Friday, February 2, 2018

Beyond Champagne: The French Crémants

Sparkling wine production in France can be placed into four broad categories:
  1. Champagne -- King of the hill. Reserved for sparkling wines produced within the delimited area of the Champagne wine region.
  2. Crémant -- sparkling wine made using the méthode traditionelle. 
  3. Méthode Ancestrale -- wines are generally bottled with residual sugar. Effervescence gained via refermentation (or continued fermentation) in the bottle.
  4. All others -- sparkling wines made in any of the available sparkling wine production methods to the exclusion of the Méthode Ancestrale.
The figure below shows the scope of sparkling wine production in France with the designated Crémant areas circled in red.

These wines adhere to the following restrictions:
    1. Harvested by hand within set production quotas
    2. Whole-bunch pressed
    3. Sulfur dioxide use limited
    4. > 9 months on lees
    5. About half the carbon of Champagne
    6. Submitted to a QC tasting panel for approval.
I explore the Crémant areas in this post ordered by the date of appellation award.

Crémant de Bourgogne
The Crémants of Bourgogne and Loire were the earliest to be awarded that designation back in 1975. The Bourgogne production area stretches over 2,000 ha. spread over the regions and communes shown below.

The appellation covers white and Rosé sparkling wines with the main varieties being Pinot Noir and Chardonnay with secondary support provided by Gamay, Aligoté, Melon, and Sacy.

The grapes are hand-harvested in whole bunches. The wine styles are:
  • Bourgogne blanc -- minimum 30% Pinot Noir and or Chardonnay
  • Blanc de Blancs -- Chardonnay and Aligoté
  • Blanc de Noirs -- Pinot Noir
  • Rosé -- Pinot Noir alone or with a little Gamay
These wines can be made either Brut or demi-sec.

In 2016, two categories were added to Crémant de Bourgogne:
  • Eminent -- aged on lees for a minimumm of 24 months
  • Grand Eminent -- stipulates variety of vine and potential alcohol. Aging requirement of a minimum of 36 months.
The 2016 production was 152, 515 hl, 10% of the wine made in Burgundy. Thirty-two percent of the production is exported.

Crémant de Loire
The Crémant de Loire appellation was awarded in 1975. A wide variety of grapes can be used but the most common is Chenin Blanc. The wine can be made in the Anjou, Samur, and Touraine regions (shown in the map below) but, in practice, is made primarily in Saumur

According to Loire Valley Wines, the production area is 1623 ha covering 318 municipalities and 320 producers. Most recent production numbers amount to 104, 800 hl (14,000,000 bottles).

The varieties utilized include Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Grolleaux Noir, Pineau d'Aunis, Pinot Noir, Chenin Blanc, and Chardonnay.

According to Winesearcher, "A good Crémant has tight, persistent effercescence and a complex, nutty, gently honeyed nose ..." with floral aromas yielded by the Chenin Blanc.

Crémant d'Alsace
Sparkling wine via the traditional method was being made in Alsace as early as the late 19th century but only gained AOC status on August 24th, 1976.

As shown in the map below, Alsace is one of the most northerly of the French wine regions. Alsace's climate is continental (hot summers, cold winters) with the Vosges acting as a barrier to the prevailing westerly winds as well as providing a rain shadow for the vineyards. Rainfall average in Alsace is 610 mm.

A total of 13 soil types have been identified in Alsace and the diversity of its wine and styles have generally been attributed to the complex composition of the soils. One or more varieties have traditionally been linked with each of the soil types. Some of the identified soil types are as follows:
  • marl-limestone
  • marl-limestone-sandstone
  • granite
  • clay-marl
  • schist
  • sandstone
  • colluvial-chalk
  • volcanic.  
Alsace vineyards extend across the Vosges foothills -- on east and southeast-facing slopes at elevations ranging between 200 and 400 meters -- and on the alluvial plain below. A total of 14,000 ha is devoted to grape growing of which 2800 is dedicated to grapes for the sparkling wine. Vines are trained Guyot simple or double and are planted at a minimum density of 4000 vines/ha.

Crémant d'Alsace vineyards are to be found in the AOC Alsace designated areas.

Key characteristics of Crémant d'Alsace are compared to Champagne in the table below.

Crémant d’Alsace
Guyot: simple or double
Cordon de Royal
Taille Chablis
Valle de Marne
Pinot Blanc (structure, neutral varietal character)
Pinot Gris
Auxerrois (volume)
Pinot Noir (Rosé, fruit and structure)
Riesling (to increase   acidity)
Pinot Noir (35%)
Chardonnay (25%)
Pinot Meunier (40%)
Production Zone
2800 ha
32,900 ha
12.8 tons/ha
13 -15 tons/ha

Grapes are hand-harvested and subjected to whole-bunch pressing. Crémant d'Alsace producers press 100 liters of juice per 150 kilograms of grapes, with the first 50 liters designated as cuvée, the next 47 liters as taille, and the last three liters consigned to brandy production. The cuvée pressing is generally used in prestige wines while the taille, which has more phenols and potassium (potassium increases the pH and buffers wine acidity), is used in secondary wines.

