What Is Pét-Nat Wine?

Before there was Champagne and Prosecco, there was this OG of sparkling wine

Want to try pét-nat in person? Join us at our Test Kitchen for TT Wine Club, where we're pairing these bottles of pét-nat with pizza from NYC favorite Emmy Squared.

Which sparkling wine came first, Champagne or Prosecco? Well, the answer is technically neither. Unlike the méthode traditionnelle (otherwise known as méthode champenoise), which gives Champagne its exhilarating fizz, or the Charmat method, which brings Italian Prosecco to life, there's actually a different, OG way to produce sparkling wine that outdates both of these bubble-creating processes. And its end result is a bottle of pétillant-naturel, or pét-nat, for short.

The History of Pét-Nat Wine

Despite the newfound popularity they currently have on the market, pét-nats' méthode ancestrale approach to fermentation dates back to the 16th century, thanks to wine-producing monks in the South of France. The method is still occasionally referred to as gaillacoise, artisanale or rurale, thanks to its humble beginnings. And even though the method used for Champagne is viewed by many as a "superior" way to make sparkling wines, the méthode ancestrale is still abundantly used in these original appellations, as well as in Bugey, France; the country of Georgia; the Loire Valley; and recently, a handful of New World wine-producing regions, including California and Australia.

How Pét-Nat Wine Is Made

No matter which method you choose, all sparkling wines require a base wine to start. Both Champagne- and Prosecco-style sparklers require an addition of yeast and sugar (known as liqueur de tirage) to ignite a secondary fermentation, which takes place either in a tank or in the bottle. Since CO2 is a by-product of fermentation, the gas that's produced during this stage is trapped within the vessel, giving these wines their bubbly nature. They're later disgorged, releasing the leftover sediment (otherwise known as lees, or dead yeast) from the bottle.

For pét-nats, the creation of bubbles is a slightly different story. Unlike the above methods, these wines require no addition of yeast or sugar. Instead, the base is bottled prior to the completion of its first fermentation, trapping a minimal amount of gas that gives pét-nats a fun, fizzy spritz. In addition, the wines are not disgorged prior to market release.

Because they ferment naturally and are left to their own devices, pét-nat wines are sometimes a risky business, since winemakers tend to have less control over the process than they do via the champenoise or Charmat methods. It can lead to a lack of consistency year after year; though, this isn't necessarily a bad thing, since the vintages are meant to be consumed young and are generally crazy delicious.

Why You Should Be Drinking Pét-Nats

Seeing that they're not disgorged, don't be surprised if your final pét-nats are a little cloudy. This is merely leftover sediment, which is completely OK to consume and certainly won't do you any harm. Pét-nats tend to also have a lower effervescence than other sparklers, giving them a subtler fizz as opposed to a full-blown, dazzling mouthfeel. Some will also have a pleasurable sweetness, thanks to a touch of residual sugar left in the bottle. Best of all, pét-nats are generally lower in alcohol than other bubblies, making them a perfect fit for lunchtime, afternoon happy hours or even Saturday-morning breakfast.

Pét-Nat Bottles to Buy

Domaine des Terres Blanches, Pétillant Naturel NV (Loire, France)
2015 Okro's Wines Mtsvane Pét Nat (Kakheti, Georgia)

2016 Chepika Pét-Nat 'Delaware' (Finger Lakes, New York)

Domaine Balivet Bugey Cerdon (Savoie, France)

2016 Pheasant's Tears Chinuri Pét-Nat (Kakheti, Georgia)

2017 Domaine la Grange Tiphaine Tournage Riant (Touraine, France)

Vicki Denig is a New York-based wine and travel journalist, discovering the world through the lens of a glass, one sip at a time. Follow her adventures on Instagram at @vickidenig.