Those familiar with the Argentine wine scene won’t be too surprised by the vibrancy of the Pet Nat movement in the country: in spite of its reputation for producing red wines, it boasts a long tradition of sparkling wine that dates back to the 1960s. The Pet Nats that have arisen over the past three years have thus found fertile ground in which to prosper.
The name refers to a range of sparkling wines that seek to produce a fresh and fruity expression with the least oenological intervention possible. It comes from the term Pétillant Naturel, which translates as natural foam. A trend that has captured the imagination of young consumers and producers alike, Pet Nats consolidated their place in 2020 with the appearance of several excellent examples.
Their production requires real technical expertise, which is where Argentina has an edge over countries with shorter winemaking histories. The method seems simple enough: bottling a wine when it’s in the middle of the fermentation process so that, once sealed, the gas released during the reaction generates the sought after bubbles. Because the only things in them are grapes, producing an complete wine with good flavour is a real challenge. And it’s also important that the lees aren’t so thick that they make opening the bottle difficult.
The category was lit up by two different kinds of producer in 2020. On the one hand there were the sparkling specialists who saw Pet Nats as a means of offering something new such as Alma 4 and Cruzat. Then there are producers who have been working with natural wines and saw Pet Nats as a way of adding a sparkling wine to their range. Between them, they’ve launched a dozen bottles of different styles on the market.
The sparkling producers
Among the former, the example of Cruzat is the most interesting. The house specializes in the champenoise method and was looking to produce something that would be attractive to younger drinkers. At the launch, Andrés Heiremans emphasized that ‘Pet Nats are relaxed and, in contrast to classic sparkling wines, focus on preserving the fruit.’ The brand presented two versions: a white from Chardonnay and a Pinot Noir Rosé, both from 2020 and made by the oenologist Lorena Mulet.
Alma 4, in contrast, saw the launch of PHOS as being more closely related to achieving a certain flavour than a category. ‘We wanted to bottle a wine that allowed us to preserve the purity of the grape,’ said Mauricio Castro, one of the four leaders of the project, at the launch. PHOS is a vibrant Pinot Noir from La Carrera, Tupungato, harvested in 2020.
Among the second group; natural producers moving into sparkling wines, Alpamanta has gone furthest. They continued the concept of their Brevas, wines bottled raw with no added sulfites or other ingredients, with a Criolla Grande. The oenologist Victoria Brond explained that ‘the real difficulty with Pet Nats is getting just the right amount of yeast to prevent the effervescence being too much when you open the bottle.’ The Criolla in question has an attractive colour and a lovely perfume. If chilled when opened, the foam isn’t at all excessive.
Ernesto Catena, Krontiras and Chakana, meanwhile, are other natural producers who launched Pet Nats this year. Chakana’s version came under the label Sobrenatural and is a blend of Tannat, Malbec and Syrah. Krontiras’ Pet Nat is a 100% Aglianico harvested early to preserve its natural acidity. ‘My idea was to go for sparky acidity,’ says Maricruz Antolín, the oenologist at the biodynamic house. Both are fragrant with notably crunchy bubbles.
But they aren’t the only ones, the world of Pet Nats also features several boutique players. For instance, there’s Bodega Canopus with their Pintom Pet Nat, Rocamadre from Juanfa Suárez or This is not another lovely Pet Nat, bottled by Matías Riccitelli. Not sold as a Pet Nat but made using the same technique is Colonia Las Liebres Bonarda Brusca, a little jewel with a fruity perfume and active but fine tannins. And so Pet Nats, a burgeoning movement across the globe, have found their place on the Argentine sparkling scene. More are coming, and the more there are the more refine.
Fotografía: Bodega Cruzat