Pét Nat- The Coolest Sparkler on the Block, and Cheese
Pét Nat - otherwise known as pétillant naturel- is the coolest sparkler on the block these days. People are throwing parties around it. Restaurants are putting on dinners in its honor, traditional vignerons versions are flying off the shelves, and experimental winemakers in the states are romancing the style every which way they can. Is it okay to be jealous of a wine?
Why is Pét Nat the coolest kid on the block? Well, perhaps partially because Pét Nat doesn't care (kinda like honey badger). Unlike champagne or sparkling made via the champagne méthode that undergo two very careful fermentations- the first turns the grape juice into alcohol, and the second forms bubbles in the bottle, Pét Nat only goes through one fermentation, whenever it feels like it.
This is thrill-seeking kind of winemaking. The reason the other guys undergo two fermentations is because it's much easier to control the outcome. Once you know the juice turned to booze, you can bottle the wine then add a very controlled amount of sugar to rev up the yeast again, then keep an eye on the bubbles. Pét Nat, however, is spontaneously fermented, meaning that no sugar or yeast is added. In fact, Pét Nat is bottled and capped before the first fermentation is finished, meaning that winemakers have much less control over the final product.
It's natural winemaking, and quite simply, the bubbly can start or stop bubbling whenever it wants and flavors vary like crazy. Often there's a little residual sugar left. Scary? Kind of. Traditional? In some places. Wild? Yes. Some nights I lie awake dreaming I were as relaxed and cool as Pét Nat.
Onward and Donkey & Goat in California and Domaine La Grange Tiphaine, Texier, and Catherine Breton in France make lovely versions.
So what does a lassez-faire bubbly like Pét Nat like to eat?
Cream, and Alpines. And sometimes earthy, grassy cheddars.
Because flavors in a pétillant naturel can get a little crazy with all the spontaneous yeast action going on, pét nat can taste like, well lots of different things, but often like fresh yeast. Think the smell of fresh yeast that's being activated in a bowl of water before being added to dough rather the scent of brioche or bread baking like in champagne or crémant. Sometimes you'll get lightly tart, floral, or stonefruit notes too.
A wine with this much going on often likes being the star of the show with a creamy yet straightfoward cheese. Other times it appreciates a cheese with a little funk and yeast of its own, like a mellow Alpine whose rind has been washed with B. linens that has a light, sweet funkiness just like the cheese. I've had some fantastic pairings with Pét Nat and bandage wrapped cheddars, too. Go for a grassy one- the cheddars with earthy notes shine with the sparkling's lightly funky bubbles.
My favorite cheeses with Pét Nat
Creamy: Mt. Tam, Castica di Bufala, or Brillant Savarin
Alpine or Mountain Style: Challerhocker, Comté, Cobb Hill Ascutney Mountain, Nicasio Reserve
Cheddars: Hafod, Bleu Mont, Fiscalini
*Last notes- in case you were wondering like I was what is the difference between Pét Nat and méthod ancestrale, they are are the same method. While méthod ancestrale is a term whose use is restricted to certain AOCs- Clairette de Die, Gallac, Limoux, and Bugey, pétillant naturel may be used freely . Thank you to my sommelier friend Hristo Zisovski and his friends at Pearl & Ash who explained this me!