Pet Nat: How Champagne’s cooler cousin became the fizz of 2021

·6-min read
<p>Free-spirited playfulness: Pet Nat is unrestrained by the rules that shackle some sparkling wines</p> (Abbie Moulton)

Free-spirited playfulness: Pet Nat is unrestrained by the rules that shackle some sparkling wines

(Abbie Moulton)

You’ve seen it on wine lists, starring in subscription boxes and on the ‘gram – pet nat has popped up everywhere, fizzing all over town. But what is it exactly: pimped-up Prosecco? Cheap and cheerful Champagne? Where has the trend bubbled up from, and more importantly, what does it taste like?

Short for the French pétillant naturel – meaning ‘naturally sparkling’ – pet nat is wine that gets its sparkle via a more natural, hands-off winemaking method, resulting in a softer style with gentle fizz, and generally an easy-drinking approachability overall.

How is it made?

Compared to the time and labour intensive “traditional method” used for Champagne and Cava (which involves a sugar and yeast-induced second fermentation inside the bottle, which in turn requires a tricky rotation, removal and refill process afterwards) or the boisterous “tank method” used for most Prosecco – still sugar and yeast, but add a sealed tank to really get things going – the pep in pet nat occurs in still wine that’s bottled mid-fermentation, while sugars and yeasts are still interacting. With nowhere to escape to, resulting carbon dioxide is absorbed into the liquid, forming delicate beads of fine, frivolous froth.

Although enjoying roaring popularity now, the technique isn’t new. Far from it, in fact: also known as the “Ancestral Method”, the technique often seemed to happen by accident and was around long before the days of refrigeration and sophisticated winemaking technology, and was used to make wines pop a fair while before vignerons perfected the more modern Champagne styles.

What makes it the wine of 2021?

With its easy effervescence and streak of freshness, a crisp glass of pet nat is one of the wine world’s simple pleasures. Unrestrained by the rules and regulations that shackle some sparkling wines, there’s a free-spirited playfulness and individuality to be found in these crown-capped bottles, and distinctly cloudy fizz in candy colours hail from a range of regions and in a number of styles.

Increasing preference for food and drink that’s more connected to the land, away from heavy processing, means thirst for pet nat has grown in tandem with the rise in popularity of natural wines. It hits all the contemporary sweet spots: minimal intervention winemaking, and fruit most likely sourced from organic plots, handled without chemicals and bottled “sans sulphur”. The wines often have lower levels of booze – typically around 11 per cent ABV, with some coming in at a barely-there 7 per cent. No bad thing, considering the juicy nature and fizzy-pop flavours can make it dangerously drinkable. Throw in some eye-catching labels and a relatively reasonable affordable price tag (averaging around £18-£28 in core range) and it’s a clear win.

You don’t have to know a thing about wine to appreciate the style, and I feel like that has given them a universal appeal

“I think one of the main reasons pet nats are so popular is that they are just so fun!” says Ben McVeigh, co-founder of Peckham Cellars. “The labels are great and the wines are all soft, super-fruity and easy going. I like that they all eschew the traditional appellation system – cutting out any wine snobbery and ensuring drinkers can just enjoy them. You don’t have to know a thing about wine to appreciate the style, and I feel like that has given them a universal appeal that’s perhaps lacking in more traditional wines.”

Where to drink it

Find it lining the racks of natural-leaning wine bars and wine-focussed restaurants – the fun places, basically. Peckham Cellars, Clapton’s P Franco, Hackney’s Bright, Farringdon’s Quality Wines, Dalston’s Newcomer, Borough Market’s Elliot’s, Soho’s Ducksoup, Mayfair’s Native at Browns, Highbury’s Top Cuvee, Columbia Road’s Brawn, and Shoreditch’s Brat are all fine places to start.

Versatile thanks to the many shades and iterations, bottles range in taste and flavour from searing streaks of citrus to rich and rounded stone fruits, juicy reds brimming with cherry and raspberry, and the occasional, funky, savoury edge.

Try lighter styles with vibrant salads or zingy, fresh Mexican flavours; skin-contact orange wines and deeper roses with goats cheese bruschetta or grilled summer veg; or sparkling reds as a surprisingly joyous pairing with charred meats from the barbecue.

Martina Lanarch, head of wine at Brat, sums it up perfectly: “For me, pet nat is the ultimate sunny lunch wine. Bone dry, with lower alcohol and less sugar than other bubbles, it’s incredibly easy-drinking.

“The colours make it really stand out when guests see it on tables – and, of course we never judge a wine by its label, but it doesn’t hurt that it’s photogenic as well. My favourite pairing is a plate of Fritto Misto and a glass of chilled, light red pet-nat. It’s an instant feeling of being holiday, without ever leaving our sunny (fingers crossed) London Fields terrace.”

Pet nat is the ultimate sunny lunch wine. Bone dry, with lower alcohol and less sugar than other bubbles, it’s incredibly easy-drinking.

McVeigh, meanwhile, recommends them for any al fresco dining situation: “Great on their own, but perfect with a hastily thrown together picnic – their bold, fruity flavours make them a versatile wine capable of matching with an array of dishes. Their freshness also makes them an ideal aperitif.”

Perhaps the best match of all is that blanket in the park or sun-drenched terrace, and preferably a long, uninterrupted afternoon of golden sunshine.

Five of the best

Col Tamari Col Fondo, NV, Italy

Straddling the space between pet nat and prosecco, this cloudy, amber-tinged wine is made up of a field blend of white grapes, biodynamically farmed high up in the hills of Veneto where the altitude adds freshness and a touch of skin-contact adds texture. Lemon zest, ripe pear and apple and almond sponge.

£18, Noble Fine Liquor, noblefineliquor.co.uk

Folias de Baco, Uivo Pet Nat Branco, Portugal

A blend of native Portuguese varieties, farmed and fermented organically by one of the region’s star winemakers. Energetic and lively with zippy citrus, crisp green apple and a mouthwatering mineral freshness that’s just made for sunny-weather sipping.

£23, Modal Wines, shop.modalwines.com

Fuchs und Hase, Pet Nat Vol 2, Austria

The aromatic Muskateller grape comes together with peppery Gruner Veltliner for a complex and enticingly savoury result. Baked apple and apricot, a hint of white florals and a crack of pepper make this a perfect pairing for charred vegetables or pork-based dishes.

£26, Peckham Cellars, peckhamcellars.co.uk

Phaunus Pet Nat Rose, Aphros, Portugal

A touch of funk only adds interest to this hint-of-pink sparkler, full of juicy red berry fruit and crunchy freshness with vibrant acidity for a palate-cleansing lift.

£26, Peckham Cellars, peckhamcellars.co.uk

Philippe Balivet Bugey Cerdon Méthode Ancestrale, France

The region of Bugey on the eastern flanks of France is still something of an insider’s secret, which means there’s much to be discovered, like the slightly-sweet, naturally sparkling methode ancestrale wines that happen to be a local speciality. This ruby-hued blend of Gamay and Ploussard has notes of summer-pudding and is truly delicious when served ice-cold.

£21, Top Cuvee, shopcuvee.com

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