The Wine to Drink Now: Pétillant Naturel

Meg Smith Photography

Wondering what to sip this weekend? Trade in that glass of beer or rosé for this bubbly, low-alcohol wine that is making a comeback.

When the weather warms, many serious wine drinkers are known to dabble in beer, whose cold fizz and slightly lower alcohol content works well in the heat. But this summer, there’s no need to abandon the juice completely.

Since the ’90s there has been a movement to bring back an ancestral wine style called pétillant naturel. The name means “mildly, naturally sparkling” in French, and the wines—known as “pet nats” to their small but devoted fan base—are made in a completely different way than Champagne and prosecco, with a taste to reflect it.

In short, winemakers stop the normal winemaking fermentation process before all the natural sugar has been gobbled up, topping off the wine with (usually) a crown cap. As a result, the extra carbon dioxide produced as the yeast eats the sugar gets trapped and voilà: bubbles, though not the in-your-face variety. Pet nats often have a bit of residual sugar (though most are not sweet dessert wines by any stretch) and a slightly lower alcohol content than other table wines, giving them a unique, quirky gentleness.

Because of the way they are made (a process that happens mostly in northern France, in the Loire Valley particularly, and with many different grapes), there is huge variety and unpredictability within the results. That means it’s not a category for the tame drinker.

Here, we select nine of our favorites. Give one a try—you just might set the tone for a summer’s worth of discoveries.