Cremant is a lesser-known French sparkling wine produced by the champenoise method in eight French appellations. Although relatively unknown or ignored by American consumers, these wines represent a racy alternative to the more common Spanish cavas and Italian proseccos.
The term “cremant” was once meant to denote champagne made with less fizz, but that definition disappeared over time. After a lot of litigation, only wines made in Champagne can be champagne. Thus, all other sparkling wine made in France is cremant. Grape varieties in cremants also can extend beyond champagne’s traditional varieties.
While cremants cost less than champagne, at $20 to $30 a bottle, they are more expensive than cavas and proseccos. However, they have higher quality and deserve something more than playing a role in mimosas and bellinis. Cremant is produced as a white and rosé.
The most widely known French cremants are cremant d’Alsace, cremant de Bourgogne, cremant de Limoux, and cremant de Loire. Each appellation contributes its own grape varietals to their bubbly, although winemaking is almost identical to champagnes practices.
Our two favorite cremants are cremant de Bourgogne and cremant d’Alsace. Many cremants de Bourgogne are almost indistinguishable from French champagne, most likely due to their similar terroir and grapes (cooler climate, mostly pinot noir and chardonnay).
We recently tasted a group of cremants d’Alsace. The predominant grapes used in many of these wines are the most common grapes in Alsace: pinot blanc, pinot gris, pinot noir, riesling, chardonnay and auxerrois.
The quality of these non-vintage wines was outstanding, as our tasting notes reveal. Two of our sampled wines were made exclusively from pinot noir, while the other two were blends of several grapes.
Willm Cremant d’Alsace Blanc de Noir Brut ($16-$18). All pinot noir, this bargain sparkler displays a very pale color despite having a high red grape parentage. Clean, fresh, apple notes and a clean, rich, creamy presence in the mouth. Very refreshing.
Gustave Lorentz Cremant d’Alsace Brut ($30). An equal blend of pinot noir, pinot blanc and chardonnay, this wine displays apple, pear and a bit of citrus with a delicious, round, creamy finish. Complex and satisfying.
Jean Baptiste Adam Emotion Cremant d’Alsace Brut ($30). A lopsided blend of 95 percent chardonnay and 5 percent pinot noir, this wine was the leanest of this group. Very ripe pear flavors with a hint of toast developed into a creamy finish.
Lucien Albrecht Cremant d’Alsace Rosé Brut ($25). Our favorite of this limited tasting, the bold fruit exhibited exuberant cherry and strawberry notes over a broad,creamy background. It is entirely pinot noir and it shows. Delicious!
MORE FROM ALSACE
The beautiful Alsace region produces more than sparkling wine, of course. As summer wanes, this is a perfect time to try something besides chardonnay to ward off the heat.
There are few regions in Europe that are so dominated by generations of winemakers. Names like Trimbach, Weinbach, Gustav-Lorentz, Ostertag, Beyer, Boxler are among those names that have been associated with winemaking for centuries.
Here are a few Alsace wines we recently enjoyed:
Albert Boxler Pinot Blanc Reserve 2013 ($31). The additional bottle age in this wine creates unique flavors we thoroughly enjoyed. It shows us that these wines can age. Albert's grandson, Jean, is the current winemaker. Ripe, white peach and apricot flavors with a dash of spice.
Domaine Paul Blanck Pinot Blanc 2016 ($15). Citrus and peach flavors with a dash of mineral and moderated acidity.
Emile Beyer Pinot Gris Tradition 2016 ($19). Riper fruit flavors give this wine a rounder even off-dry feel, but the pear and apricot character is rich.
Trimbach Pinot Gris Reserve 2014 ($20). We've been enjoying the wines from this venerable Alsace house for decades. The pinot gris reserve is easy to find and steady year to year. Generous floral aromas with apricot flavors and a dash of almonds.
Tapiz Alta Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 ($20). Made from grapes grown on high vineyards in Argentina's Uco Valley, this fruit-forward cabernet has a medium body and loads of luscious black berry flavors. It is made by Jean Claude Berrouet, former winemaker of Bordeaux's esteemed Petrus estate. Very good price for a wine that is not meant for aging.
Educated Guess Red Blend 2016 ($20). Using cabernet sauvignon, petite sirah and merlot grapes from the North Coast, this simple but tasty blend is reasonably priced for a backyard barbecue. Black berry and dark cherry fruit.
Marques de Casa Concha Chardonnay 2016 ($22). This exquisite wine from Chile shows off rich texture and mouth-filling pear and fig flavors.
Ryder Estate Syrah 2016 ($18). Using grapes from California's Central Coast, this effusive and fruit-forward syrah unveils ripe blackberry fruit with a hint of mocha.
Boutari Legacy 1879 2007 ($66). This premier wine honors the year this premier Greek wine producer was established. The grape variety xinomavro may not be familiar, but it shows you what can be done with local grapes in this region of the world. Complex and full bodied with red berry aromas and flavors with hints of vanilla and plum. Boutari is one of the best producers of Greek wines.
Edmeades Zinfandel Mendocino County 2014 ($20). Edmeades is not your plump, jammy hedonistic, old-school zinfandel. Instead winemaker Dave Ready Jr. has stuck to Edmeades conservative style that is reminiscent of a well-made, food-friendl-. Berries and plum elements dominate in this very well-balanced table wine.
Cote Mas Rouge Intense Sud De France 2016 ($13/1liter). A delightfully well-priced, uncomplicated blend of grenache, carignan, cinsault, merlot and syrah, aged only in stainless steel for 4 months and then bottled. Cherries and plums dominate with a wee touch of licorice.
La Crema Pinot Noir Monterey 2016 ($23). La Crema consistently crafts good and reasonably priced pinot noirs from cool climate appellations. This offering from Monterey showcases a very refreshing pinot noir that delivers a tart, bright-acid style with a mélange of cherry, cranberry and a hint of rhubarb. Very easy to drink but comes alive with fish and chicken dishes.