in the bottle is topped-up with wine and potentially some other additions known as “dosage”, being another spoonful of sugar (or two) and/or other flavour enhancers.
Another very famous sparkling wine is “Prosecco”, which is generally made using the Charmat Method. Under this method, still wine is stored in bulk in large, pressure resistant tanks (which look a bit like submarines). Either a second fermentation is launched within the pressure-cooker tank, or CO2 gas is pumped into the tank. The sparkling wine is then bottled via a pressure resistant bottling line.
Pet-Nat is without a doubt the purest expression of the raw materials, allowing for zero entrant winemaking. Under this method, wine grapes are picked at optimum maturity, are pressed, and begin fermentation via the naturally present indigenous yeast on the grapes. The wine is put into bottle mid-way through, while the juice is still fermenting. The natural fermentation is thus allowed to finish in the bottle, trapping the naturally occurring CO2 in the wine. The wine may then be aged if desired, and the yeast deposit may or may not be disgorged. The result is Pet-Nat, which, depending on the producer, can vary from clean and limpid to decidedly troubled and cloudy, and from lightly frizzante to explosively party-like!
Pet Nat wines can offer a very different experience to Champagne or Charmat Method wines. They are often very refreshing and fun, can be very pure, and in the case of the greatest, incredibly deep, subtle, profound and vinous.
by Charlie Simpson