It’s no coincidence that much of the best pétillant naturel, or “pét-nat,” comes from the Loire Valley. That’s where the form began in the early-1990s with Christian Chaussard, who at the time was working in the Vouvray appellation.
The Loire is also where pét-nat is still the most artfully practiced, and where the wines are made most consistently from year to year. That too stands to reason, when you consider that Chaussard, pét-nat’s putative father, taught at the local winemaking school in Amboise to students like René Mosse, who would go on to their own success.
Having tasted several hundred examples across France during the past two years, I’ve found these following wines to be the most consistently good—although I can recommend a very long list of other worthy practitioners, which I’ve included below.
Perhaps because they made it their sole focus, Pascal Potaire and Moses Gadouche have risen to the top of a strong field in making the consistently best pét-nats in the Loire, possibly in all of France. Their setup doesn’t fit the obvious pét-nat narrative, in that they operate more like a (very) small Champagne house, buying most of their grapes and focusing on the winemaking. Everything is disgorged and sealed in a slightly bizarre (but resealable!) plastic closure that is, at the least, controversial. The wines often get an unusually long time on their lees, which adds to the finesse and implies, I think, that pét-nat succeeds better when not rushed out the cellar door. The white and rosé Pet Sec, and rosé Piège à Filles (“girl trap,” basically), are essentials, but their Pynoz displays the best floral aspects of pineau d’aunis, rather than the grape’s dank-weed side.
This couple was part of the effort to win Montlouis its own pét-nat appellation, and their range of bubbles remains a benchmark, both those from their own land (like Bubulle, whose source of 60-year-old chenin vines is evident in its sheer concentration) and the Éxilé wines from bought grapes. Fermentation in large wood casks and a long settling add to the refined texture. And their new, frothy Mosquito, from muscat purchased in the Roussillon, demonstrates that skills matter as much as having great Loire dirt.
Joseph is a bit far afield from the pét-nat epicenter—to the west, outside Saumur. This is cabernet franc land, and his Cab à Bulles is testament to how pretty a sparkling wine from that herbal (if not outright vegetal) grape can be, made with a remarkable attention to detail, including riddling each bottle by hand. Not well known, but worth seeking, is his Bulles des Perruchets, a prime example of what sparkling chenin should be.
Autran, formerly a physician, is part of that raft of new standout talent in Vouvray. And while his still wines are more prominent, his Cap à l’Ouest (“I’m outta here,” essentially, which refers to him leaving the appellation) has a subtle frothiness and tea-like nuance that’s missing in most sparkling Vouvray. Those traveling to the Loire might find a bottle of his Arrête Toi à Kerguelen, from rare red gamay grown in between the white grapes of Vouvray.
This fifth slot is a hard one, but in the end its the perennial delight of their pink pet-nat, Moussamoussettes, that hands it to the Mosse family in the Anjou town of Saint-Lambert-du-Lattay. Made from grolleau gris and gamay, it’s always just a tiny bit sweet, distinctly mineral and savory enough to drink with nearly anything—in other words, all the things that make pét-nat irresistible.
Other Producers to Seek Out: Le Sot de L’Ange (Touraine), Julian Prével (Montlouis), Domaine l’Austral (Puy-Notre-Dame), Philippe Tessier (Cheverny), Ariane Lesné (Vendômois), La Combe Aux Rêves (Bugey), Nathalie and Damien Delecheneau/La Grange Tiphaine (Montlouis), Frantz Saumon (Touraine), Puzelat-Bonhomme (Touraine), Vallée Moray (Montlouis), Mikaël Bouges (Touraine), Florent Cosme (Vouvray), Perrault-Jadaud (Vouvray), Laurent Barth (Alsace), Domaine la Bohème (Auvergne), Les Bottes Rouges (Jura), Domaine de Sulauze (Provence), Olivier Lemasson (Touraine), Domaine des Pothiers (Roannaises), Les Roches Seches (Anjou), Julien Braud (Muscadet)