Food & Culture

Champagne, Step Aside

Summer of pét-nat: natural bubbles on the rise in Washington

By Aimee Rizzo August 9, 2021


This article originally appeared in the July 2021 issue of Seattle Magazine.

It’s alive, almost electric.

Bubbly and swirling with an effervescent zip. Rather excitable when exposed to a gust of fresh oxygen. Pop quiz: Am I describing a post-vaccinated Seattle in the thick of sticky summertime or a bottle of pét-nat?

Trick question. Turns out, it’s both. The buttery July sun hits differently this year. And, in my humble opinion, there’s no better way to celebrate than by glugging natural bubbles. As low-intervention wine becomes less of a hip trend for millennials and more of a serious bottle shop staple, pét-nat is proving to be an unstoppable force of fermented grape juice.

Pét-nat is short for pétillant naturel, which translates to “naturally sparkling” in French. It’s made using a similar method to Champagne, whose nose-tickling carbonation is kick-started by adding sugar and yeast to an already finished wine. Pét-nat, on the other hand, is bottled sans additions, while its juice is still converting into alcohol. Pressure builds, the fizz multiplies, and thus, sparkling wine is born, spontaneously. Thanks, science.

It’s not just the process that makes pét-nat a pillar of the natural wine scene. It’s the grapes, too. For the most part, the fruit is farmed organically, and often the wine isn’t filtered. This gives way to incredible diversity and raw expression despite its minimalistic approach.

Because there’s little control and regulation from start to end, along with a typical-but-intentional lack of preservatives involved, these bubbles are the result of nature just doing its thing and you could sip two bottles of the same type of pét-nat that have starkly different personalities.

On my quest to gulp the best, I’ve encountered everything from a tart, hazy rosé that resembles a cross between pink lemonade and grapefruit mimosas
(Borachio’s Pash Rash, AUS) to a strawberry-rich, briny red bursting with pomegranate depth and toasted hazelnuts (Bichi’s Pét Mex, MX) to an orange wine that pretty much goes down like a spritzy glass of Tang (Poderi Cellario’s È Orange, IT). Remember Tang?

Pét-nat seems shiny and new right now due to the “natty” craze gaining more traction recently. Its presence has skyrocketed everywhere and Seattle is no exception. You can now find it on shelves at bottle shops, printed on restaurant wine lists and all over Instagram relatively easily. Yet, pét-nat has roots dating back to 1531, when the earliest examples of carbonated wine were whipped up by monks in Limoux, France, all before proper Champagne joined the party and gave you that gnarly New Year’s Day headache. But unlike classic sparkling winemaking, there are hardly any rules when it comes to pét-nat, both in the vineyard and in the cellar. That’s why it’s a high-risk, high-reward form of bubbles that’s on the rise throughout Washington state.

Winemaker Jay Anderson of Foundry Cellars in Walla Walla has been on board for years. In 2018, he started the aptly named Pét Project, a label that exclusively churns out natural bubbles involving grapes ranging from floral Gewürztraminer to peppery Syrah.

“This style is not bound by historical or cultural traditions, so it’s more open for experimentation,” Anderson says. “I like that these wines can be lively and fresh with a broad range of flavor profiles when compared to more traditional sparkling wines. Pét-nat has a reputation for being unpredictable and at times a little funky but that isn’t always true, and it isn’t something to be overly concerned about. It’s part of what makes them exciting.”

You can, and absolutely should, check out Anderson’s fizzy selection in Seattle at Foundry’s Pioneer Square tasting room.

For Dusty Jenkins, assistant winemaker at Gilbert Cellars as well as the owner and winemaker of Sage Rat Wine, a new natural operation in Yakima that focuses on Italian grape varietals, pét-nat is also synonymous with accessibility in winemaking.

“Pét-nat is great because it really democratizes the production of sparkling wine,” he says. “You don’t need high-pressure tanks, sparkling corkers, wire cages and other specialized equipment. And it achieves the same results as more complex methods: bubbles!”

