Crémant Sparkling Wines

Differences between champagne and crémant explored – December 2009

With the holidays upon us, I thought it fitting to share with you a story of effervescent flair from my friend of the vine and author Rhoda Stewart in Napa. Enjoy!

During a December 2007 holiday in Paris, I came across champagne tasting in a wine store near Centre Pompidou. Welcomed in by the portly manager, I directly began my rounds.

Before visiting many stations, I encountered a crémant sparkling wine. Curious to know how did crémant differ from champagne, I undertook some research.

The word champagne is reserved exclusively for sparkling wine from the Champagne region of France, and is considered the classic example of sparkling wines.

The term “crémant” refers to sparkling wines made in regions other than the Champagne region, but in accordance with Méthode Champenoise. (That is, the wine goes through the fermentation process twice: following primary fermentation and bottling, winemakers add a dosage of sugar and yeast, enabling the wine to go through a second fermentation in the bottle. The carbon dioxide produced from this second fermentation is trapped in the bottle. When the consumer opens the bottle, the carbon dioxide bubbles are released, causing the wine to sparkle.)

Crémant wines are produced with slightly less carbon dioxide and lower bottle pressure (typically 2-3 atmospheres instead of 5-6) than wines from the Champagne region. This lower effervescence is achieved by adding smaller dosage to the bottles for the second fermentation. The lighter effervesce creates the creamy texture to the wines, hence the name crémant, meaning “creamy.” The crémant designation was originally used for sparkling wines from the Champagne region made by méthode champenoise but with this lower effervescence.

In 1975, Crémant de Loire was given formal recognition as an Appellation Origine de Contr le (AOC), and was followed by Crémant de Bourgogne (1975) and Crémant d’Alsace (1976).

In the late 1980s, lobbying by champagne producers led to the term méthode champenoise being forbidden within the European Union as a designation for the traditional method, the term being replaced by methode traditionelle.

Crémant wines have to fulfill strict production criteria. The grapes must be harvested by hand with yields not exceeding a set amount for their appellation. The wines must be aged on the lees for a minimum of one year.

The Loire Valley is France’s largest producer of sparkling wines outside of the Champagne region. The majority of these crémant de Loire are a blend of the chardonnay, chenin blanc, and cabernet franc. Crémant de Loire Ros is purely cabernet franc, the color derived from a 12-hour maceration before the must is taken off the skins. This wine spends 18 months on its lees (expired yeast cells) before disgorgement.

One of my favorites is the Langlois Crémant de Loire ros made wholly from cabernet franc, the red grape of the region. This lovely sparkling rosé sec has a beautiful salmon rose color, plentiful tiny bubbles, and a delicate flavor and aroma of fruit and a light spicy mineral character.

In Burgundy, Crémant de Bourgogne must be composed of at least 30 percent pinot noir, chardonnay, pinot blanc or pinot gris.

Crémant d’Alsace is made primarily from pinot noir, pinot gris, riesling, or chardonnay. Alsace cr mant is typically a sparkling white wine, delicate and light. But there are also fragrant, full-bodied, richly flavored ros d’Alsace made from pinot noir.

California crémant wine by Schramsberg (Napa Valley) deserves special mention. Schramsberg made California’s first cr mant in 1972 with the flora grape, a cross of s millon and gew rztraminer, as its core component. Select lots of chardonnay are added to provide zest and length to the palate. Schramsberg demi-sec cr mant is aged on the lees for about two years prior to disgorgement.

Crémant wines provide a classic yet (usually) a less expensive sparkling wine experience compared to full-pressure champagnes and sparkling wines. The cr mant ros s have won me over!

Crémant wines are available locally:

Liquorama Fine Wines & Spirits at 901 West Foothill Blvd., Upland.

Telephone (909) 985-3131 http://www.liquorama.net

Pierre Sparr Cr mant d’ Alsace Rose $19.99, Schramsberg Mendocino Demi-Sec Cr mant 2005 $29.99, G.H. Mumm de Cr mant Brut Chardonnay NV $64.99.

Total Wine at 8201 Day Creek Boulevard, Rancho Cucamonga.

Telephone (909) 463-5670 http://www.totalwine.com

From Burgundy: Louis Bouillot Brut 11.99, Louis Bouillot Rose 12.99, Louis Bouillot Blanc de Blanc 15.99, Louis Bouillot Vintage 2006 17.99, Louis Bouillot Perle d’Or Vintage 2001 18.99, Luquet Crémant de Bourgogne 19.99. From Alsace: Arthur Metz Brut 14.99, Rose 14.99, Cuvee Special 14.99, Blanc de Noir 14.99

Off the Vine thanks Rhoda Stewart for her assistance. More memoirs of a winemaker coming from Rhoda! She can be reached at rhodairis@prodigy.net.

Gino L. Filippi can be reached at ginoffvine@aol.com

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