What is a pet-nat?
Pet-nat is short for "petillant naturel," or a naturally made sparkling wine. There are several methods of making pet-nats, but the most common-and oldest-method, is the so-called méthode ancestrale. In this, fermenting grape juice is bottled upright before fermentation is complete so that the carbon dioxide, which is released when the yeasts convert sugars to alcohol, is trapped in the bottle. Although this process seems simple in the above description, in reality it is enormously difficult to get a pet-nat just right: bottling too late leads to bubbles flattening, bottling too early can lead to explosions.
In the méthode ancestrale, winemakers bottle the juice in a special way to get the right amount of pressure, alcohol and sweetness. Because of the delicate process, slight flavor differences can occur between bottles. For example, some bottles will contain more residual sugar, depending on how far along they are in the development process. In addition, many pet-nats also have sediment or lees, with the amount depending on how the winemaker proceeds. For example, some winemakers choose to filter more, while for others, filtering is out of the question.
White, orange, red, rosé: pet-nats come in all kinds. The taste is often slightly drier because fermentation continues in the bottle as long as there is sugar. Pet-nats have been around for a tremendously long time, but they have had a real resurgence since the rise of the natural wine movement at the end of the last century. Today, pet-nats have taken the world by storm, simply because they are often of tremendous quality and offer great value for money. Especially compared to most Champagnes, pet-nats are often a lot more affordable!
What is the difference between a pet-nat and a Champagne?
- Pet-nats are not linked to one region, just as Champagne is linked to the Champagne region.
- Champagnes may only be made from the grape varieties Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, Pinot Blanc, Arbane and Petit Meslier; pet-nats can basically be made with any grape in the absence of strict regulations.
- Champagnes are made according to the so-called méthode traditionelle, in which yeast and sugar are added to still wine. This creates a second fermentation in the bottle. With pet-nats, only one fermentation takes place.
- The addition of "unnatural yeasts" is not allowed in pet-nats. In addition, pet-nats are usually bottled without dégorgement (removal of dead yeast cells) and filtering.
Can champagnes also be natural wines?
Since it is a legal requirement to add yeast and sugars for the second fermentation, Champagnes "officially" cannot be classified as natural wines. In the so-called méthode traditionelle, perhaps the best-known way to make sparkling wine, still wines are bottled with yeast and sugar. Secondary fermentation or fermentation then takes place in the bottle, producing carbon dioxide. Champagne regulations also require sparkling wines to be disgorged, meaning the dead yeast cells are removed.
Nevertheless, there are many winemakers in the Champagne region who proceed as naturally as possible. For example, organic or biodynamic viticulture is common. In addition, many winemakers use natural yeasts and limit chaptalization during vinification, or the addition of sugars to influence the alcohol content. There are even winemakers who do not use filtration or clarification.