PA Wine School: Pét Nat

Chambour-huh? Vidal who? Need some help demystifying some of Pennsylvania’s most essential grape varieties? The PA Wine Land Post is at your service, schooling you on the grapes — and styles! — you need to know.

Style: Pét-Nat or Pétillant Naturel (pet-nat or pet-ee-ont na-toor-el)
Made: Across Pennsylvania
Related to: Sparkling wine, natural wine

These beguiling bubblies have been making waves in recent years, coasting on the rising tide of the natural wine movement. Pét-nat or pétillant naturel — a French term that roughly translates to “naturally sparkling” — is a rustic style made using the “méthode ancestral” or ancestral method.

Mainstream sparkling wines (Champagne, Cava and prosecco being some of the most famous examples) are made by taking finished or almost-finished wines and combining them with yeast and sugar. The former eats the latter, leading to a secondary fermentation in a tank or bottle; the robust bubbles of carbon dioxide are a byproduct. For pét-nat, partially-fermented red or white wines are bottled and capped. As the natural sugars continue to ferment, carbon dioxide is released, producing bubbles. Because this method relies solely on natural yeasts and residual sugar in the grapes, these wines tend to be about half as fizzy as traditional bubbly and lower in alcohol.

Thanks to that initial in-bottle fermentation, the resulting wines can be pretty unpredictable. There’s no guarantee on the flavor and fizz until the cork — or more likely the soda pop-style crown cap — gets popped. That inherent fickleness might be one reason why winemakers enjoy experimenting with this challenging style, employing different combinations of grapes.

As pét-nat age, they get dryer (as more of that residual sugar is fermented) and the bubbles mellow. Because of that, many wineries suggest drinking the wines young, often within three months of purchase.

Now let’s talk about flavor — after all, there’s a reason people get so excited about these off-kilter offerings. Pét-nat tends to be light, rustic and lively. You will likely encounter some sediment or a bit of haziness in the bottle, given the fact that these wines are typically unfiltered. As with many natural wine styles, a bit of funk or barnyard-y notes can be expected, and welcome! As for the specific tasting notes, that will depend on the grapes that went into your pét-nat, but you can expect the varietal character to be fresh and vibrant expressions of the grape thanks to the relative youth of the wines.

Sip your pét-nat chilled on a summer evening alongside a platter of salty nuts and soft cheeses. The style is also an ideal foil for grilled meats and vegetables — the freshness will offset the earthy char — or even pizza. Be inspired by the experimental nature of the style and get creative, serving it alongside a parade of garlicky Greek dips or a brunch spread of bagels and lox.