Tuesday, December 12, 2023

Overlooked Sparklings: Crémants

I have to admit it, I love Crémants! not only because I love drinking bubbles any time/ any day but because they are a great value, with bottles costing less than $25 each, Crémants cost exactly half of any bottle of NV Champagne. 

Of course the same can be said of Cava and Prosecco, some of which are even cheaper, but what makes Crémants so special is their finesse and quality! Though, they are not exactly French Champagne, but very close and in some cases, as we will see, made from the same grape varieties. But most importantly, they are produced in appellations known for their wonderful still wines, a direct result of the combination of the right terroir, viticulture and winemaking practices, and with an AOC behind guaranteeing not only the quality, but also the typicity of every wine produced.

But what are Crémants?

The French created this term to separate Champagne from all the other sparkling wines made in France.  Yet, Crémants share a few things in common with Champagne, from starters, Crémants are sparkling wines made with a second fermentation in a bottle using the Traditional or Champenoise method. But, Crémants are aged for less time. By law, Crémants must mature on their lees for a minimum of 9 months, similar to the aging of Cavas in Spain and less time than the 15 months required for Champagne. Like in Champagne, the fruit used to make Crémants must be hand harvested for this purpose, and whole bunch pressed with a limited must extraction of a maximum of 100 hectoliters per each 150 kgs of grapes, almost the same as in Champagne. According to Fédération Nationale des producteurs et élaborateurs de Crémants, the bureau who regulates Crémant production, almost 84 million bottles are produced every year. These can be either white or rosé and must come from 8 different appellations that include the following regions: Alsace, Bordeaux, Bourgogne, Die, Jura, Limoux, Loire & Savoie, all shown in the map below.

Let's explore the regions a bit further!

Crémant de Bourgogne

This is Chardonnay and Pinot Noir’s native territory, the same grape varieties that are used to make fine Champagne, are used to make Crémant here. Their terroir include soils such as limestone, granite, marl and chalk, which produce some of the most coveted table wines in the world. Let’s not forget that Bourgogne is located south of Champagne and enjoys its cool climate conditions, producing delicious acidity needed to create elegant sparkling wines. Bourgogne produces about 19 million bottles of Crémant  a year in 4 different styles: White Crémant de Bourgogne that could be a blend of Chardonnay, Aligoté and other white grapes. Crémant de Bourgogne Blanc de Blancs, made from 100 % Chardonnay, Crémant de Bourgogne Blanc de Noirs, made from 100% Pinot Noir and Rosé Crémant de Bourgogne,  made from Pinot Noir on its own or blended with Gamay.

In 2013, two categories were created according to the length of the time these wines age on their lees, the longer the aging sur lie, the bigger the complexity and quality of the wines. Eminent wines are aged for a minimum of 24 months on their lees before dégorgement, while Grand Eminent wines are aged for 36 months, the same time that is required to age Vintage Champagne.

Stylistically, white wines display brioche notes combined with floral, citrus and mineral aromas, Blanc de Blancs show green apples, peach or citrus notes while rosé wines feature red fruit aromas such as raspberry, cherry, blackcurrant and strawberry.

Crémant de Loire

The Loire Valley produces about 17 million bottles of Crémant per year from vineyards located in the towns of Anjou, Saumur, Touraine and Chevery. Since making Crémant from Sauvignon Blanc is not allowed by law, producers use mostly the other important white grape of the Loire: Chenin Blanc, while.  Cabernet Franc and Pinot Noir are used mostly for rosé Crémant. 

Due to their northerly location, the whole Loire Valley can be considered to have a cool continental climate, with variations. Appellations in the east are influenced by the sea and closer to a maritime climate (mild and humid)  but as one goes inland to the west the climate changes. Soils also vary per region, and can include the following: sandstone, shale, chalk, gravel, sand or clay with silica. Acidity is noticeable in all Loire Crémants which most definitely will contribute to their finesse and freshness. Whites often display citrus (lime or grapefruit notes), quince, chamomile, white flowers and nutty notes while rosés showcase red fruits (red cherry and raspberry) with chalky minerality. 

