Inside the cellar of Saint-Hilaire, the Benedictine monks notice their latest batch of mauzac has finished bubbling. They decant it into flasks, seal them tight, and head to bed. They are, at this time, blissfully unaware of the mistake they have made.
You see, Limoux in southern France was experiencing an unusual cold-snap in 1531. It was so cold, in fact, that the wine essentially went into hibernation. Once the monks transferred the base wine into their flasks, the process restarted, and the mauzac finished its primary fermentation in the bottles. When the flasks were uncorked, the monks were greeted with a new breed of bubbles.
This is the story of pét-nat: the surprise baby of French holy men, and global oenophiles’ latest obsession.
“Pét-nat” is an abbreviation of the French pétillant-naturel, meaning “natural sparkling”. According to Glen Bagnara, owner and operator of Hemingway’s Wine Room and Bar Bianco in Melbourne, it’s a sparkling, minimal intervention wine.
Lovers of this free-spirited, low-sulfite wine describe it as refreshingly uncomplicated, a rudimentary wine that embodies individuality and spontaneity. Why? Because no two bottles of pét nat are exactly the same.
Pét-nat uses méthode ancestrale, which Glen says predates the méthode champenoise or Champagne method by over 100 years. “In simple terms, that means the wine is bottled before the primary fermentation is complete and forgoes the secondary fermentation in which sugar is added. This is called dosage and this second fermentation occurs in the more famous Champagne method. What that does is, once the wine is in the bottle, there’s still sugar left to ferment, the by-product of which is wonderful frothy bubbles.”
Pét-nat is a favourite style for organic, biodynamic, and natural winemakers, as well as newbies to the craft, since it requires almost no active labour to produce. This helps contribute to its status as a low-sulfate wine. It is so far from pretension that, unlike Champagne, there are no laws when it comes to making it, so it speaks very much to the individual winemaker and their sense of place.
Pét-nat wine can be made with just about any wine grape varietal, as long as it has good acidity. Chenin blanc is excellent, as is riesling and pinot gris. These bubbly, cloudy wines come in all shades, from deep reds to pale amber and white and their key attribute is huge drinkability. They’re generally fruity, floral, dry and delicious, with fantastic balance and texture.
The most unique aspect of pét-nat is the sediment lurking at the bottom of the bottle. It isn’t harmful and doesn’t necessarily mean the wine is going to be super funky. Some drinkers prefer to mix the sediment through while others like to carefully pour clear wine, which can be achieved after chilling your bottle upright in an ice bucket.
The bright, bubbly style is the perfect apéritif for any dinner party, and the refreshing fizz and low alcohol content makes it an excellent food-pairing wine. It complements light dishes like white meats, fish, and salads. It is also a surprisingly good companion of Asian dishes like Thai green curry and spicy chillies. And of course, as is the case with many a bottle of bubbles, cheese can be its best friend.
Pét-nat may be old, but it hasn’t lost its groovy, spunky attitude. It requires less time, work, and money to create than other sparkling wine, so it is no wonder that it has been sweeping us off our feet for the last 15 years or so (despite being almost five centuries old). If you are wanting a wine that delights and surprises you, pét-nat promises that and more.