As Seattleites, we have plenty to toast to this summer. And we have easier-than-ever access to refreshing, low alcohol by volume, natural sparkling wine that’s good for the planet, your wallet, and warm-weather drinking surrounded by vaccinated friends and a sunset melting over Lake Union. I’ll raise a glass to that.

Washington-made Bubbles to Pop
Sage Rat 2020 Pét-Nat Rosé, $24: This spunky Yakima-based newcomer is made from 100% nebbiolo grapes, and you can expect a deep, peachy, grapefruit bubblegum thing going on that can stand up effortlessly to pizza, creamy pastas or a pile of charcuterie.

The Orcas Project 2020 Pét-Nat Dolcetto, $37: If you thought that a big drippy burger could only be washed down with a bold, tannic red, kindly reconsider. Dolcetto is a soft, fruity grape that’s the star of The Orcas Project’s newest pét-nat. It’s light and fizzy, with a cherry-berry punch and a squeaking hint of blanched almond. Break it out for your summer barbecues.

Pet Project 2020 Pét-Nat Chenin Blanc, $29: With plenty of crusty sourdough vibes and a lime pear curd zestiness, Foundry Vineyards’ outstandingly vibrant Chenin Blanc pét-nat is practically begging you to serve it with a hunk of nutty aged cheddar and black pepper crackers.

Gilbert Cellars 2020 Riesling Pét-Nat, $24: Look no farther for exceptional sushi night bubbles. Gilbert Cellars’ Riesling pét-nat is loaded with custardy key lime pie, pineapple sorbet and Granny Smith flavors that get along well with raw tuna while simultaneously lightening up fried appetizers like tempura and crisp gyoza.

Where to Grab Pét-Nat Al Fresco
Left Bank: The oldest natural wine bar in Seattle also happens to be the best, and now you can find some tables set up outside for under-the-sun sipping. Left Bank also does a fantastic job just sourcing terrific pét-nat, period, whether it’s heavily hyped by the masses on social media or not. Don’t forget to run across the street to grab a double cheeseburger from Loretta’s Northwesterner to pair with your glass.

Bottlehouse: Sitting in Bottlehouse’s patio, sipping wine feels like hanging out at your most garden-savvy friend’s backyard. There’s usually a pét-nat by the glass available, and lots of bubbles for sale in the adjoining bottle shop on the way out, including Jay Anderson’s Pét Project wines.

Petite Soif: This Beacon Hill sister bar to Vif unveiled its lush back courtyard last summer. Go in on some ideal drinking snacks like prosciutto, marinated olives and/or focaccia.

L’Oursin: If you’re in the mood for some shellfish, because L’Oursin offers a chilled fruits de mer tower as well as fresh crab, scallops and oysters a la carte. But guess what pairs well with seafood? Bingo! Pét-nat. This Central District spot also writes tasting notes on the menu that are incredibly eccentric, relatable and entertaining.

Delivery and Pickup
DeLaurenti Food & Wine is one of Seattle’s best-kept secrets. This Italian specialty grocery at Pike Place has an extremely diverse selection of natural wine, from local producers on the West Coast to hard-to-find bottles from South Africa. Only catch: its online list is in the form of a very long PDF. Without pictures. It’s worth perusing.

Champion Wine Cellars: A busy corner in Greenwood is home to Seattle’s oldest independent wine shop, and its natural lineup is one of the greatest in town. While you can order a curated six-pack delivered to your door, I recommend stopping by the contact-free front counter to hear the staff’s phenomenal recommendations.

Glinda: No relation to the good witch, but what you’ll find at Glinda is the good wine. With a focus on ethically farmed grapes as well as women- and BIPOC-owned wineries, there’re plenty of terrific options and a wide delivery window that spans across the city.

La Dive: If you spend a minimum of $75, which is dangerously easy to do, this Capitol Hill wine bar that I love for frozen Beaujolais slushies and adjika-smothered pelmeni offers free bottle delivery to anywhere in Seattle.

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