The end of year approaches, which for many bring on the season of celebration and parties – and a time to say thanks to friends and family. The eat.live.travel.write household is no different, and as you can imagine, quality bubbly is often on the menu!
In fact, I can often be heard lamenting that people just don’t drink enough sparkling wine. It offers flexible food pairing options, and adds a zing to an event as soon as you pop the cork. Alas, Champagne – and quality Champagne specifically – may be a bit costly (at least here in the Ontario market) to quaff as often as you’d like. So here I’d like to put a spotlight on the hidden-gem sparklers of France: Crémant.
What is “crémant”?
Basically, it’s a sparkling wine made in one of eight designated appellations in France – other than Champagne – but made in the same traditional method. That is, secondary fermentation in the bottle. By law, they have a slightly shorter minimum ageing time: a total 12 months in the bottle before release, nine of which must be on the lees (yeast); versus 15 and 12, respectively, for Champagne. In fact, the name Crémant, which translates as “creamy”, comes from the fact that traditionally Crémants had a lower pressure than Champagne (2-3 atmospheres versus 5-6), giving a “creamier” mouthfeel. This is not necessarily the case today, however, and many high quality Crémants have just as fine and persistent mousse as Champagne. Like Champagne, the grapes must also be harvested by hand.
The grapes used for a Crémant will be local to that particular appellation. This, more than anything, defines and differentiates their palate and style both from Champagne, and each other.
Herewith, a quick summary of the eight appellations… A hint: if you like the still wines from one particular region, it’s a good bet you’ll be fond of their Crémant.
Readily available, and always good value. The only AOC in the region which permits Chardonnay, though you’ll not often see it (or see it in small amounts). There’s a lot produced – it accounts for almost a quarter of wine production from the region. And with seven white and one black varietal permitted, you can expect a lot of variation from producer to producer. I tend to find them more floral than Champagne, with riper fruit notes. (Tho0ugh due to variety of styles – any generalization is exactly that – a generalization!) You don’t often see the rosé version, but what’s interesting is that it’s 100% Pinot Noir – not a blend of grapes, as is usually the case in Champagne.
Crémant de Bordeaux
Unlike Alsace, it’s an extremely small part of production versus the still wines. But being much larger geographically, that’s still a significant number of bottles. Stylistically, like Alsace they can vary with ten varietals (!) available for 70% of the blend, and a further three (plus the original ten) for the other 30%. It’s almost like a sparkling Châteauneuf-du-Pape! (Merlot Blanc, anyone?) Realistically you’ll see far fewer, with Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon playing a leading role. This can lead to some bright citrus and peach/pear notes.
Crémant de Bourgogne
The one most often considered a Champagne “alternate”, with several high-quality producers. This makes sense, as many of the grapes are grown near the southern border of Champagne’s Aube region. Likewise, many of the same grapes are used. I always have some in the cellar, and would happily put it in a blind tasting with quality Champagnes at double the price. Fun fact: this appellation can include grapes from Beaujolais.
Crémant de Die
If you see it – buy it. It’s only produced as a white, focused on the Clairette grape, and in small volumes. I’ve never seen outside France; and even then, as our house is on the opposite side of the country, not often there!
Crémant du Jura
These are more common, and can feature a variety of grapes, including Chardonnay. But with the local varieties of Poulsard and Savagnin, there’s an opportunity for a distinctive flavor profile. I’ve not had a lot, but have found a stylistic range from crisp apples to tart cherry & mushroom. Like the famed Vin Jaune of the region, these can be unique.
Crémant de Limoux
It’s ironic that this AOP was only declared in 1990, when this region is in fact the birthplace of what people now call the “Champagne Method”. These wines are an emotional favourite of mine. The soils are rich in limestone, producing some incredible Chardonnays. The Crémants here are usually aged longer, producing more brioche on the nose through autolysis. Fine versions can rival a quality blanc de blancs. Also worth a try is Blanquette de Limoux, made almost solely from the local varietal Mauzac (lots of crisp green apples with lemon zest).
Crémant de Loire
I’d call this the “workhorse” of Crémant: it’s the highest production of any of these AOPs, most at attractive prices, available as white or rosé, with appealing flavour profiles, and sometimes with slightly more residual sugar. Perfect as an aperitif and all-round crowd pleaser.
Crémant de Savoie
The newest appellation (only since 2014). Apart from Chardonnay and Gamay Noir, the rest of the grapes are local favourites. I’ll have to admit I’ve not tried one yet – will be on the hunt in France this summer.
Crémant de Luxembourg
Okay yes, I know Luxembourg is not part of France. But they also produce a Crémant, and are the only region outside France where the term is permitted in the EU. What’s distinctive is that their appellation rules dictate a minimum of pressure of four atms, so these are usually crisp and refreshing.
As you can see, Crémants offer a diverse range of quality sparkling styles, usually at attractive prices. I urge you to seek them out, and give them a try. The French National Federation of Crémant Growers and Producers will thank you!
Join the Twitter chat on Saturday November 17th 2018 at 11am EDT (8am PDT, and 17h in France). See what the group thinks of crémant and tell us about your experiences! Simply log into Twitter and search for the #winophiles tag, and you’re in!
Read the Winophiles’ take on Crémant!
Jill Barth: A Festival of French Crémant
Susannah Gold: French Cremant – Perfect Sparklers for the Holiday Season
David Crowley: Best Food Pairings for Crémant d’Alsace
Martin Redmond: Elevating Weeknight Fare with Cremant d’Alsace #Winophiles
Jane Niemeyer: How to Pair Crémant d’Alsace and Food
Gwendolyn Alley: Crémant Rosé: 4 Affordable Food-Friendly Beauties for #winophiles
Rupal Shankar: Five Reasons to Drink Crémant d’Alsace this Holiday Season
Kat Wisnosky: Crémant, the Prefect Style of Wine for a Festive Meal