We owe thanks to the French for bestowing upon the world some of life’s greatest beauties and pleasures. The delicious simplicity of a freshly baked baguette with tangy brie cheese. The magnificence of French cuisine in general. The masterpieces of many significant artists, such as Monet, Cézanne, Renoir, and Degas, to name a few. Not to mention the magnitude of stunning wines produced in this country. A special thanks is owed for perhaps the most brilliant wine of them all – Champagne. Though this bubbly beverage is costly to produce and thus, costly to consume. So, let’s dive into Champagne’s much more affordable and uniquely delicious French sister – Crémant.
What is Crémant?
Though Champagne historically shines under the spotlight, more recently Crémant has been stepping on the French sparkling wine stage. And for good reason. Crémant is French sparkling wine, produced under the same traditional method as Champagne, made in other regions of France. The traditional method involves inducing a secondary fermentation in bottle, which creates the fine bubbles along with the textures and flavors of Champagne and other traditional method sparkling wines we all know and love. For more on this style of winemaking, check out my post on Cava or this Wine Folly article that explains the various methods of sparkling wine production.
Basically, Crémant is French traditional method sparkling wine produced outside of Champagne. Because there is high demand for Champagne, yet limited supply, the prices of these bottles are often steep. Luckily for consumers, the more accessible Crémant abounds in France. And don’t worry because what Crémant offers in affordability, it is not lacking in quality. Styles of this high-quality French sparkling wine vary from appellation to appellation, making Crémant, dare I say, perhaps the more interesting wine to consume based on sheer diversity alone.
The Eight Appellations of Crémant
Crémant is produced throughout eight appellations of France and in neighboring Luxembourg as well. We all know the French are sticklers with wine laws. While challenging for anyone trying to newly enter the wine industry in France, French wine laws provide consumers with peace of mind. We can put our trust in standards of production to ensure higher quality wines and Crémant is produced under only slightly less strict regulations than Champagne.
Though the different appellations of this French sparkling wine have varying laws, there are a few regulations consistent throughout.
- Grapes must be harvested by hand
- Whole bunch pressing is required with limited must extraction (100 liters of juice from 150 kg grapes)
- i.e. higher quality juice with less harsh compounds
- Wines must age for a minimum of 9 months on the lees
Now that we know how all of the Crémant appellations are the same, let’s explore how they differ!
Location: Northeastern corner of France in the foothills of the Vosges Mountains.
- White: Pinot Blanc, Auxerrois, Pinot Gris, Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir
- Rosé: only 100% Pinot Noir
Crémant d’Alsace makes up half of France’s total Crémant production. Around 30 million bottles of Crémant d’Alsace are produced each year. If you’re just getting started exploring Crémant, this would be a great place to start. Crémant d’Alsace claims a quarter of Alsace’s total wine production. The grapes for this French sparkling wine are picked much earlier than those for the still wines of Alsace so as to capture higher acidity. This acidity carries through to a snappier, fresher wine in the bottle.
The climate in Alsace is dry and sunny and the region boasts a variety of soils, which is why so many grape varieties do well here. Crémant d’Alsace is typically a blend of varieties with Pinot Blanc as the base. Single variety Crémant d’Alsace are available and will be labeled as such on the bottle.
Crémant de Bourgogne
Location: Burgundy. Just south of Champagne. Primarily in Auxerre (Chablis) to the north or in Rully (Côte Chalonnaise) to the south.
- White: Mainly Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Occasionally Gamay, Pinot Blanc, Sacy, Pinot Gris, Aligoté, and/or Melon de Bourgogne
- Rosé: Pinot Noir and Gamay
- Crémant de Bourgogne wines must be produced with a minimum of 30% Pinot Noir and/or Chardonnay and a maximum of 20% of the other varieties listed above.
Unique to Crémant de Bourgogne:
- Eminent: Aged for a minimum of 24 months on the lees
- Grand Eminent: Aged for a minimum of 36 months on the lees
- Only Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are permitted (plus 20% maximum Gamay for rosés)
- Minimum 10% alcohol
- Brut or drier in style only
These terms were introduced by Crémant de Bourgogne producers as a strategy to distinguish quality French sparkling wines of the region. Seek out labels with these terms for higher quality wines and those more similar to Champagne.
More often than not, Crémant de Bourgogne is mainly produced with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. So, if you are looking for a Crémant that closely resembles Champagne, opt for Crémant de Bourgogne, as these are some of the same varieties used to produce Champagne.
The soils of Crémant de Bourgogne are also very diverse, ranging from chalk to clay to granite to limestone and marl. If you are interested in a crisp, fresh Crémant de Bourgogne, select a wine produced in the northern part of Burgundy. If you are more interested in a fuller, rounder style, choose a bottle made in southern Burgundy where warmer temperatures allow for riper fruit.
Crémant de Limoux
Location: The south of France in Languedoc. Located in the high foothills of the Pyrenean Mountains, 200-400m above sea level.
- White & Rosé: Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Pinot Noir, Mauzac
- Rules for blending proportions:
- Chardonnay – 90% maximum
- Chenin Blanc – 10-40% maximum
- Pinot Noir and Mauzac – 40% maximum when used together
- Mauzac – 20% maximum
- Rules for blending proportions:
Crémant di Limoux experiences Mediterranean influences, good sunshine, and rainfall throughout the year. Limoux has a longstanding battle with Champagne for claim to the creation of sparkling wine in France.
