This episode of “Wine 101” is sponsored by E. & J. Gallo Winery. At Gallo, we exist to serve enjoyment in moments that matter. The hallmark of our company has always been an unwavering commitment to making quality wine and spirits. Whether it’s getting Barefoot and having a great time, making every day sparkle with La Marca Prosecco, or continuing our legacy with Louis Martini in Napa, we want to welcome new friends to wine and share in all of life’s moments.
Interested in trying some of the wine brands discussed on “Wine 101”? Follow the link in each episode description to purchase featured wines or browse our full portfolio at TheBarrelRoom.com. Cheers, and all the best.
In this episode of “Wine 101,” VinePair’s tasting director Keith Beavers dives into a wine style that has found its way into markets around the world: Pét-Nat. The name comes from the French term “Pétillant Naturel,” which translates to “natural sparkling.” Pét-nat may be a relatively new term, but these sparkling wines have ancient origins that are making a comeback.
So what makes these wines different from other sparkling wines on the market? And are they worth the hype? Tune in to the final episode of the “Wine 101” bonus season to learn about Pét-Nat wines.
OR CHECK OUT THE CONVERSATION HERE
Keith Beavers: What’s going on, wine lovers? Welcome to Episode 16 of VinePair’s “Wine 101” podcast. My name is Keith Beavers. I am the tasting director of VinePair. For this last episode, we’re going to talk about something that’s so hot right now. It’s called Pét-Nat. Have you ever heard of a Pét-Nat? I’ve heard of Pét-Nat. I’m seeing Pét-Nat everywhere. Everyone’s saying Pét-Nat. What is Pét-Nat? Let’s get into Pét-Nat.
Before we get going on Pét-Nat, I just want to take a moment to thank you guys. Because of you, “Wine101” is one of the most popular podcasts for wine and food on the internet, and I’m just so humbled and so happy to know that this podcast is helping people on their wine journey. Over on my Instagram account, @VinePairKeith, I get DMs all the time with questions and people saying, “Thank you for helping me.” It’s amazing, I don’t ever want to stop, and this bonus season was part of that. I want you guys to keep learning, and I want to keep teaching you guys.
With that being said, Season 3 is going to be a level up. It’s going to be massive. Usually, we do about 30 episodes per season. This season is going to be 45 episodes of crazy. This is going to be one of the biggest “Wine 101” seasons yet, and the things we’re going to be discussing are just insane. I am so excited. We’re going to talk about Sicily, Brunello di Montalcino, the history of the sommelier, the history of American wine. What is minerality? Yeah, that’s going to be crazy. That’s just a little sampling of what we’re going to be talking about. So hold onto your butts, because on Jan. 5 — which is my birthday, by the way — Episode 1 of the third season of “Wine 101” comes out. It’s going to drop, you’re going to love it, and I can’t wait. You guys are awesome. You’re the best.
But right here and right now, we are about to talk about Pét-Nat. What is Pét-Nat? It’s becoming very prevalent on the American market. A lot of it is being made in the United States, and it’s on shelves and it’s new. Well, it’s new in our minds, but it’s old in the world. And we have to understand it because I don’t think it’s going away. I’m not saying it should go away, I’m just saying it’s a new trend that’s popping off that will probably be here for a while. They’re fun wines, so we have to understand what they are. In Season 3, we’re going to do a deep dive into the Loire Valley of France because it’s crazy important to wine in general and in France. It’s a big deal, and we’ll get into that in Season 3. But we need to talk about it really quickly for our purposes today.
The Loire River runs through the center part of France. In the middle of that, there’s a town called Vouvray on the north side of the Loire River. It’s a very famous, well-known wine region, and they grow a grape called Chenin Blanc and they make wine in different ways. It’s famous, there’s castles, and it’s a big deal. Just south of that, there is a little appellation of about 1,000 acres of vineyards. They also grow Chenin Blanc, but they’re overshadowed by the famous Vouvray region, which makes sense: It’s a bigger region, it has more cachet, and it has more prestige. This little AOC just south of Vouvray on the other side of the river is called Montlouis. They also exclusively make wine from the white grape Chenin Blanc, but they call it Pineau de la Loire. Chenin Blanc is a very unique variety in the world in that it is able to yield wines at different degrees of sweetness. We’re going to get into this at a later time, but they also make sparkling wine.
