Why Crémant May Be Your Best Bubbly Bet this NYE
Time to try the best sparkling wine you've never heard of.
by Erin Henderson
At Wine School we host a popular class called Sparkling Wine Exploration – a tasting of Champagne, Crémant, Prosecco, Cava and other sparkling wines from around the world. Wine lovers have heard of a few of these names, but Crémant always seems to stump the majority.
Such a shame. Crémant is versatile, delicious, and quite a bargain.
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Crémant, at its core, is simply French sparkling wine that is made in the same recipe as Champagne but from elsewhere in the country and with other regional grapes.
Let's back up a moment.
The definition of Champagne is secondary fermentation in the bottle. A sentence that simultaneously tells you everything and absolutely nothing.
Basically, when making Champagne, either one of, or some combination of, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, and Chardonnay will be used. The wine is first made without bubbles, either in tank or barrel, and then put in the same squat bottle you would buy off the shelf. At this bottling stage there are no bubbles, only still wine.
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To the still wine, some yeast and sugar are added, and the bottle is sealed under crown cap, or what looks like a beer bottle cap. Yeast eats sugar to create more alcohol, and a little CO2. Because the bottle is sealed, there is no where for the carbon dioxide to go, so it creates bubbles in the wine. Eventually the winemaker removes the crown cap and disgorges the yeast to clarify the wine and then puts the cork and cage on the bottle.
This process is known around the world as the Traditional Method. While wine regions obviously cannot call their bubblies Champagne (that’s a proprietary name that can only be used in the northern French region of Champagne), it is completely fair game to use the process the Champenoise have perfected. And, many regions, including California, Australia, and here in Ontario, happily do.
Back to Crémant.
In total, there are eight AOC’s, or regions, that are designated as Crémant producing areas. Crémant de Loire (pink or white bubbly made from some sort of combination of Chenin Blanc, Cab Franc, or Pinot Noir and possibly a few other locally grown grapes), Crémant d’Alsace (same idea but with Pinots Blanc, Gris, and Noir, as well as Riesling and even Auxerrois) and, one of my favourite examples, Crémant de Bourgogne – a bubbly that’s made with the leading grapes of Burgundy – Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, and secondary grapes Aligoté and Gamay.
Crémant ranges in style from simple and fruity, to deeply complex and crisp, and you can have a lot of fun tasting your way through the regions to see what pleases your palate.
These sparklers offer incredible value – well under $25 in many cases – and can be dead-ringers for true Champagne, at only a quarter of the price. Crémants are stylish bubblies for sipping solo and toasting in the new year, and also inexpensive enough to add depth and dimension to fizzy cocktails without breaking the bank.
If you haven't tried Crémant yet, it may be the season to do so.
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