A recent search in the online shop of one of Hong Kong’s leading wine bars and retailers provided an ample selection of 10 pét-nat wines. It was just a shame that nine of them were sold out. However, this did serve to demonstrate the demand for this style of wine.
Pét-nat, or to give the wine its full name pétillant naturel, is a sparkling natural wine—literally “naturally fizzy”. Natural wines are, of course, nothing new. In fact, over the last decade interest in natural, organic and biodynamic wines has seen a rapid rise in line with consumers’ desire for fewer additives and preservatives in the things they consume in the name of “cleaner” eating and drinking.
Along with this increased penchant for natural wine, there has been a rise in the popularity of pét-nats. However, these wines have origins that go way back—reportedly to winemaking monks in the early 16th century in Limoux, France. They are made according to the oldest known process for making sparkling wine, the “méthode ancestrale”, which involves bottling wine partway through its primary fermentation so that carbon dioxide is trapped in the bottle creating bubbles. Making champagne—which uses the “methode traditionnelle”—involves a second round of fermentation as well as ageing. Pét-nat therefore results in a sparkling wine that has fewer bubbles, less alcohol and a smaller price tag than champagne, yet one that can deliver heaps of character and expression of terroir, and is a more accessible option for when you want to add a bit of sparkle to an occasion.
“The great thing about pét-nats is that they are typically fresh, juicy, approachable and affordable,” says Ronald Kamiyama, Managing Partner, The Cicheti Group in Singapore, whose venues include Bar Cicheti, a speciality handmade pasta and natural wine-focused bar. “They are less intimidating and not as fancy as the “King” or Queen” of all sparkling wines, champagne.”
There’s also an unpredictable, wild element to pét-nat. Yulia Ezhikova, sommelier at Brut restaurant in Hong Kong says, “The allure of pét-nats is similar to that of disposable point-and-shoot cameras. Fun and beginner-friendly, they provide the perfect avenue for experiments of all kinds. In the same way film photographers can’t judge the success of their shots until they’re developed, winemakers bottle a wine that’s still fermenting, often clueless about what the finished product will taste like. Lovingly called, “the Russian roulette of winemaking”, pét-nats are fascinating for all the same reasons as natural wine at large—it’s winemaking gone analogue and off script; freedom and pleasure combined.”
There’s certainly a sense of ‘anything goes’ when it comes to pét-nats, as none of the rules that surround the making of other sparkling wines, such as champagne, apply, allowing winemakers to experiment, which results in a wide range of iterations.