In the past, Champagne was the statue of French bubbles, but the world is starting to discover cheaper alternatives to the world’s most illustrious sparkling wine – the best of which might be crémant.
In many ways, crémant is just Champagne produced outside of its demarcated region, but there are also some differences – particularly when it comes to price and grape varietals. Like its more esteemed counterpart, crémant is produced using the methode traditionelle, but comes from many regions across France. Often a fraction of Champagne prices, these sparkling wines exhibit value and taste for lovers of French wines.
Crémant wines check all the right boxes: affordable, high-quality, delicious, and diverse. With a robust selection of bottles in the $20-$30 range, Crémant is approachable in price and expressive in profile.
“Right now things are changing and crémant represents the smart choice,” said Bastien Lalauze, winemaker and estate manager of Château Martinolles, a Limoux-based property that produces a portfolio of crémant.
Eight French regions have achieved an appellation to produce crémant. Over half of crémant is produced in Alsace; the rest comes from Bourgogne (Burgundy), Limoux, the Loire, Jura, Savoie, Die and Bordeaux.
Grapes for Crémant must be handpicked and have strict production rules overseen by the French government, including minimum aging standards.
Despite crafting consistency, crémant allows for a range of flavor styles evoked from varietals from each region – these express terroir, typicity, and the traditions of the places where they are grown.
Bottles are made in white (blanc de blanc, white made from white grapes or blanc de noir, white made from red-skinned grapes) and rosé, and can be a single varietal or a blend. Many winemakers exceed regulatory guidelines by producing single site wines, or wines that are more generously aged.
The science behind the bubbles is the same as in Champagne. After the initial fermentation, the winemaker selects a blend which is bottled with a touch of live yeasts and sugars (a solution called tirage) that stimulate a second fermentation inside the closed bottle. The second fermentation is the lively hallmark of the process – the yeasts eat the sugars and release carbon dioxide (the bubbly component) and the yeast community dies off. The wine then ages a minimum of nine months in the bottle, gathering texture and flavor from the yeast cells which are called lees. Through the riddling process the winemaker disgorges the spent yeast cells and also may add a touch of sugar, a process called dosage.
The finished product is sparking wine. In Champagne, they call it Champagne. Elsewhere in France, they call it crémant. The same process creates cava in Spain and Franciacorta and Trento in Italy.
Because they use different varietals of grapes and have a different terroir, your bottles of crémant won’t necessarily taste just like Champagne. Crémant translates to creamy, a nod to the gentle, pleasing velvet of the bubbles. This is a drink that’s food-friendly, served on the wine lists of the world’s finest restaurants. It is also lovely as an aperitif, a pre-dinner drink that can be enjoyed well into the first course and beyond, particularly with the freshness of local produce and springtime meals.
“Crémant rosé is perfect to pair with spicy food. The fruity style of the wine can support the spiciness of northern African food or Asian food,” recommends Lalauze. “Crémant blanc is richer with more complex flavors, perfect for pairing with traditional European food and fresh seafood.”
While Crémant is approachable, it is still quite elegant and is setting new standards for special occasions – just don’t call these bubbles “Champagne!”