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Romance of the rustic

There’s a sense of longing about the old ways — natural, clean ingredients, and methods that offer a spark of romantic tradition.

The way it used to be done is revived, reclaimed and now being practiced again. Millennials, in general, trend toward lower alcohol, fewer chemicals, a more casual lifestyle. This old world approach fills a niche and syncs with the new world quest for a primal, more folksy and unpretentious attitude. Not plain, but unassuming; not quite raw, but full of the fruit’s spirit.

A little improv, minimal intervention, single fermentation in the bottle, and what do you get? A fruit forward, usually dry wine with a youthful, raw exuberance. Pétillant naturel, aka pét-nat, means “naturally sparkling” in French. Made in a way that predates traditional Champagne making, today it’s known as ‘methode ancestrale’ and is the original method of getting bubbles into wine.

In 1531, monks in the former Languedoc region of France created (likely by accident) this first style of sparkling wine. Named, Blanquette de Limoux, it is still being made today, but unlike modern pét-nat, has specialty regulations attached to it.

In the late 1990s, a French winemaker in the Loire Valley noticed his wine was refermenting. He liked the results, and voilà, a happy accident. He revived the old method, and coined the term Pétillant naturel. The method and the name stuck, what was old became new, and 20 years later it’s the latest trend of the wine world.

For those of you new to the rustic and spritzy pét-nat, know that basically any grape varietal and/or blend can be used, and these grapes will be extremely expressive of their terroir. This is the wine of diversity and conviviality. Easy drinking and minimally manipulated, pét-nat is the mod of wine.

The ancestral method uses primary fermentation with native yeasts — it goes from tank to bottle while still fermenting — and is jauntily sealed with a crown cap, like a beer or soda pop. The remaining sugar converts to CO2, creating the subtle bubbles. Pét-nat’s lightly frothy effervescence purrs like a light fizz with a little zizz. Nothing is added to the wine, and because it’s generally unfiltered, the wine looks a bit cloudy and often has sediment in the bottom. Unaged, and not meant to be laid down, the pét-nat focus is on fresh fruit flavors. All part of the natural, bucolic character.

Here in the Rogue Valley, two pét-nats are produced, by Troon Vineyards and Quady North. Each winery has its own take on it. Demeter-certified and biodynamic, Troon’s 2019 Pét tanNat is created from 100% estate tannat, hence the name play. It’s low alcohol at 10.5% and bone dry with a soft, fruity froth.

Quady North’s 2018 Chelsea Rose is 78% vermentino and 22% orange muscat. It is low alcohol at 11.2%, with a tang of citrus, ripe pear and a hint of apricot. Quady caps it with a traditional mushroom cork and cage, sans foil. Both are disgorged, so they are a bit less cloudy than usual pét-nat.

From old world to new world, pétillant naturel is a modern riff on an ancestral practice. Pop a bottle today.

Reach Paula Bandy at pbthegrapevine@gmail.com.