Petillant Naturel is the country-cousin to Champagne. It is making a massive comeback in the wine world gaining popularity as it is often a cheaper alternative to Champagne and can offer a larger range of flavours than your typical Champagne can. It is even shortened to Pet-Nat for ease of ordering at hip wine-bars.
If you have read the other sparkling wines entries you will notice we have mentioned that all sparkling wine-to-be wines will all go through two fermentations. The first fermentation is the normal one – the one where we can call grape juice wine, legally, the second is to introduce flavour and bubbles. Here is where Petillant Naturel differs.
Tank-method sparkling wines are already aromatic and use the secondary fermentation to introduce bubbles – not flavour. Bottle-fermented sparkling wines are neutral wines that use the secondary fermentation to introduce bubbles AND flavour. In fact, the longer these wines spend in contact with the ‘lees’ (dead yeast cells) the more flavourful they become. Petillant Naturel wines don’t go through a second fermentation but rather have a longer first fermentation that ends up producing bubbles in the wines.
Like previously mentioned the wines, in order for a wine to undergo a second fermentation it must finish its first fermentation first. Therefore these wines could be drunk as is as they are complete it is just a winemaker has decided he wants bubbles instead. Petillant Naturel wines don’t complete the first fermentation as the winemaker stops the first fermentation half way through. They do this by chilling the wines down to freezing-point which stops the yeasts from working. The wines are then bottled (the wines often start fermenting in tanks where it is easy to freeze the whole lot at once) and stored at cooler temperatures of about 6-10 degrees Celsius. Once in bottle the yeasts will warm up and start to work again and once they do they start to produce carbon dioxide. In a normal first fermentation process this carbon dioxide is allowed to escape out the barrels or top of the tanks. Now the carbon dioxide is trapped inside the bottle thus creating a sparkling wine in one full, longer fermentation process.
The resulting wines are less vigorously fizzy as bottle-fermented wines as there are less yeast cells to ferment fully. This makes Petillant Naturel sparkling wines an easy and refreshing change to Champagne. The wines will also have more fruit flavours in equal balance with the yeasty, biscuity flavours produced from fermentation. Where Champagne is solely yeast flavours, tank method is solely fruit flavour – Petillant Naturels are the in-between