Pet-nat. The first time I tried this fizzy beverage I was under the impression that somebody poured me a glass of faulty wine that was still fermenting in the bottle. I wasn’t wrong. Well, at least for the fermentation part. On the other hand, it did smell like wet socks and horrendously rancid fruit, but the somm told me “that’s how it’s supposed to be”. Needless to say, I didn’t come back to drinking this for a while. But everything in life deserves a second chance. Turns out that that was just some overly enthusiastic hippie producing undrinkable rubbish. Today’s the day where shit gets serious. Welcome to House Pour, a guide that breaks down (not so) famous grapes and gets to the bottom of things by drinking (fo’ real).
For the majority of the wine world, pet-nat is either a new hipstery trend or a #ThrowbackThursday to the roots. But in fact, pétillant naturel dates way back to the first fizz-producing savages of Limoux (Languedoc, France) who let their wines freeze in winter and then re-ferment in spring. ‘Ancestral’ outdates Champagne production by a few centuries and is quite different from it in the whole. It allows the initial fermentation to finish in bottle, without adding yeast and sugar. The wild yeast keeps on transforming the residual sugar into ethanol and carbon dioxide, but because the bottle has already been sealed, the CO2 and the dead yeast sediment are trapped inside the bottle with no means of escape. This is where the fizzy, cloudy and sometimes funky wine comes from.
“Oh, well that’s fun! It’s like the lighter version of Champagne, but much easier to make.” Lighter, yes. Easier, not always. In Champagne a winemaker has the power to control fermentation and dose as much yeast and sugar as he wishes. In pet-nat, the wine almost always goes straight from the tank to the bottle. If the winemaker has a dry wine, juice with a bit of residual sugar in it has to be added. The amount is carefully calculated (ordinarily, a couple of litres), based on baumé, a French system that measures the density of liquids. After all that, the wine is sealed with a crown cap (the same you see on beers). Some producers decide to disgorge, some don’t. This is the messiest part, as they do it in a totally “natural” way – no freezing the necks, just good ol’ pouring out & topping up.
So why would you pay $40-$50 for a bottle of quirky, low-alcohol sparkling wine? Because it’s tempting to miss out on it, especially in the midst of growing Champagne prices and the wistful commercialism of Prosecco. The experimentation with grapes you never imagined going together is alluring to the taste buds and the bottle development is one of the most exciting affairs to keep tabs on (but not for too long). The movement is still struggling to get a far-reaching reputation, but if you look at its progress from lawless, wild winemaking 20 years ago to today, you can see that real, authentic wines are being produced, luring in enthusiasts that want something unconventional and fun.
At the fourth House Pour, we opened 11 bottles from six different countries. The (bottle, regional, grape) variation was tremendous. Most producers knew what they were doing, but some really, really nailed it. All the wines were tasted blind and in this particular order, so the notes you’ll read below are a sum of parts picked up from the extremely fun evening.
Mas del Perie Somnam’ Bulles Pet-Nat Blanc 2017
Cotes du Lot IGP, France
Only 33 years old and already a legend. I always get excited when Fabien’s wines are brought to the party, because they have so much character, they’re vibrant and they give life to even the most tedious of tastings. He’s also doing a great job re-introducing Chenin Blanc back to its happy home. The vineyards here are managed biodynamically on various soils, the fruit is handpicked and only native yeast and inert vessels are used for fermentation. Light filtration is done. A glorious start to the evening and the winner right off the bat. Cloudy with a remarkable greenish-yellow hue. The nose is ripe, rich and fruity with a charge of orange blossom, white roses, apricot and baked apple chips. So smashable, we almost let a tear drop. Off-dry with great acidity, 13% abv (unusual for pet-nat) and a vibrant cider-like character. Long, rock melon finish which cleanses the palate delightfully. Would drink this all day, every day, even in my sleep.
Price: S$40 (€26)
Purchased: Le Bistrot Du Sommelier
You might also like: Le Briseau Peps! L10, Francois Pinon Vouvray Petillant Demi-Sec
Porta del Vento Voria 2016
If you want to jump into natural/organic/biodynamic winemaking and avoid some major obstacles along the way, Sicily is the ideal place to start. These guys are blessed with a classic Mediterranean climate – lots of sunshine, moderate rainfall, great ventilation, minimum disease. And they have Cataratto, a grape that’s usually written off as being high-yielding and boring. Don’t be fooled though, this varietal can definitely give some exciting wines. Unfortunately, due to refermentation overload, Voria wasn’t on top of its game this time. Golden yellow with heavy sediment left in the glass. Aromas of Manuka honey, sourdough, lime juice, pine needle syrup, wet hay and cheese. The nose promises much more than the palate, where the acidity stands out quite a bit, especially on the aftertaste. Not as exciting as the first time I tried it, most likely due to prolonged time spent in the bottle. Quite a shame, because this stuff is truly gratifying when fresh off the press.