In Montlouis, they have two styles of sparkling wine made from Chenin Blanc. They have a style called Monmousseau, which means literally “sparkling wine.” They have another sparkling style they call Pétillant Naturel. “Pétillant” means “spritzy” or “fizzy,” so basically, Pétillant Naturel means naturally spritzy. The interesting thing about the wine laws in the Montlouis appellation is that there is no requirement on the label to say whether a wine that is bubbly is either a Mousseau, which is sparkling, or a Pétillant Naturel, which is naturally sparkling. You just have to pop the bottle, and the sparkling wines of this area are not necessarily known as Mousseau or Pétillant Naturel. They’re just known as “fines bulles,” which means “fine bubbles.” That’s just mind-blowing. There are two different styles of sparkling with different identities, but there’s no label requirements for that. So the community, instead of trying to understand that, just calls them fine bubbles. I find that phenomenal.
Even though there is no label requirement or indication as to what kind of bubbles you’re about to experience, the two terms are derived from two different styles of winemaking within the sparkling wine spectrum. I go over a lot of that in the sparkling wine episode in Season 1, but I’ll do a little refresher here. If a wine is being made into a Pétillant Naturel in this area, they’re using what’s called the ancestral method of sparkling wine. When they’re making a wine called Monmousseau, they’re often using the traditional method of making sparkling wine. And the reason why it’s called the ancestral method, is that this is the original way that sparkling wine was made in that there is no riddling and no disgorgement. This method involves young wine being bottled before all the sugar has been fermented and letting that fermentation finish in the bottle and continue to produce carbon dioxide. It has nowhere to go, so it soaks back into the wine just like any sparkling wine. But the result is a little bit less alcoholic, a little bit sweeter, and a little bit fizzier. There’s not as much pressure of bubbles in these bottles. They can often be capped with a beer cap and then sent out to market. It’s going to have sediment in it. You’ll probably want to decant it — and you probably should, even though it’s bubbly, to get that sediment off. But it shows you that this is how it was originally done. There wasn’t yet a way to finesse a sparkling wine until later on. This is the original way it was done.
In the small appellation or AOC of Montlouis on the south bank of the river across from Vouvray, they call the wine they make from the ancestral method Pétillant Naturel. The ancestral method is not specific to this area. There are a lot of places in France that use the ancestral method. There is a little place called Limoux, which is in the southern part of France. We’ll talk about that in Season 3. There is also a place called Gaillac, which is in the southwest part of France. Those are some of the more well-known wines you’ll see on the American market.
Other than the laws of nature and how and the ancestral method is used, there are no real rules other than you’re just making an ancestral sparkling wine and you’re calling it Pétillant Naturel. That term has become very popular because of the way the wine is made and the fun, fizzy, easy drinking-ness of it all. Because there are no laws or requirements for this term, there has been a nickname given to it called “Pét-Nat.” It’s just a shortening of the term. So if you see Pét-Nat on a wine label, it’s telling you it was made from the ancestral method. It’s telling you it’s going to be a little bit sweet, a little bit fizzy. It’s telling you that it’s going to have 12.5 percent alcohol. It’s going to be a very easy-drinking, fun wine. That’s why you’ll see wines made from the ancestral method in the United States being marketed as Pét-Nats, because there’s no real rules. So we’re just calling it Pét-Nat. That’s what we’re calling it.
So with no real rules other than the laws of nature and the way the ancestral method is used, you can use whatever grape you want. Pét-Nat tends to use more naturally high-acid grapes. Winemakers are not using their most expensive grapes, either. Those are reserved for their other wines. So again, this is more of a playful idea. When you’re looking at Pét-Nats on the shelf or you see it on the wine list, you want to ask a few questions, and it depends on your preferences.
