Cremant finally goes to the ball..
It is no huge shock to learn, that the sparkling wine category has exploded in the past ten years globally. Supermarket shelves are now tightly packed with mushroom corked bottles, and restaurants and bars are beefing up their bubbles section of the menu. In fact, both production and consumption of these effervescent wines has exploded by a whopping 57% since the year 2012. What was once a smaller sector of the market at a meager 5%, is now escalating year on year to a far more respectable 10% of the global market share of wine production. We could most likely attribute most of the successes and newfound appetite for sparkling wines to Prosecco’s. These styles of wines filled a vacuous gaping hole in the market for a more affordable bubble in our glass. Many of us are still not at the scale where we are swilling down on fine vintage Champagnes on a random Tuesday. Thankfully the advent of these vibrant and cheeky affordable Proseccos opened the floodgates to a selection of top quality, more affordable sparkling wines from France, Spain, Germany and England. And of all these quality offerings, Crémant from France must be one of the shining stars.
It is widely rumoured that the bubbles in wine came about from an accident in secondary fermentation in a monastery in Limoux in the South of France, a couple of hundred years well before the Northern region of Champagne. The honed skills and expertise of sparkling wine production was then further perfected in Champagne by the infamous monk Dom Perignon. However, the rest of France were still tinkering on with their own sparkling offerings, possibly without the global fame and reputation that Champagne had become accustomed to. Nevertheless, there are 8 other regions in France that produce serious quality sparkling wines without the Kensington, Monaco price tag. More like the Longford and Leitrim price tag, yet still possessing all the flavour and bubbles. These 8 regions are legally allowed to classify and call their wines ‘Crémant’, which means creamy. It was originally used in the Champagne region to classify a lower effervescent wine. But when the term Champagne was outlawed for wines made outside the region, the trade-off was the term ‘Crémant’. Now we have the likes of ‘Crémant d’Alsace’, ‘Crémant de Loire’, ‘Crémant de Bordeaux’ etc.
It is a style of wine that embraces diversity and uniqueness as with each region, they have their own permitted grape varieties. Therefore, the flavours of these wines vary. They do however have common parameters for quality they must adhere to. All grapes must be hand harvested. Ageing limits are equal in terms of 12 months of lees ageing for any Crémant. And the exact same amount of dosage (mix of sugar and wine) must be added to the wines before bottling. The likes of Crémant de Bourgogne have even stricter rules again. They must hand harvest their grapes in whole bunches, and in perforated boxes, whilst exercising the same pressing protocols as the mighty Champagne region. Furthermore, it is law to declare your vineyard for Crémant production before the end of March. Your vines must not be used an afterthought, or worse still as an economical method to use up all your surplus supply of juice. These are serious wines that are produced in a classic Champagne method, whereby a still wine has dose of sugar and yeast added to the bottle and are left to age for 12-18 months. This long slow ageing process is what creates that fine, tiny bubble. Meticulous care is taken to turn these bottles once every day very minimally, and this way the yeast can react with of all the liquid to create the carbon dioxide to form well over 20 million bubbles per bottle!
Stylistically these wines range from a light, easy drinking summery sparkler to a toasty, creamy rich wine that mirrors fine Champagne. The Loire valley producers use Chenin Blanc, that gives flavours of lemons, quince, and honey. Producers like Bollinger and Deutz have a firm presence here making some stellar wines. Alsace concentrates on grapes like Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris and sometimes even Riesling. So, the Crémant here is considerably more aromatic and has a lighter weight to it. Full varietal of Pinot Noir is used here to make sleek and soft, yet bountiful Rose sparkling wines. A must if you can get your hands on them here in Ireland. A wine like this can partner such a staggering array of foods, you would be shocked. Perfect for Asian pungencies. For similarities to the infamous Champagne wines, Crémant de Bourgogne would be the closest. But only because they use the same grapes i.e. Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Munier. The main sub-regions for production are Chablis, Macconais and the Cote Chalonnaise. There are some Rose’s made from Gamay, but for the most part Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are the key players. Due to the nature of slightly warmer summer, their fruit flavours are a touch riper on the plate of these wines.
Such is the demand for Crémant now, Jean Charles Boisset, one of Bourgogne’s most widely recognised producers, claims his production is over 27% of all his wines. The region itself is investing and producing over 18 million bottles a year. And why? Because the modern consumer is becoming far more astute to the option of buying sparkling wines with supreme quality and style for a fraction of the price tag. These wines can offer all of the fanfare of a Champagne with tiny, beautiful bubbles, many varying flavours to suit all palates and a distinct capacity to suit a wide range of foods and rich dishes. ‘Crémant’ is finally having her day for sure now!
Simmone Febvre, Cremant de Bourgogne Brut Blanc, N/V, 12%, €28.99 (SuperValu): This is a blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir that has been aged for 24 months. This is a complex wine, that far belies its current price tag in the Supervalu wine sale for €18. A creamy mousse on the palate is filled with citrus fruits. These zesty fruits are equally matched by the biscuit notes often found in Champagne. These textured brioche and biscuit notes are a result of a lengthy bottle ageing on the lees (yeasts). Sublime with oysters, prawns and crab. But just as impressive as an aperitif.
Domaine Saint Remy, Cremant d’Alsace rose, N/V, 12.5%, €28 (Celtic Whiskey Shop): This is a slightly sweet bubbly made in the same style as Champagne and exclusively from Pinot Noir. Wild roses mix with notes of strawberry and red currants on the nose. It has a delectably smooth mousse on the palate and flavours of red berries and vanilla on the finish. This style of wine would contrast spectacularly with a cheese fondue or a country terrine, and of course would be incredible with a strawberry based dessert.