Just in time for the warmer weather, we’d like to introduce you to a new style of bubbly that’s fast becoming popular: Pét-Nat.
Okay, now before anyone bites our heads off, Pét-Nat is not new, but it is coming back into fashion. So what is it?
Pét-Nat is short for pétillant-naturel, which roughly translates to ‘naturally sparkling’ in French. It’s also known as the méthode ancestrale of production, because, well, it’s the ancestral method of making bubbly. So how is it different to our beloved méthode cap classique, better known as MCC? And indeed, how is it different to Champagne?
We can answer those two questions simultaneously, as MCC and Champagne are made in the same way, namely the méthode traditionnelle – the traditional method. The only difference between the two, really, is that Champagne can only be produced in the Champagne region of France, while our MCC is made here in South Africa … predominantly, but not exclusively, in the Cape.
Let’s take a closer look.
The traditional method of making bubbly goes roughly as follows. You press some grapes, then put this thick juice into a tank with some yeast. The yeast eats the natural sugars, and the grape juice ferments into a base wine. The carbon dioxide that’s released in this process largely escapes.
You then decant this wine into bottles, and add some sugar in addition to more yeast. Again, the yeast eats the sugar and creates more alcohol, however, the carbon dioxide has nowhere to go, so it gets trapped in the pressurised liquid as bubbles.
To get the bubbly to be crystal clear, the dead yeast cells, called the lees, are removed – disgorged – from the resulting fizzy liquid. And voila! You have an MCC.
This is an oversimplification of course, but it’s enough to give you the gist.
Pét-Nat is thought to be an older way of making sparkling wine, and – certainly – it’s considered to be more artisanal, which probably explains why it’s becoming de rigueur.
With the ancestral method of Pét-Nat, you bottle the base wine before it’s finished fermenting, and that’s it – you don’t add any sugar to create extra fizz, and there’s no disgorgement of the lees, which, if you recall, means removing the spent yeast. What results is a lightly sparkling and somewhat hazy wine.
Because much is left to chance with Pét-Nat, the results can be unpredictable, or at least tricky to replicate. It’s a very noninterventional method of making a sparkling wine – you sort of sit back and let nature take its course, and that’s largely the attraction. It’s positively maverick and devil-may-care!
For consumers, Pét-Nat is seen to be more natural and holistic. Indeed, in many cases it can also be more organic. While you can have all sorts of styles of Pét-Nats on the sweet-to-dry spectrum, they’re all a little bit wild and funky, and they can have flavours to match.
By now you must be wondering how you can get your hands on this fascinating ‘new’ product. Happily, Bosman, Metzer & Holfeld, Testalonga, Scali, Vondeling, The Blacksmith, Avondale and Abingdon are all producing them.
Pro tip: you can usually spot a Pét-Nat by its crown cap, which you usually see on beers or bottled sodas.
This post first appeared on Food24 on 14 September 2020