A guide to Crémant
Author: Barbara Drew MW
There’s more to Crémant than cheap fizz. In the right hands, it’s a wine of incredible depth and diversity argues Barbara Drew MW.
Crémant – France’s “other” sparkling wine – is often described as the alternative to Champagne. But it’s a huge category in its own right. Every year, more than 100 million bottles are produced from eight different regions: Alsace, Bordeaux, Burgundy, Die (Rhone), Jura, Limoux, Loire and Savoie.
But what is Crémant? Crémant is traditional-method sparkling wine – that is, sparkling wine made in the same way as Champagne. It goes through two fermentations, and ageing in bottle for a minimum of nine months (or longer) to develop rich yeasty flavours. Each region has its own distinct style, and unique blend of grapes. Most of the regions include some Chardonnay or Pinot Noir in their blend.
Crémant is often viewed as a cheaper alternative to Champagne, or as less good quality, but this is an oversimplification. While some Crémants are very similar in style to Champagne, others are worlds apart. It’s a diverse category providing interest, excitement and often great value.
How Crémant measures up to Champagne
Crémant de Bourgogne shows how close in style to Chamapgne Crémant can be. It tends to be made of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, providing a similar flavour profile to many Champagnes. It’s aged for a similar length of time to Champagne. In fact, two additional ageing designations have recently been created in the region: Eminent (minimum two years ageing on lees) and Grand Eminent (minimum three years ageing on lees). The latter is equivalent to the requirements for a vintage Champagne. This long bottle ageing lends an intense and complex savoury flavour to these wines.
Crémant de Loire, by contrast, tends to be dominated by Chenin Blanc. This high-acid and age-worthy grape adds a beautiful crisp green apple flavour. The wines often develop very honeyed flavours too.
It’s these local grape varieties – each with their characteristic flavours – that give such variety to Crémant.
Which regions to explore
As with all wines, broad generalisations are tricky however, the Crémants of Alsace, Bourgogne, Jura and Savoie tend to be more neutral in style. They are predominantly based on Pinot Blanc (Alsace); Chardonnay and Pinot Noir (Bourgogne); Chardonnay and Savagnin (Jura), and Chardonnay and Jacquère (Savoie). This neutral base allows the yeasty flavours from the lees ageing to shine through, lending a rich patisserie flavour to the wines.
There are fruitier styles too. The Crémants of Die (made from the aromatic Clairette and floral Muscat), Limoux (the crisp, appley Chenin Blanc and ripe tropical and bruised apple of Mauzac) and the Loire (also Chenin, often with a red fruit character from Cabernet Franc or Pinot Noir) are worth exploring.
Arguably the most intriguing of all is Crémant de Bordeaux. All of the traditional Bordeaux grapes (five red and three white) can be used in Crémant de Bordeaux; this means the range of styles is broad. Nevertheless, tracking down these wines can be tricky. The popularity and demand for Bordeaux’s still wines mean producers are reluctant to create Crémant. Its status here, below the radar, also makes for a compelling argument not to make it.
And this is one of the contradictions at the heart of Crémant production. Crémant was originally a way of using grapes whose acidity was too high for still wines; in some regions, it’s still seen as the less wise commercial choice for the wine producer. It’s more expensive to make than still wine, and less likely to fetch a premium. Only the most dedicated winemakers will pursue this category.
A wine for those in the know
But this is exactly the wine that in-the-know consumers are seeking out. It’s good value; it’s made by dedicated and skilled artisans who are keen to let their local varieties shine. Arguably, Crémant is the ne-plus-ultra of sparkling wines. It may not be as glossily packaged as Champagne, nor as widely known as Prosecco – but for quality to price ratio, it cannot be beaten. And that makes it an incredibly versatile wine.
Enjoy it as an apéritif on a Friday evening to serenade the weekend. Match with a creamy, comforting starter on a Saturday – the acidity and bubbles off-setting the heft of the food nicely. Or serve with fish and chips on a Sunday – no excuse needed.
Barbara’s favourite Crémants
Domaine de la Croix Montjoie, Crémant de Bourgogne
Crémant de Bourgogne has the advantage of having a very similar blend of grapes as found in most Champagnes, as well as being the closest Crémant region to Champagne. As a result, stylistically it is often extremely similar to Champagne.
In the past, producers used grapes from vineyards that were not such high quality for Crémant de Bourgogne. With warmer summers and improved winemaking knowledge, even those vineyards which are not Premier or Grand Cru produce fantastic fruit. This excellent example has bright acidity, delicate fruit and floral aromas, and a rounded finish – not too tart, not too sweet. And, at under £20 per bottle, it’s perfect for all occasions (whether they are celebrations or not). £19.95 from bbr.com
2017 Antech, Crémant de Limoux, Expression, Languedoc
It is believed that Limoux – down in the Languedoc-Roussillon, close to the border of Spain – is the region that first produced sparkling wine, with records dating back to 1531. Having had 490 years to perfect the process, it is perhaps no surprise that sparkling wines from Limoux are both elegant and complex. This example, from family-run producer Antech, is a blend of Chardonnay, for crispness and smoothness, Chenin Blanc for fresh acidity and Mauzac, for a beautiful, bruised apple character. £16.95 from bbr.com