Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Cremant de Die and Clairette de Die: Two faces of sparkling wine

In my continuing research on sparkling wine regions, I encountered Die, a wine region 30 miles off the Rhône beaten path, with sharply contrasting sparkling wine production methods. I share my findings regarding the region and its wines in this post.

The Drôme River is a tributary of the Rhône which, conveniently, serves as the dividing line between the wines of the north and south. Die, and its wines, are located in this river valley. Die produces both sparkling and still wines (Chatillon-en-Diois for reds and rosés, Coteaux de Die for whites) but it is in the sparkling wines that our interest lies.

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

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

Die's climate can be described as Alpine Mediterranean because of the impact of both bodies on its environment. The region lies at the northern extreme of the Mediterranean climate and, as such, is subject to periods of extended warm weather and intense sunshine. On the other hand, its proximity to the Alps subjects it to rapid-development mountain storms and rain showers. In addition to affecting the areas' climate, the Alpine Mediterranean juxtaposition also contributes to a significant diurnal temperature effect.

The geographic environment is characterized by glacial rock formations and high cliff faces. The vineyards lie on a granitic base over which is overlain by chalky clays and sedimentary limestone rocks. The 1500 ha of vineyards all lie along the hillsides on both sides of the river and, end to end, extends over 31 municipalities. Elevations herein range between 200 and 700 meters.

The Die sparkling wine appellations -- Cremant de Die and Clairette de Die -- are described below.

Cremant de Die

Cremant 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.

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 400,00 bottles annually with 85% of that production being consumed within France.

Clairette de Die

Clairette de Die is the appellation for a naturally sparkling wine made from Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains (75% minimum) and Clairette. This wine has a long history with AO status granted in 1910, AOC designation in 1942, and designation as "ancestral dioise process" in 1971.

Clairette de Die grapes are sourced from the same vineyards as are grapes for Cremant de Die. There are a total of 300 farmers involved in grape production, 250 of whom are associated with the Cave de Die Jaillance coop and the remainder either being part of smaller cooperatives or functioning as family farms.

The Clairette de Die production process stands in stark contrast to that of the Cremant de Die. The grapes are rapidly pressed and placed into vats where they are allowed to ferment at low temperatures. After 1 to 2 months, the fermentation is stopped -- the must still contains residual sugar -- and the proceeds bottled. This partially fermented wine is kept in bottle, at temperatures of approximately 12℃, for about 4 months during which time fermentation of the residual sugar continues. The carbon dioxide released during this fermentation is secreted in the wines and will provide the bubbles upon opening. Unlike the traditional method, there are no additives along the way.

Fermentation ceases naturally when the wine is about 7% to 9% abv and, at this time, the wine is ready for drinking. As there is no opportunity to manipulate the sugar content of the wine, it is only available in a Brut style.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

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