Given their recent popularity, it’s likely you might have heard of Pet-Nat wines. These fizzy wines have increased in popularity in recent years, but perhaps many of us still don’t know much about what they actually are. Let’s get to know them better!
Pet-Nat is short for the French Petillant Naturel, which essentially means naturally effervescent. These wines are bottled during fermentation, which results in carbon dioxide -or CO2- being trapped in the bottle and forming bubbles. By contrast, the bubbles in wines such as Champagne or Crémant, made using the Traditional Method, necessitate added yeast and sugars in order to develop. This is not to say one method has more or less dignity than another! However, fans of natural wines have been particularly interested in Pet-Nats because of their ‘low-intervention’ nature.
THE ORIGINAL PET-NAT: THE MÉTHODE ANCESTRALE
The history of Pet-Nats starts in the South of France, where the méthode ancestrale (Ancestral Method) of winemaking has been in use for hundreds of years. Historical records dating as far back as 1531 suggest that the method was developed -possibly in part by accident- by Benedictine monks in an abbey in Limoux, Languedoc. These monks may well have been the first producers of bubbly wine in the world!
Bubbles are caused by the fermentation process occurring when the yeasts, activated by temperature, start feeding on the sugars in the grape juice, and release CO2. The méthode ancestrale essentially involves stalling the fermentation process before the yeast has consumed all the available sugars. This is achieved by cooling the partially fermented grape juice to a temperature where the yeast becomes inactive and fermentation stops. The ‘wine’ is then bottled and brought back to an appropriate temperature, at which point the fermentation restarts. From this point on, all the CO2 remains in the bottle, allowing the wine to develop its fizz.
The cooler temperatures of the monks’ hilly home may have played a part in the development of the Ancestral Method. Maybe an early winter onset once forced them to bottle their wine earlier, leading to the accidental production of sparkling wine… but this is speculation. What is certain is that the monks used to rely on the winter cold and on the spring warmth to stop and restart fermentation. Thankfully, modern technology affords contemporary wine-makers a greater degree of temperature control.
DRINKING TIPS TO ENJOY YOUR PET-NAT
Some producers give advice on the best way to enjoy your bottle. Chill it upright for at least half an hour, possibly in an ice bucket. This will allow the yeast to deposit at the bottom, so that you can pour some clear glasses. The final pours will be cloudier, and you will appreciate their richness.
Have a look at our sparkling wine selection, and choose the bubble you like best!