Pet Nat, or Petillant Naturel (French for Naturally Sparkling) is the natural sparkling wine phenomenon taking Australian wine shops, picnics and wine bars by storm! Preservative Free, colourful, rustic and a little bit kooky, these Summertime-sparkling-smashers are not going away any time soon.
It's unsurprising given the value and interest available in this wine style when compared to more expensive to produce and heavily-regulated 'traditional' forms of sparkling. I put 'traditional' in quotations intentionally because in actuality, Pet Nat may be the most traditional sparkling of all...
Origins of Petillant Naturel
Pet Nat is the OG of sparkling wine. This ancient wine style originates in France, pre-dating the now famous sparklings of the monk Dom Pierre Pérignon (heard of him?).
In the earliest days of winemaking they would run into the same problem each and every Spring. With the weather warming up, so too would the cellars storing the wines made from the previous harvest. As the temperature rose, the yeast inside the bottles would spring back to life and feast on any residual sugar left in the wines after the first (primary) fermentation. This feasting created an excessive amount of CO2 (carbon dioxide) as a bi-product which would create bubbles in the wine.
At the time, this was thought undesirable (because many of the bottles exploded under the increased pressure inside the bottle!!!) and eventually the more refined Méthode Traditionelle process was developed involving a controlled secondary fermentation in bottle and - BOOM - we have Champagne!
Modern Pet Nat
Today's winemakers are much more in control of the Méthode Ancestrale process and have found the key to making these wines more consistent (and less explosive) to drink. The secret to making good clean natural sparkling lies in timing.
There is a golden window of time during fermentation when you need to bottle a Pet Nat. It's just as the yeast has eaten most of but not all the sugar in the grape juice. At this point, it's all hands on deck in the winery. Start bottling too early and you may have too much pressure in the bottle - that's when you get gushing Pet Nats that foam out of the bottle on opening. Bottle too late and there's not enough sugar to produce the CO2 and you end up with a Flat Nat or a Pet Not. It's a race to deliciousness between the winemaker and the yeast and if you hit the sweet-spot, all sorts of tasty things are possible.
Why Is Pet Nat Cloudy?
A traditional Pet Nat will not look like your classic Champagne, Prosecco or Cava. Because the wine is bottled with live yeast still fermenting away, you may encounter a layer of sediment in the bottle. These dead yeast cells (lees) are nothing to be afraid of, in fact if you upend or roll your Pet Nat before opening, this can help enhance the foamy mouthfeel of the wine. But be warned: if you shake it too much, you may end up wearing your beverage rather than sipping it.
What Does Pet Nat Taste Like?
The beauty of Pet Nat is that it can taste like just about anything. Unlike other forms of sparkling, you can make Pet Nat from ANY grape variety so the full spectrum of grape flavours are available to a curious winemaker.
The style of wine itself also has a particular flavour profile which you will see across the full gamut of varieties. It's common to taste notes along the lines of a dry apple cider or even kombucha. This tartness, when judged well by the winemaker, provides a great counterpoint to the sweet fruit and sugar remaining in the wine.
Apart from that, a Pet Nat can taste like a myriad of things. From crisp, 'citrussy' and tangy through to a luscious baked blueberry pie and everything in between. The world's your oyster with Pet Nat.
Tips For Drinking Pet Nat
Here are a few pro tips when venturing into the weird and wonderful world of these fascinating fizzers:
Serve Well Chilled:
Chilling your Pet Nat thoroughly before opening will help prevent it from foaming vigorously on opening. No one likes a Pet Nat scented carpet!
Drink Young - Don't Cellar
The answer to the question, "How long can I lay this down" in regards to Pet Nat is... about five minutes. Well, not quite, but the wine style is intended to be opened young. Remember, this wine is literally ALIVE. The longer you save it, the more it will change in bottle and it may not be the same wine you fell in love with when you first purchased it.
Drink, Don't Think
These wines fall firmly in the category of 'Park Wines'. They are meant to be opened while young and fresh, shared with friends, preferably in the sunshine not far from an ocean view. If you want an intellectual tasting experience, try a premium Australian traditional method sparkling or an artisanal Champagne from a good grower. Pet Nats are here for a good time, not a long time. Pop the top ASAP!
That's it, folks. There's your Beginners Guide To Petillant Naturel. If you'd like to taste some of these whimsical creations you can find the best examples of Pet Nats from Australia and around the world in our Pet Nat Collection below.