By Rose Murray Brown MW Published in The Scotsman 28 July 2018
You might have heard the name ‘Pet-Nat’ in bars or restaurants and wondered what this strange new wine phenomenon could be. It is the latest sommelier craze – deliciously fruity summery fizz – often with fun funky labels.
The name for this spritzy sparkling derives from ‘Petillant Naturel’. Although it is currently the hippest new fizz to drink, it is one of the oldest fizz which pre-dates Champagne. It is the same as Methode Ancestrale or Methode Rurale – words you might see on the label.
Some say this fizz method dates back almost 500 years and has been continuously used in Limoux, Gaillac and Savoie. Recently it became popular with small artisan winemakers in Loire and Rhone. Now it has taken off in Australia and California and is starting to catch on with English winemakers too.
There are no Pet-Nat rules on grape, region or style – so there are big variations between wines. It can be dry, off-dry or sweet, it can be white, rose or red and can be made anywhere in the world. What most have in common is that they are about as natural as any fizz can get. They are made with no additives, no dosage and zero sulphur; much more authentic than many commercial Proseccos.
“Pet-Nat is like a bottle of our vineyard as we have done nothing to it”, says Will Davenport (pictured right), who makes one of the best Pet-Nats from his Rotherfield vineyard in Sussex.
“We just press organic grapes and bottle it at the right moment. It is the most technically challenging wine we make as grapes must have a perfect acid/sugar balance and the right flavours – and we have to bottle it mid-harvest which is tricky to fit in”, he says.
The Pet-Nat process basically involves a single vintage wine, bottled before the alcoholic fermentation has finished. So the final alcohol level, residual sugar and fizz pressure will depend on the activity of the sugar and yeast left in the bottle, which is risky for the winemaker.
As Davenport explains, it is all about timing and temperature control. If you bottle early in fermentation, you get lower alcohol and more sugar, later in fermentation, higher alcohol and drier fizz. Pet—Nat alcohol levels vary from 7.5% to 13%.
Appearance-wise the fizz is softer than Champagne – hence the name Petillant. It can be quite frothy when first poured from the bottle, but the best Pet-Nats have a floaty soft fizz which fades quickly. It is often deep yellow and can be cloudy (not a fault). If the Pet-Nat is clear, the winemaker will have disgorged the fizz, taken it off its dead yeast sediment (lees) and replaced the crown cap with a cork.
The taste is different from other sparkling wines. Most have fabulously fresh, pure fruit flavours. Pet-Nat reminds me of homemade elderflower fizz, the best taste like good authentic cider or ginger beer – and roses like rhubarb or raspberry juice. Some Pet-Nats can taste barely alcoholic, dangerously moreish as a summer garden aperitif. Sommeliers serve them alongside salads, foie gras or light desserts.
Pet-Nat winemakers are small artisans lovingly handcrafting this frothy fizz like really good craft ale. Quantities are small and prices are high – but the taste experience is as natural and delicious as you can get in the fizz world.
PET-NATS AROUND THE WORLD:
Sussex, England: PET-NAT 2017 Davenport Vineyards ***STAR BUY***
(£25 www.buonvino.co.uk; www.davenportvineyards.co.uk)
Wow this is good. Light apple and elderflower fragrance, rich mature cider and melon flavours, fresh, vivid acidity with such soft floaty melt-in-your-mouth bubbles – it is a sheer delight. Shows the potential for England in this style of fizz. Made by organic winemaker Will Davenport from a blend of Pinot Meunier, Pinot Noir, Auxerrois, Bacchus and Faber grapes. This 2017 Pet Nat is sold out due to demand – but you can make an advance order now for the 2018 vintage here on Davenport Vineyards' website: 10%
Monterey, California: ‘PETULANT NATUREL’ 2016 Birichino
(£27.95 Berry Bros & Rudd www.bbr.com)
Light fragrance of peach and honeysuckle, fruity intense palate with sharp bubbles, lacks acidity and initially flabby, but still floral. Made from Malvasia Bianca with a touch of Muscat Canelli. The name is a play on words as Birichino use a slightly different method, blending juice and wine bottled with added yeast: 13%
Loire, France: VOUVRAY PETILLANT L’ANCESTRALE BRUT 2015 Vincent Careme
(£24.50 Berry Bros & Rudd www.bbr.com)
Gorgeously rich Chenin Blanc fizz with rich apple and honey aromas and flavours, dense and long finish. A very fine unusual example made by a dynamic young couple, Vincent and Tania Careme. This differs from other Pet-Nats as it was disgorged to clear the sediment and put under cork: 12.5%
Adelaide Hills, South Australia: BK WINES PET-NAT 2016
No surprise to find one of the best Pet-Nats from down-under made by enterprising Brendon and Kirstyn Keys tucked away up in the bushlands of Piccadilly Valley. This traditional farmhouse bubbly is predominantly Chardonnay-based – hence dominant citric notes – with just 2% Savagnin. Appley, citric, off-dry, gentle – it reminded me of homemade lemon barley water: 11.5%
Bugey, Eastern France: CERDON DE BUGEY ROSE 2015 Renardat-Fache
(£15.99 Raeburn Wines, Edinburgh)
Vibrantly fruity, very lightly alcoholic and sweet with a lipstick pink colour. Made from organic Gamay and Poulsard grown on clay limestone north of Savoie in the foothills of the French Alps mid-way between Lyons and Geneva in Ain department. The sediment is disgorged and recorked, unlike other Pet-Nats. Fresh from the farm, this Cerdon is the toast of the town in Lyons at Christmas time: 7.5%
Join Rose’s Eggs & Amphorae wine tasting to be held at SMWS, The Vaults, 87 Giles Street, Edinburgh on Friday 23 November 7.30pm start – Tickets: £42 www.rosemurraybrown.com