If you follow us on social media, or remember those happy pre-virus days in the shops, you’ll know how much we all love extolling the virtues of a new Pet Nat on our shelves. From crowd-pleasing proseccos from Casa Belfi to the bright cherry pop of Camillo Donati Ribelle Rosato or the elegant col fondo stylings of Cerruti Ri Fol, Pet Nats are constant fixtures on the HB&B shelves. With a spell of golden weather ahead of us, we thought it was time to focus on our favourite sparklings - here’s our cheat’s guide to demystifying petillant naturel....
What is Pet Nat?
Pet Nat or petillant naturel is a style of wine making that produces sparkling natural wine. The technique differs from (and actually predates) the more commonly found method used for champagnes, known as méthode Champenoise, and many other sparkling styles such as cava, where it’s known as methode traditionelle.
Put simply, methode Champenoise/traditionelle produces carbonation through a second fermentation in the bottle - by introducing sugar and yeast to an already finished wine, this produces high carbonation and a higher alcohol content. However, a winemaker intending to make a pet nat will bottle the unfinished wine prior to the end of fermentation (before it reaches its potential alcohol volume), allowing the remaining sugars and active yeast to continue to slowly ferment in the bottle. Fermentation, as well as producing the all-important alcohol, also propagates carbon dioxide which is trapped in the bottle and in time is reabsorbed into the wine, producing a light fizz.
Producing wine in this way allows winemakers to forego some of the expensive processes involved in the methode Champenoise/traditionelle style, but carries much more risk and with it a more varied final product. As the wine is bottled in its unfinished state, it requires a great degree of skill and knowledge (and some good fortune) from the winemaker to produce an exceptional wine. However, because Pet Nat doesn’t require some of the expensive processes and equipment needed for methode Champenoise/traditionelle, this is often reflected in the price and also in a fun and different drinking experience.
How will I know it’s Pet Nat?
First off, you’ll notice a difference in appearance. Many Pet Nats tend to be finished with a crown cap, rather than the traditional mushroom cork and wire cage. The wine will also often have a hazy appearance (cue stampede of NEIPA fans) due to sitting on the lees (inactive yeast sediment) that remain in the bottle, adding to its fun and less formal appeal.
On drinking, further differences become apparent - the carbonation is more subtle and supple, the softer mouthfeel of a Pet Nat makes the wine more expressive immediately after opening, and contributes to a fuller aroma leaping from the glass.
Often bright, clean, fruity and very drinkable, Pet Nats can be genuine crowd pleasers, especially for drinkers who may be put off by the dry and aggressive texture of some other sparkling wines. Pet Nat is also commonly lower in alcohol than sparkling wines made in the champagne style, making it a great summer drink, a brunch and lunch favourite and also a fun bottle at the end of a night of punchier drinks - Nathan Taylor
Where to start? Nathan's recommendations:
Tillingham Petillant Rose - Ben Walgate produces terrific English wines at the beautiful Tillingham estate in Sussex. This light Pinot Noir (with some Ortega) is a gently sparkling funky rose which should please sparkling and rose lovers alike (plus and a fair few newcomers). Hazy in appearance and with a subtle strawberry flavour, it’s a versatile and fun wine from one of the UK's brightest wine stars.
Tiberi Il Musticco - A super-dry, rustic rosato from northern Umbria. It pours a glorious shade of ruby-orange and its distinctive cranberry flavour has seen us all drink far too much of it this summer.
Casa Belfi Prosecco Colfondo Frizzante - This has never been out of the HB&B fridges since the shop opened in 2014. It's a constant and for good reason - its apple-and-pear hazy goodness keeps everyone coming back for more.