Price: S$50 (€32)
Purchased: Dellarosa Wine
You might also like: Fusee A Bulles Pet-Nat, Olivier Lemasson ‘Fermentation In Vitro’ Pet-Nat
Shobbrook Making Space 2017
Barossa Valley, Australia
Following Italy, here we have a gent that returned to Australia to practice natural winemaking, after working in the Mediterranean haven for years. Most wineries in Barossa depend on acidification to balance the high sugars in the fruit and the use of sulphur in the winery. Tom uses the latter only in tiny doses before bottling, but depends heavily on wild yeasts and grape quality. Making Space was made on a whim. He had some extra wine lying around, but didn’t have anywhere to store it so he had to make the space upon bottling. Non-aromatic. We hardly detected any aromas, but the ones that did swim up to the surface were strawberry, peach and sea salt. Muted palate, opens up a teeny bit after 10-15 minutes, but still doesn’t offer anything exciting. The mousse is almost non-existent, so it could be that the wine already did its part and buggered off. Surprisingly dull, what we’d say in Bosnian – nit smrdi, nit miriše.
Price: S$36 (€23)
Purchased: P&V Merchants
You might also like: Jauma ‘Peek a Boo’ Grenache Pet-Nat, Deliquente ‘Weeping Juan’ Pet-Nat
Cruse Wine Co. Valdiguié Pétillant Naturel Deming 2017
Napa Valley, USA
Michael Cruse – the saviour of Valdiguié! This is a grape that’s crucial for Napa’s roots, back when it was known as Napa Gamay and was drunk out of jugs. Even though it has nothing to do with the real Gamay, it gives fruity and approachable wines, with a bit more flesh and body. One would say, “true Californian style”. Grapes for this pet-nat are grown on alluvial and gravel soils. The juice was single pressed to tank and bottled with cca 25g of residual sugar. Light copper in the glass. Aromas of peach, white roses, biscuit and crushed gravel. Reminiscent both of Prosecco and Champagne, but truly stands sui generis above all. Dry as fuck, lean, samurai-sword sharp acidity, cashmere-like mousse with the finest finesse and balance detected from the whole batch. Awesome finish, ending in a tone of boxed jasmine and pear. If you want a legit comparison, this is the grown-up version of every fruity, simple pet-nat out there. EASILY one of the best sparklers out of the US. Seek it out. I’m not kidding.
Price: S$49 (€31)
Purchased: Artisan Cellars
You might also like: Onward Wines Pétillant Naturel Hawkeye Ranch Rosé of Pinot Noir
Claus Preisinger Ancestral 2017
After three years of studying in Burgenland, I’m sorry to say that I’ve never heard of Claus Preisinger before this pet-nat tasting (only seen his winery from afar). Forgive me brethren, for the whispers of conventions hath tempted me into the most heinous of acts. Claus, part of the renowned Pannobile association of wineries, decided to make all his wines wild, juicy and gangster. He was the first to start experimenting with skin contact wines fermented in Georgian amphorae and is committed deeply to biodynamics. This fizzy St. Laurent offers aromas of petit beurre, ripe peach and a bit of funk. Pretty simple palate, which most found a bit fat as well, probably expecting straightforward grape juice like in the previous wines. Unfortunately, the acid backbone has started to weaken, so I’d highly recommend drinking up the 2017 since it won’t have much to offer in the upcoming months, especially with the ’18 coming real soon.
Price: S$45 (€29)
Purchased: Ampelia Wines
You might also like: Meinklang Foam, Fuchs Und Hase Pet-Nat Vol. 1, Weingut Brand Pet-Nat Weiss
La Sorga Pet-Nat Rosé 2017
Born in Foix, Ariège, a small town in the Pyrénées, Anthony Tortul founded La Sorga in 2008. Originally aiming to produce a range of natural white wines in the Languedoc, he visited organic and biodynamic vineyards all over the region. However, the more he saw, the more he fell in love, so eventually, he started making everything, even late harvest wines. A blend of Grenache Noir and Grenache Blanc, this rosé is produced from 40-year-old vines grown on calcareous sands. No temperature control whatsoever. Bottled by gravity, manually disgorged after 6 months. Offering bombastic aromas of jasmine, roses, watermelon and pink grapefruit. Light-bodied and energetic, with the palate following the nose flawlessly. Precise fruit purity, which would be even more pronounced if the sugar levels didn’t go overboard (officially only 2g/l, hmmm). Sadly, this was the biggest glitch in the wine, preventing it to head higher up the ranks (voted 8/11).
Price: S$55 (€30)
Purchased: Wine RVLT
You might also like: Partida Creus GR Ancestral, Patrick Bouju Festejar Rose Petillant
Christoph Hoch ‘Kalkspitz’ Pet Nat 2016
Upon discovering that he was blessed with chalky soils, very similar to those of Champagne, Christoph Hoch decided to give sparkling wine a go. He spent some time in France, learning the skills from the big boys of the region – DeSousa, Laherte, and Tarlant – but nobody believed that he could make a stable pet-nat. He made a bet that if he was successful, Tarlant would give him 12 barrels to use. Guess what happened next. Kalkspitz (kalk = chalk, spitz = acidity) is a blend of predominantly Grüner Veltliner with portions of Zweigelt, Sauvignon Blanc, Blauer Portugieser and Muskat Ottonel. Two bottles of this were on the table, but two different wines were in the bottles. One was yellow, the other orange. One smelt like crushed oysters, white pepper and celery, the other like pickled peppers. Bottle variation much? Still, both were tremendously delicious in the mouth. Lean and approachable with fine mousse, low alcohol and acidity erupting from all pores.
