Ever looked at a menu, and then had to get your phone out to immediately look up a word you can’t pronounce, translate, or understand? Yeah, I feel that. Or have you wanted to be a bit more ~cultured~ and ~knowledgeable~ about foodie trends (like pet nat wine) in time for all the long lunches that spring and summer bring?

That’s where I come in. Welcome to What The Fork; a series where we’ll dive in and unpack things in the food, booze, and restaurant world that has us scratching our heads, muttering “what the fuck is that”, and reaching for our phones to research. We’ll chat with experts who live and breathe the weird and wonderful stuff, and give you the good word.

I mean if anything, cramming all this new info into your skull will be heaps handy for your next trivia night. Maybe.

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First up, it’s pet nat wine. You know, those funky, kinda fizzy wines that your mates probably go bananas over as soon as the weather gets warm.

I noticed they started popping up more and more in inner-city gastro pubs and wine bars late last summer, and I can only assume they’re going to get really trendy again as soon as the days get late and the weather heats up.

I spoke with Caitlyn Rees (wine director of Mary’s Group) and Lou Dowling from P&V Wine + Liquor merchants about everything petty natty, from what makes ’em fizz to what they’re best paired with.

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What The Fuck Does ‘Pet Nat’ Even Mean?

Pet Nat is short for the French term, ‘Petillant Naturel‘, which translates to “naturally sparkling”, and I’m sure you’re already starting to connect the dots here.

Yep, it’s a naturally sparkling wine that gets its fizz from fermenting in the bottle. That’s why it doesn’t have the big bubbles similar to a sparkling wine that’s had extra yeast and sugars added to it before being corked.

“Basically, wine is put into the bottle and sealed before it has finished fermenting,” Caitlyn from Mary’s said.

“The CO2 created by the fermentation process has nowhere to go so gets absorbed into the wine.”

Made with one of the most ancient winemaking techniques, and is also known as ‘Method Ancestral‘, acknowledging that the in-bottle fermentation is the oldest known form of producing bubbly.

Um, Why Does It Look Cloudy Then? Has Mine Gone Off?

Typically murky and a bit tart, which I identify with heavily, pet nats can range in colour and flavour much like all wine varietals.  I had one the other week that straight-up tasted savoury, it was so weird – and colour, much like other wines.

Caitlyn tells me that the murky, cloudiness comes from the way it ferments, creating that classic pet nat look f.rom the leftover sediments.

“The fermentation occurs in the same bottle it is sold in,” she said. “Unless the wine is disgorged – meaning the bottle is opened and the dead yeast cells removed – the by-products of fermentation are suspended in the wine, giving it a cloudy appearance.”

Why Do They Come With Pop-Top Like A Beer, And Not A Wine Cork?

As much as Lou tries to convince me it’s because it looks sick as hell to bust open a wine with your mate’s lighter, it’s actually a part of the fermentation process again. She tells me it’s the science behind the bubble.

Pet nat, sparkling wine and champagne all start their bottled life out with crown seals (like beer) where fermentation takes place. Sparking and champagne then have a few other steps including popping the cap, adding more yeast and sugar before the cork is then put in and fermentation completes.

Once the winemaker had capped that bottle of pet nat, the first person to open it back up is you.

So if you’re being sold a pet nat that has a cork and not a pop-top lid like your mate’s craft beer, that’s not a pet nat, my friend.

So What Cocktails Can I Use A Pet Nat In?

Lou from P&V says that pet nats add a subtle fizz and a complex flavour to a summery spritz or any cocktail that you’d normally add prosecco to.

But if you’re drinking it on its own, she recommends you really have a good taste to get all the flavours.

“Remember you have to drink the whole bottle so you really know how it tastes,” she said.

“Never be shy asking for help from where you are buying the Pet Nat, be it by the glass or by the bottle.”

So there you go. The secrets behind the funky petty nat wine. Now you can order or buy a bottle with confidence knowing what you’re getting yourself into – it’s just wine’s grittier older sister.

Where Can I Wrap My Lips Around A Pet Nat?

If you’re in Sydney and surrounds, I’d highly recommend checking in with Lou and the ratbags over at P&V Wine Merchants. They have a hefty selection of petty nats for you to peruse and are always more than happy to chew your ear off about the latest releases, and what wines are good for every occasion.

If you’re down south in Melbourne, track down a Blackhearts & Sparrows wine shop. They tend to have a good range of pet nats, which I’m sure will only expand as the weather gets better and the winter cloud blanket finally lifts.

Prefer to do things online? Check out the rang over at DRNKS – they’re purveyors of the finest bottles of plonk and have a good whack of petty nats in their online store.

Anywhere else? Check out your local independent wine shops. They’re more likely to stock local produce and small-batch things, and would more than likely be keen to track down a bottle of natural fizz for you.

Image: iStock / gilaxia