Often when you see a Pét-Nat with a crown cap or a beer cap, it hasn’t been filtered or anything, so it does have sediment. There is a way to clean up a Pét-Nat. Like, “This is a naturally sparkling wine, but I didn’t want the sediment in mine to be used, so I took the sediment out, but it’s still my fun wine.” How do they do that? Well, that’s something called the transfer method. After they let the fermentation finish in the bottle and it becomes fizzy and sweet and all that, it still has all the sediment from the yeast. They’ll actually dump all the bottles into a pressurized tank. Once all the new wine is dumped into a pressurized tank, they do clarification and filtration — methods that I’ve talked about in the first season that will help fine the wine and take out all the organic material to make it look clearer. After all the sediment is removed, then they will actually add a dosage to the tank to allow a little bit more fermentation to get some fizziness. And then they’ll bottle that and they’ll actually put a sparkling wine cork into the bottle with a cage instead of just having the actual beer cap. Or, they’ll still use the beer cap for aesthetic reasons.
With all this being said, you can see why these wines are popular. They’re fizzy, they’re a little bit sweet, and they’re easy to drink. They’re often made with high-acid white wines but now you have this nice fizziness to them. They’re not to be taken too seriously. They’re great for just hanging out. Often, you’ll see Pét-Nats come out of wineries that are just getting started or wine regions that are just kind of coming up. But they’re now everywhere. They’re being made in California, Washington State, New York, and even Maryland, where the Albariño grape is really great.
But just know that Pét-Nat, Pétillant Naturel, is a bunch of different wines. The term “Pét-Nat” is used to describe a certain method of how sparkling wine is made, and there are other places in the world that do this. They just don’t call it Pét-Nat or Patiya Natural. Italy actually has three levels of bubbles, and they are called vivacé, frizzante, and spumante. The vivacé and frizzante are levels of sparkling wines that have less bubbles than spumante, which is a full sparkling wine. So if you’re having a wine in Italy and they’re calling it frizzante, there’s a really good chance that it was either made from the ancestral method, transfer method, or Charmat method. These are all ways to make wine that doesn’t have the kind of pressure that full sparkling wine has. Full sparkling wine usually ranges around 44 pounds per square inch (psi). You have the frizzante or pétillant, or spritzig, as they call it in Germany. That is about 15 to 35 psi. Really what it comes down to is the bubbles.
This is not to say that other sparkling wines aren’t naturally sparkling. When you’re making sparkling wine, you go through two fermentations. And however you get that done, nature does a thing. It actually makes more bubbles. And you, as a human, trap those bubbles and force carbon dioxide back into that wine to create bubbles. So Pétillant Naturel is not really natural. It’s just a way of making sparkling wine that takes away a few parts of a process that were developed later on to make cleaner, more age-worthy sparkling wine. That term “naturally spritzy” was taken up by winemakers that liked the idea of this. Instead of calling it “ancestral method sparkling wine,” Pét-Nat just seemed cooler, more fun, new, and different. It’s an old word for a new trend, and winemakers are making it new again. Now you guys know about Pét-Nat. Go out there, grab them, drink them with sediment or not with sediment. If you dig them, hashtag me. If you don’t dig them, hashtag me. I will see you guys on Jan. 5, 2022 (my birthday).
@VinePairKeith is my Insta. Rate and review this podcast wherever you get your podcasts from. It really helps get the word out there.
And now, for some totally awesome credits. “Wine 101” was produced, recorded, and edited by yours truly, Keith Beavers, at the VinePair headquarters in New York City. I want to give a big ol’ shout-out to co-founders Adam Teeter and Josh Malin for creating VinePair. Big shout-out to Danielle Grinberg, the art director of VinePair, for creating the most awesome logo for this podcast. Also, Darbi Cicci for the theme song. Listen to this. And I want to thank the entire VinePair staff for helping me learn something new every day. See you next week.
Ed. note: This episode has been edited for length and clarity.