Price: $40 (€26)
Purchased: Ampelia Wines
You might also like: Fuchs Und Hase Pet-Nat Vol. 2, Cruse Wine Co. Ricci Vineyard Pet-Nat
Partida Creus VN Rojo Ancestral 2016
When in Spain, you have two options for spiritual enlightenment – Camino de Santiago and Partida Creus. You wanna walk? You walk right now., De Niro would say. Sorry brotha, I love your movies, but I’d rather spend my time indulging in the glorious food & drinks that the northern corners of Spain have to offer. VN is made from a bunch of Spanish varieties which you probably can’t even pronounce, let alone talk about, so I’ll just list them here – Garnacha Tinta, Sumoll, Garrut, Queixal de Llop, Samsó, Trepat and Ull de Perdiu. Whatever they did with seven varietals, it turned out magical. Wild aromas of ripe pomegranate, jalapeno, fruitcake, kosher salt and a hint of VA. Turns on the ignition with its salinity, racy acidity and savage vitality. First time I detect tannins in a pet-nat, probably coming from stem inclusion. Refreshing, long finish. Not the winner of the tasting overall (voted 2/11), but definitely the winner in my book.
Price: $40 (€26)
Purchased: Wine RVLT
You might also like: La Salada Tinc Set Ancestral, Can Sumoi Ancestral Montònega
Lino Ramble Ring a Rosie Nero d’Avola 2018
McLaren Vale, Australia
“This is what Australian pet-nats are all about – anarchy.” Lino Ramble is the impelling creation of whimsical duo Andy Coppard (winemaker) and Angela Townsend (self-proclaimed “Engine Driver”). They came up with the name by combining their two sincerest virtues – texture (Lino) and adventure (Ramble). You know how 99% of winemakers say that their wines represent “sense of place” or “the best of the grape”? Well these wines truly do, no compromise, no bullshit. First off, you recognize an Italian grape on the dot – red pepper, sour cherry, black forest berries and a fistful of herbs. Because it was tasted blind, first guess was Sangiovese, but it didn’t have the acidity and body, so it had to be something from the south. Nero d’Avola with the exemplary New World touch. Red plum, blackberry bubblegum aftertaste with just a tad of sweetness and very good bubble persistence. Cracking stuff with a comical price tag.
Price: $25 (€16)
Purchased: Different Drop
You might also like: Wildman Wine ‘Heavy Petting’ Pet Nat, Astro Bunny Pét-Nat
LS Merchants Natorious 2018
Margaret River, Australia
Na, Na, Na, Natorious! This noble tribute to Christopher Wallace aka Biggie Smalls is coming outta Margaret River from a crew called LS Merchants. Not a lot of detail on this start-up wine biz, but the backbone is that they began in 2015 with a goal of making fun wines through experimentation and minimal intervention. This blend of Sauvy B and Vermentino, often seen in the south of France, is just that. Lively aromatics, something to feel, something to taste. Notes of banana, pear and lemon tart. Vibrant, fresh-faced and driven by a combo of green fruit and floral hints. Needs a bigger push on the acidity and a much longer finish to be considered momentous, but overall, the wine does give you the impression that Dylan was going for something merry. He shows how two classic grape varieties go exotically well together, even in a New World setting. Very interesting stuff. No shortage of personality.
Price: $30 (€19)
Purchased: Different Drop
You might also like: Delinquente ‘Tuff Nut’ Pet-Nat, Traynor Family Vineyard Pet-Nat White
Partida Creus BB Ancestral 2016
“Big & Beautiful” could really be the term used for Bobal, but I’ll add savoury and fresh to that as well. It’s a dark-skinned grape variety native to Utiel-Requena (Valencia, Spain) and is widely-planted all over the country. Even though this is the case, that doesn’t mean that it’s highly interesting for winemakers to ferment. This is where the crazy Italians come in, displaying the grape’s wild side. Thick skins, late budding and drought resistance make it good enough for arid conditions, so when it’s made still, expect some really chewy, dense stuff. In our scenario, it was the perfect ending to the night. Cloudy, clementine orange in the glass. Aromas of iris, citrus rind, salted almonds and candy floss. Traces of spice and berry fruit. Smooth, slender and brisk. A touch more nuttiness and gentle, hardly noticeable oiliness in texture. White cherry finish. Evolves in the glass and offers wonderful exploration of miscellany. Unique and highly quaffable.
Price: $85 (€54)
Purchased: Wine RVLT
You might also like: The Other Right Bright ‘Young Pink’ Pet Nat, Fuchs Und Hase Pet-Nat Vol. 3
House Pour is an approachable guide to the world’s (not so) famous grapes. We’re a group of friends that meet once a month, bring bottles to the table and have a good ol’ time. If you’re inspired by the idea, please spread the love within your wine community. If you’re based in Singapore, don’t hesitate to join us or enquire on hosting your own event! DM at @grapenomad or email at email@example.com.