Crémant D’ Alsace

Alsace produces more Crémant than any of the other 7 appellations, averaging almost 33 million bottles per year.  Crémant d’ Alsace can be made as a blend or as varietal using the following grapes: Pinot Blanc, Riesling, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Auxerroirs and Pinot Noir.  That said, white Crémant is mostly made from Pinot Blanc, while Pinot Noir is used to make rosé Crémant. The influence of the Vosges mountains creates dry and sunny conditions, that combined with gneiss, marl clay, marl sandstone, shale and granitic soils, result in grapes of great quality and solid acidity. Alsace Crémants are pure and focused featuring aromas of yellow pears, green plum, white peach and brioche notes. 

Crémant de Limoux

Located in the Languedoc, South of France, Limoux produces  5.8 millions bottles of white and rosé Crémants. Limoux is very important from a historic point of view, as it is the home of the first French sparkling wine, ever produced, at an Abbey in Saint Hilaire in 1531, predating any records of Champagne production.

When dealing with Crémant de Limoux, it is important not to confuse it with Blanquette de Limoux, a sparkling wine from the same region, and also made with the Traditional method, but with a different grape blend. Blanquette de Limoux is mostly made of Mauzac, while Crémant de Limoux is mostly made from Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc with a tiny percentage of Mauzac and Pinot Noir, that by law should be less than 20%.

The climate in Limoux is Mediterranean but  moderated by refreshing oceanic influences, altitude also guarantees cool nights as Limoux is located at the foot of the Pyrenees mountains. The soils are rich in chalk, sand and clay.

Stylistically, Crémant de Limoux showcases ripe citrus (orange zest, lemon pudding) and orchard fruit (white peach and apricots), with bright acidity and hints of spice and toasted bread.

Crémant de Bordeaux

Produces about 6.5 million bottles per year. The climate here is maritime, influenced by the sea and humid, featuring mild winters and sunny summers. The grapes used here are Semillon with some Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle. Rosé Crémant is made from red varieties including all the locals: Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot, and tiny amounts of Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Malbec and Carménère.

Crémant du Jura

Produces 1.7 millions of bottles per year. This appellation enjoys a semi continental climate with cold winters,  warm summers and mild autumns. The soils are rich in chalk, clay and shale. Crémant is made of 4 grape varieties: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Trousseau and Poulsard.  

White Crémant must be made of 70% Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Trousseau. Rosé Crémant is mostly made from Pinot Noir, with some Poulsard or Trousseau.

Crémant de Savoie

Produces only 350,000 bottles per year. The Crémant de Savoie appellation is located to the east of Lyon. Crémants de Savoie are made from 60% Jacquère and Altesse grapes (local varieties), the rest could be complemented by Chasselas, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Gamay. Each blend must have at least 20% of black grapes. Soils vary featuring limestone and clay with limestone, which provide finesse to the wines. 

Crémant de Die

This region produces only 202,000 bottles per year, this appellation is located on both riverbanks of the Drome river in South Eastern France. 

Crémant de Die was originally made of only one grape variety: Clairette but these days a percentage of Aligoté and Muscat Blanc are also allowed in the blend. 

Because of its southern location, it’s dry and sunny but with cool nights. With vineyards located at some of the highest altitudes in France, closer to 700 meters and near the Vercors mountains.  Soils are rich in clay and limestone. 

And now to my recommendations. Though 8 regions produce Crémants in France, unfortunately not all of them can be found in the US. The ones most widely available are: Crémant de Bourgogne, Crémant Limoux, Crémant de Loire and Crémant D’ Alsace.  I chose my three favorites, hoping that you, my dear reader, will be able to enjoy them during the holidays!

Bichot Crémant de Bourgogne, NV $31

Domaine Bichot is known for producing some of the best red Burgundy wines. They also make a white and rosé Crémant. Their white Crémant is light and crisp, featuring tart green apple, ginger and lemon zest aromatics. It is made from equal parts Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. 

Cote Mas de Crémant Limoux Rosé, NV $21

Showing a floral bouquet of white roses, with blood orange and peach notes. This seductive Rosé offers a lively fine mousse that invites you to keep sipping. Made from 70% Chardonnay, 20% Chenin Blanc and 10% Pinot Noir.

Amirault Les Quarterons Crémant de Loire, NV $ 31.99

Made from 100% Chenin Blanc and aged for 18 months on its lees, this enticing Crémant is packed of fruit and acidity, including green pear and grapefruit with brioche and honey hints. Simply delicious!

Wishing all of my readers a Healthy and Happy Holiday season and Happy 2024! Cheers, Silvina.

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