Keep an eye out for Blanquette Méthode Ancestrale, as this French Sparkling wine made from Mauzac uses a different production where the wine is bottled before the first fermentation is complete. The wine finishes fermentation in bottle, is not disgorged, and does not receive a dosage. A unique style worth experiencing for yourself.
Crémant de Loire
Location: Loire Valley, France. More specifically in the Anjou-Saumur and Touraine areas of the Loire Valley.
- White & Rosé: Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc are the main varieties
- Other permitted varieties: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Grolleau, Grolleau Gris, Arbois, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Pineau d’Aunis
The climate of Crémant de Loire varies depending on location. In the west near Touraine, the climate is typically mild. Near the center of the appellation, you’ll find a more semi-continental climate. Soils range from sandstone, limestone, and shale to gravel and sand. Take note that the star of the Loire Valley, Sauvingon Blanc, is not permitted in Crémant production here.
Crémant de Bordeaux
Location: Bordeaux, France in the southwestern corner of the country.
- White: Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc, sometimes Muscadelle
- Typically, 60% Semillon
- Rosé: Mainly Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Lesser quantities of Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Petit Verdot, and even Carmenère
- Typically, 70% Cabernet Sauvignon and 30% Merlot
By law, Crémant de Bordeaux must be aged for a minimum of 12 months.
Crémant de Bordeaux experiences a temperate, humid climate with mild winters, long autumns, and sunny summers. Soils here are mainly sandy clay-limestone.
Crémant de Jura
Location: Jura, France. Towards the center of the eastern border of the country.
- White & Rosé: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Poulsard, Savagnin, Pinot Gris, Trousseau
- White – Must be a minimum of 70% Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Trousseau
- Rosé – Must be minimum of 50% Pinot Noir, Poulsard, and Trousseau
- Rosé will often be 100% Pinot Noir
Crémant de Jura exhibits a semi-continental climate with challenging winters, mild weather from spring through summer, and hot autumns. The soils consist of mainly limestone mixed with clay and marl subsoil.
Crémant de Savoie
Location: Savoie, France. Centrally located along the eastern border of the country.
- White & Rosé: Jacquère, Altesse, Chasselas, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Gamay
- 60% minimum made from Jacquère and Altesse
- The other 40% from a blend of the other varieties
- Maximum of 20% red varieties allowed
Crémant de Savoie is an alpine region with vineyards on steep hillsides at elevations ranging from 250-450m above sea level. Vineyards experience warm micro-climates because of their south or southeastern facing sun exposure. There are a range of soils, including alluvial, river stone, limestone, scree, and moraine (glacial deposits).
Crémant de Die
Location: Drôme Valley, France in the southeastern quarter of the country.
- White: Originally only made from Clairette. Aligoté and Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains now also permitted.
- Between 10-40% Aligoté permitted
- Between 5-10% Muscat permitted
- Typically, mainly produced from Clairette
Located at the border of the Alps and Provence, Crémant de Die experiences dry, warm summer days with cool nights and a winter mountain climate. Vineyards vary in elevation from 200-700m above sea level. Soils are mainly clay-limestone.
How to Pair Crémant
Creating a harmonious food pairing for Crémant is not a one size fits all process because there are so many styles of this French sparkling wine. Even within the same appellation, variations in style abound because multiple varieties of grapes are permitted in production. While regional styles are difficult to pin down, having so many options to choose from makes exploring Crémant all the more interesting and exciting.
When purchasing a Crémant, check in with your best friend Google to track down the website of the producer. Here you can typically find tech sheets and/or tasting notes for the Crémant at hand to determine the aromas, flavors, and style of the wine. Then, think of flavors that would either complement or contrast the wine and go from there.
The Crémant website is also a great resource that breaks down each of the appellations of Crémant, along with the characteristic flavors and aromas of each region.
When pairing this French sparkling wine, be sure to consider the sweetness level of the wine along with time spent aging on the lees.
Styles like Crémant de Bourgogne Eminent and Grand Eminent, along with Crémant de Bordeaux will have greater complexities and textures. These styles will also illustrate autolytic qualities, such as toasted bread, brioche, hazelnut, almond, etc. due to the extended lees contact over a longer aging process. The more complex the wine, the bolder flavors and richer dishes the wine can be paired with.
Fresher styles of Crémant, such as Crémant de Savoie, Crémant de Die, and Crémant de Jura, can in turn be paired with lighter, more delicate dishes.
When it comes to the sweetness level of Crémant, try to keep the sweetness level of the dish matched to the sweetness level of the wine. The two should be in balance so that the sweetness of one doesn’t completely over power the other.
Don’t stress too much when it comes to finding a pairing for Crémant. The good news is that Crémant, like many sparkling wines, pairs well with many foods. The higher acidity of this French sparkling wine can balance out richer dishes. Salt is your friend when it comes to wine pairings because salt can tame the harsher elements of a wine like bitterness and acidity, while enhancing the fruity aromatics. Plus, the average bottle of Crémant costs around $10-$15. So, buy a few bottles, experiment with some pairings, and have fun!
Karen MacNeil. The Wine Bible. New York: Workman, 2015. Print.
Photo of Alsace sourced here.