Last month, I wrote about affordable sparkling wines – the ones that should be poured each and every day, and not just on special occasions. I listed a host of affordable alternatives to Champagne, which were no less delicious and no less decadent, even if they might be considered bargains.
There was, however, one sparkler I left out.
It’s probably the hottest thing to take the wine world since… oh, I don’t know, say, green glass bottles. The wines are called ‘pét-nat’ and they’re especially popular amongst the bearded, hipster set. Like just about everything in this ‘tweet-like-instagram’ world we live in, when enough people subscribe to it, it becomes a trend.
Right now, pét-nat is a sensation. The trend may be short lived or it may one day supplant Champagne (doubtful!) but for now, pét-nat wines are here to stay. So just what the heck are they?
What is pét nat?
Pét-nat is short for the French term pétillant-naturel (pronounced pet-TI-yant nah-toor-ehl) and has its roots in the farmhouse cellars of France. You’ll see the very sexy marketing term “méthode ancestrale” used on bottles these days — literally ancestral method — designed to pull at the heartstrings and billfolds of those hipsters with a penchant for simpler times.
Originally, pét-nat was the result of simple, rudimentary wine making techniques. It’s now being recreated with its cloudy, funky, yeasty warts and all, for the pleasure of those who know it, appreciate it and seek it out.
In a sense, the wines embody a whole, natural, hipster ethos — they are sparkling wine that don’t conform to rules and that require very little intervention from the winemaker. Unlike Champagne (which has a host of guidelines and regulations), a pét-nat approach can use any grape and year-to-year variations are the norm. It’s almost a liquid snapshot of the vineyard, the year and the terroir in one bottle of wine. They’re lower in alcohol and unfiltered, which leaves them cloudy and earthy as a result.
If I’m honest, pét-nat is really erroneous wine making legitimized. My grandfather’s homemade wine was often a little ‘frizzante’ (to use the Italian word). It was cloudy and funky, too. We loved it for its inconsistent charms, not because it was trendy.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not making a judgement. What I am saying is that pét-nat wines are a charming throwback to a time before wine and science intersected. For that reason alone, it’s worth seeking one out from your local wine purveyor to experience and understand the taste and the charm. But it’s also important to recognize why the world moved on. After all, doctors don’t use leeches anymore.