July 2017 Wine Alliance Notes

Pétillant Naturel aka Pet Nat

Pétillants Naturels have been surging in popularity over the past 5 or so years. While it’s easy to find these delightful sparkling wines in the super cool natural wine bars of Paris and NYC, they’ve been harder to get your hands on in our neck of the woods. So, it is with great excitement that we offer a collection of Pet Nats in Vif’s July club!

What are Pet Nats and where do they come from?

As a starting point it’s good to have a basic understanding of how bubbles wind up in wine.  Fermentation occurs when hungry yeast cells in a vat of grape juice feast on the sugars found in the juice. The sugars are converted into alcohol and carbon dioxide (CO2).  There’s a lot of CO2 released during fermentation. If you keep a tank open during the fermentation process all the CO2 will be released into the atmosphere. If you don’t, the CO2 will be captured in the wine and will be there until the tank is opened, at which point the CO2 is released in the form of bubbles! If you move a wine that hasn’t finished its fermentation from an open tank (or barrel or amphora etc) into a bottle and put a cap on it you will capture the bubbles and have a sparkling wine. Ok, admittedly that is a very abbreviated discussion of a complex process but I hope it helps as we discuss Pétillant Naturel.   

Historically, sparkling wines were an accident of the seasonal cycle. Think about what it must have been like in the early 1500s. Fermentations would begin after harvest in the warmth of late summer/fall and percolate during the season and then “go to sleep” or stop fermenting in the cold of winter. The following spring when the temperature would rise, if there was any sugar left, the wines would “wake up” and the producer had a naturally sparkling wine. Eventually wine makers learned how to control the process and began to bottle their sparkling wine. This style of making a sparkling wine from a single fermentation is called Methode Ancestral and predates the Champagne Method by a couple hundred years. The big difference between the Ancestral and Champagne methods is that Ancestral wines go through one fermentation while the Champagne method requires two.

Pétillant Naturel is a sparkling wine that goes through a single fermentation. It is started in a fermentation vessel and then when just the right amounts of sugar and yeast remain to produce bubbles the wine is transferred, lees and all, into the bottle. This is an important detail as the lees contribute to the flavor profile and make the wine cloudy. It sounds just like Ancestral right? Mostly it is. I would bet that if wine makers were to argue over what makes a Pet Nat, the Pet Nat-ers would likely say that the difference is that the Ancestral-istas filter out the yeast and halt the fermentation by chilling the wine before bottling and they don’t.

So why aren’t Pet Nats called Method Ancestral? Maybe it’s attitude and perspective. The producers making Pet Nats are making wines for the joy of a party and embrace natural rawness. Producers of Methode Ancestral are making wines of history and seek precision. Both are relevant. But hey, it’s summer in the P.N.W. Let’s party till the sun goes down!

Drink with Focus Club…or as much focus as is possible with Pet Nat

2016 Vinyas Singulares Toma Castanya!, Penedès, SP    $30

Grape -  Xarel-lo

2016 Stolpman Combe Pet’Nat, Ballard Canyon, CA    $42

Grape - Trousseau

Drink Everyday Club

2016 Maule Garg’N’Go, IGT Veneto, IT   $22

Grape - Garanega

La Staffa Mai Sentito, IGT Marche, IT   $20

Grape – Verdicchio di Castelli di Jesi