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My favourite Ontario winery has just released a sparkling wine called Pét-Nat. What can I expect from this style of wine?
Often considered the wild child of the sparkling wine world, pétillant naturel bubblies are courting mainstream acceptance. Playfully dubbed pét-nat by insiders and devotees, the old-school production method has become popular again as winemakers around the world look to try something different.
“Pétillant naturel” denotes lightly sparkling wines that are relatively low in alcohol content, made via the méthode ancestrale or méthode artisanale. The traditional process is a one-and-done fermentation method. Wines are bottled while still fermenting and tightly capped to create the source of carbon dioxide in the bottle. The result is a frothy, usually fruity wine with residual sweetness and, possibly, some sediment. Because it’s a style of wine without any defined limits on grape varieties or where they are grown, there’s an incredible range of expressions on offer – from fruity to funky.
Pét-nat’s old-school approach lacks the precision and recipe-oriented control of the traditional method made famous by Champagne, which sees a dry base wine put into a bottle with additions of sugar and yeast to undergo another secondary fermentation that produces bubbles and, depending on the length of the aging process, more character and complexity.
Given their production methods, some pét-nats can taste like raw, unfinished wines, which is kind of the point. Wine lovers may find considerable charm in their unassuming sweet/sour character.
More technically driven winemakers are figuring out ways to limit the variables for their naturally sparkling wines. Closely monitoring fermentations in temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks prior to bottling provides better quality, as does disgorging bottles to remove sediment so a crystal-clear wine is released to consumers. It’s important to bottle with enough residual sweetness to produce bubbles, but not so much pressure in the glass bottle that it breaks.
More control can make for a more consistent product that will appeal to traditional wine drinkers, but that control adds to the expense of production and makes for a higher retail price. For some, it also risks taking away from the rustic character consumers expect from the style.
Canadian producers, such as Bella Wines in Naramata, B.C., Hinterland Wine Co. and Traynor Family Vineyard in Prince Edward County, Ont., and Benjamin Bridge in Gaspereau Valley, N.S., have well-established ancestral method sparkling wine programs. Production has surged as others look to embrace the commercial trend or find the best use for some of the grape varieties they have on hand.
Leaning Post in Winona, Ont., produces a citrus-y and enjoyable version from muscat ottonel and, sometimes, other aromatic grape varieties. Rosehall Run in Prince Edward County recently released its first pét-nat, a pale red version produced from a head-spinning blend of sauvignon blanc, gewurztraminer, pinot gris, gamay, riesling, pinot noir, muscal ottonel and tempranillo grapes from the winery’s estate vineyard.
Another favourite comes from Southbrook in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont. The 2018 Bubbly Pet Nat is a blend of pinot noir and chardonnay grapes from the Saunders vineyard in Beamsville. It’s a dry sparkling wine with richness, complexity and length that is more classic than confounding in nature.
Growing interest in this style isn’t isolated to Canada – it’s a global movement. But it’s one that’s still on the fringe. Outside of ordering direct from domestic wineries, your best bet to explore this dynamic range of wines is speaking to wine agents and experts at bottle shops or restaurants who focus on natural wine.
As a lover of sparkling wine, I’m all for growth in the category. I love the refreshment and classic character of Champagne and other traditional-method sparklers, as well as fresh and fruity styles of Prosecco and Sekt. The growing fashion for unpredictable pét-nats offers yet another experience. Anything that brings more attention to sparkling wine in general and makes its enjoyment more of a commonplace, everyday occurrence is worth celebrating.