Crémant d'Alsace grapes are harvested pre-maturity at 11% potential alcohol and then chaptalized such that post-fermentation they will approach 12.5% alcohol. At the conclusion the wines are registered and designated Vin destiné a l'elaboration de Crémant d'Alsace.

Crémants must spend at least 9 months on lees before disgorgement and come in four styles: Blanc de Blanc (from Pinot Blanc), Blanc Noir (white Cremant from Pinot Noir), Rosé (from Pinot Noir), and NV Cuvees (varietal blends).

Crémant d'Alsace volume has risen from 1 million bottles in 1979, to 2 million bottles in 1982 and 33 million bottles today. Most of the wine is consumed in France.

Crémant de Bordeaux
This appellation replaced the AOC Bordeaux Mousseux and covers production in 500 parishes and 530 ha for whites and 140 ha for rosés. The varieties utilized include Ugni Blanc, Colombard, Muscadelle, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon for whites and Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenere, Merlot, Malbec, and Petit Verdot for the rosés.

Grapes are hand-harvested and delicately pressed to produce 100 L of wine per 150 kg of harvested fruit. The wine has to spend a minimum of 9 months on lees and cannot be sold before spending at least 12 months in bottle.

Crémant de Limoux
Limoux AOC has the distinction of being one of only two AOCs (the other is Die) to produce a sparkling wine in each of the available categories (keeping in mind that Champagne production is impossible for producers outside of the region). Limoux AOC sparkling wine production encompasses Crémant de Limoux, Blanquette de Limoux, and Blanquette de Limoux Méthode Ancestrale (The term Blanquette stems from the Mauzac variety developing a white down on its leaves.). I have written previously of the terroir of the region and will discuss the wines in the remainder of this post.

Crémant de Limoux gained its AOC status in 1990. The primary grapes are Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc which, together, should not exceed 90% of the blend. Chardonnay must be a minimum 40% of the blend while Chenin Blanc can range between 20% and 40%. The secondary grapes in the blend are Mauzac Blanc and Pinot Noir with the latter limited to a max of 20%. A total of 620 ha is devoted to the production of grapes for this wine. Crémant de Limoux offers up aromas of white flowers, citrus, and toast. This wine spends 12 months on the lees plus three months post-disgorgement in bottle prior to sale. Alcohol level post-dosage is at 13%. Annual production is 24,745 hl.

Crémant de Die
Crémant de Die is the appellation for sparkling wine made in the Champagne manner and utilizing the following varieties: Clairette (55% minimum), Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains (5 to 10%), and Aligoté (10 to 40%). Production of this wine began in the 1960s and, until 2004, was restricted to Clairette only. The wine was awarded AOC designation in 1993.

Used with the permission of Syndicat de
la Clairette de Die et des vins du Diois 

Grapes for the wine are whole-bunch-harvested and then run through the traditional method. The wines are aged on lees for a minimum of 12 months with the norm being somewhere between 12 and 36 months. The finished wine is described as having rich aromas with notes of apple and green fruit and freshness on the finish. The altitude, limestone and clay soils, and temperature shifts results in high levels of natural acidity in the wine.

Over 40% of the region's sparkling wine is classed as Cremant de Die. The 13 producers involved in the business make 400,000 bottles annually with 85% of that production being consumed within France.

Crémant du Jura
Crémant du Jura gained AOC status in 1995 and its coverage is the same as for the Côtes du Jura with a growing area covering 210 ha spread over 105 communes. According to Wink Lorch -- who wrote the book on Jura -- 90%of Jura producers make some Crémant with one in four bottles sold out of the region being a sparkling wine.

The appellation covers white (a minimum of 70% Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Trousseau with Poulsard and Savagnin allowed for the remainder)and Rosé (any blend of three red grapes must amount to 50% of the wine with Chardonnay and Savagnin allowed for the balance) wines.

Grapes for the wine are hand-harvested and whole-bunch-pressed using either a traditional wooden Champagne press or a bladder press (Wink Lorch). As is the case for the other Crémant regions, a maximum yield of 100 liters of juice per 150 kg of fruit is mandated.

According to Wink, most of the white Crémants are, in practice, 100% Chardonnay and have an apple character with brioche notes that intensify with increasing time on lees. These wines can be either Brut or demi-sec.

Crémant de Savoie
The appellation was granted to this region in 2014 giving producers the ability to sell under the label at the end of 2015. The requirements are that 60% of the blend from local grapes Jacquère and Altese, with at least 40% being Jacquère. The balance can be from Chasselas, Aligoté, and Chardonnay.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

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