In our Ask the Sommelier series, we put your wine-related questions to top sommeliers. In this instalment, sommelier, director and wine buyer at Peckham Cellars Ben McVeigh explains all things Pet Nat.
‘When celebrating with my friends at New Year, I was introduced to ‘Pet Nat’ for the first time – and I have to say, I enjoyed it a lot. But I’m still unsure why it tastes so different to the usual sparkling wines I’ve tried. I’d love to learn more about what Pet Nat is exactly?’
Femi from Manchester, UK
Sommelier Ben McVeigh responds:
‘Pet Nat (short for Pétillant Naturel) is sparkling wine made in a simpler way than Champagne or other sparkling wines, with a single fermentation in one continuous process. So, rather than making the base wine first and then adding sugar and yeast to create the second fermentation (like in Champagne), winemakers bottle a partially fermented base wine, which then continues to ferment in the bottle to create the bubbles. Pet Nat or ‘méthode ancestral’ wine originated in Limoux in Southwestern France in the 16th Century, so in my view, Champagne owes its existence to Pet Nat, as it was the original way of producing sparkling wines.
‘However, Pet Nat is very different to Champagne. It’s more accessible in terms of price point, and the flavours are generally fruitier. Whereas Champagne relies on ageing and yeast autolysis to give those typical yeasty, brioche aromas, Pet Nats are generally created to be drunk young – you get a signature freshness, but also a direct reflection of the harvested grapes in the aroma. It is also often bottled with a little bit of residual sugar too.
Most Pet Nats are made to be drunk young and fresh in the spring after harvest
‘In terms of occasion, a complex and nuanced Champagne might be opened for a celebration, but Pet Nat is lighter and lower in alcohol, making it great for drinking at a more casual gathering, like a picnic or a nice lunch. I particularly like to drink it as an aperitif. It’s slightly off-dry, which makes it the perfect wine to start any dinner party. Not all Pet Nats are the same, though; most are made to be drunk young and fresh in the spring after harvest, but you can get some slightly more serious bottles capable of ageing and developing complexity that you would want to match with food. These go well with something like mezze or tapas, harmonising with and never overcrowding an array of flavours.
‘One of the preconceptions of Pet Nat is that it’s a cloudy, natural wine, but that’s not the case for all of them. Phaunus – a Pet Nat from the Vinho Verde region in Portugal – is naturally made, but also disgorged (the removal of sediment from wine). The end product is a clear, fresh and detailed wine that’s less prone to faults than its cloudier counterparts.
‘We stock a lot of natural wines at Peckham Cellars, although we try not to pigeonhole them as “natural”, which I believe is the key for Pet Nat too. These wines are great on their own terms and don’t need to be defined by their natural-ness. Wines like Phaunus will suit even the most discerning critic of natural wine. It’s made from two indigenous grapes as part of an interesting project in a fully biodynamic winery that uses no electricity.
‘If you’re looking to get more acquainted with Pet Nat, a classic entry level bottle is Roc’ Ambulle, which is from the Fronton region near Toulouse. It’s made from Mauzac and Negrette grapes, it’s slightly pink and off-dry. It’s usually about 9 percent ABV and so has a lower alcohol level than most wines, which makes it taste lighter and fresher, and it’s easier to digest alongside food.
‘There’s also a huge band of Pet Nat producers in the Loire, including Domaine Mosse, who is one of the core winemakers from that region. He produces a wonderful wine called Moussamoussettes, a slightly pink wine that instead of being bottled with a bottle cap like most Pet Nats, is actually bottled with a Champagne stopper. If your Pet Nat is bottled with a bottlecap it’s a sign it will probably be a little cloudy and funky, whereas if it’s bottled with a Champagne stopper, it’s a good indication it’s been disgorged and will have a clearer, cleaner quality.
‘Another example is Fuchs und Hase, an Austrian Pet Nat, which we’ve always had on the list at Peckham Cellars. It’s got a lovely peachy aromatic note from a bit of Muscat, which makes it a great aperitif.’
Interview by Louella Berryman