Originally Crémant referred to a style of sparkling wine or Champagne that was less fizzy – Krug had a Crémant in the 1970s. Today, Crémant refers to a French traditional method sparkling wine made outside of Champagne.
Crémant was adopted in 1985 when the term ‘méthode champenoise’ was outlawed in Europe, just prior to Spain joining the European Community (as they were the largest ‘méthode champenoise’ in the world they would have no doubt blocked efforts to outlaw the term had the decision been taken any later).
The Champenois gave up the word ‘Crémant’ in return for the European Communities stopping using the term ‘méthode champenoise’.
In order to be called a Crémant certain quality controls must be in place, including whole bunch pressing, a maximum yield of 100L for 150kg of grapes (same as Cava but marginally higher than Champagne), a maximum sulphur dioxide content of 150mg/l, a minimum of nine months of ageing on lees.
The first two Crémant appellations Crémant de Bourgogne and Crémant de Loire were created as early as 1975. Today, there are seven Crémant appellations including Crémant d’Alsace, Crémant de Die, Jura, Limoux and Bordeaux. The best sparkling wines in Luxembourg are also called Crémant.
Sparkling wine has a long history in France, and Blanquette de Limoux claims to be France’s oldest sparkling wine. It seems that once we’d figured out how to produce sparkling wine we couldn’t get enough of it and at one time there was barely a wine in France that had not been produced sparkling, the French even messed with classics like Sauternes and Côte Rôtie – sacrilegious in my book.
Sparkling wine is big business, of the two billion bottles of sparkling wine produced worldwide each year, France accounts for almost a quarter of those bottles and around half of this comes from outside of Champagne.
The good value Crémant wines weathered the recession well, while 2009 saw Champagne sales drop by 9%, Crémant de Bourgogne was up 6% and Crémant d’Alsace up 8%.
Crémant still represents a small proportion of sales in the UK but is hoping to follow the trend of Cava and Prosecco which are both doing a well in the UK.
The climate and weather varies with the region, but the best Crémants come from sites that are cooler either because of their latitude (as with Loire, Burgundy and Alsace) or their altitude (as per Limoux).
The best Crémants are made from grapes grown on calcarious soils (eg. Anjou-Saumur, Touraine, Burgundy and Limoux) and generally come from high acid, non-aromatic varieties. Chardonnay, a classic Champagne grape, is widely used in the Loire, Burgundy, Limoux and Alsace, and Chenin Blanc is well used in the Loire and Limoux.
Crémant d’Alsace is the largest Crémant appellation by volume and represents around 10% of the region’s output. The fertile plain of the Alsace is not often suited to high quality varietal wines, but it does provide one of the best terroirs in the region for Crémant d’Alsace.
Around 500 small scale producers dominate production and their blending capabilities are limited.
Grape varieties: Pinot Blanc, Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Auxerrois, Riesling, Chardonnay (Muscat, Gewuztraminer and Chasselas cannot be used). Max yield 80 hl/ha.
Style: Fine mousse, high acidity and light body. If Riesling dominates the blend, the wine will have a strong flavour.
Crémant de Die
Crémant de Die is a white sparkling appellation located around the town of Die, east of the Rhône between Valence and Montélimar.
A local cooperative has energised the appellation and is responsible for three in every four bottles in the region.
Cremant de Die is a traditional method sparkling wine made from Clairette grape, wheresas Clairette de Die tradition is made using the Méthode Dioise and Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains.
For Clairette de Die tradition after pressing, the juice is filtered and kept to a sub-zero temperature. It is bottled when its been fermented to around 3 per cent alcohol and a second fermentation occurs in bottle using the grape’s own sugars, no dosage is permitted.
The wine is decanted off the lees after a minimum of four months and re-bottled under pressure. The end result is a low alcohol (7-8% abv) grapey fizz similar in style to Asti.
Crémant de Bourgogne
Created in 1975, Crémant de Bourgogne is centered on Rully in the Côte Chalonnaise of the South and Auxerre to the North. The grapes of the Côte d’Or, hardly surprisingly, are worth more as still wines.
Grape varieties: Mainly Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Blanc and Aligoté but all Burgundian varieties are permitted although Gamay may not constitute more than a fifth of the blend. Max yields 65 hl/ha.
Style: Full and soft in Southern Burgundy, represents a good value alternative to bigger styles of Champagne, Crémant made to the North is generally lighter and crisper. Sparkling red not permitted.
Crémant de Loire
There are around 200 producers including a handful of co-operatives and key négociants.
Some of the big Champagne houses have Loire subsidiaries, Bollinger owns Langlois Chateau, Tattinger owns Bouvet-Ladubay and Alfred Gratien owns Gratien & Meyer.
Grape varieties: All of the Loire’s grape varieties are permitted aside from Sauvignon Blanc, which is too pungent a variety for a sparkling wine. Chenin Blanc dominates. Rosé usually contains a high percentage of Cabernet Franc and can also include Grolleau. Maximum yield is 50 hl/ha.
Style: Crisp acidity, medium body and alcohol with green apples and honey. Cabernet Franc rosé is deeply coloured, pungent with raspberry aromas.
Crémant de Limoux (inc Blanquette de Limoux)
Limoux is a small town high up in the Pyrenees of southern France just north of Catalunya. Its altitude makes it cool enough for sparkling wine production, despite being so far south.
Limoux’s sparkling wine business is dominated by the dynamic local co-op.
The grape used traditionally was the Mauzac, known locally as blanquette, it is a late ripening grape with good natural acidity and a relatively neutral character although it tends to produce a cut grass aroma – it is particularly good as a sweeter style. Increasing amounts of Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc have been planted over the past few decades.
Limoux has two very distinct styles, the traditional Blanquette de Limoux and the more modern international style of Crémant de Limoux. The plan was for the Chardonnay-led Crémant de Limoux to slowly replace the Mauzac based Blanquette de Limoux – but this did not happen and the two now sit side by side.
Blanquette de Limoux – is a Mauzac dominated blend with Chardonnay and Chenin also allowed. It is a traditional method sparkling wine, similar to Crémant de Limoux albeit more rustic and containing a higher percentage of Mauzac.
Crémant de Limoux – Chenin Blanc and Chardonnay together must comprise 90% of the blend. The other two varieties allowed are Pinot Noir (max 10%) and Mauzac. Yields are restricted to 50h/ha.
Blanquette methode ancestrale – is an old local specialty making a comeback, it is made of 100% Mauzac using the method ancestral, which means the wine is bottled when partially fermented and continues its first fermentation in bottle and is not disgorged.
With its low alcohol content, low fizz level, luscious sweetness, ripe apple aromas and often cloudy appearance it has a lot in common with an artisanal sweet cider.
Crémant de Bordeaux
Established in 1990, Crémant de Bordeaux represents the smallest Crémant appellation by volume, although they have been making sparkling wine for centuries. Production is dominated by a handful of companies including Cordeliers, the oldest sparkling winemaker in Bordeaux which dates back to 1870s..
Permitted grape varieties: Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenère, Cot, Merlot, Muscadelle, Petit Verdot, Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Sauvignon Gris with minor additions of Colombard, Merlot Blanc and Ugni Blanc. Maximum yield is 65 hl/ha.
While Crémant de Loire covers Anjou-Saumur and Touraine, there two other appellations for sparkling wine without the Crémant prefix in the Loire, namely Saumur and Vouvray ACs.
Both have a cool continental climate and enjoy mainly chalky limestone – tuffeau blanc soils. Saumur is largest French sparkling wine appellation outside of Champagne and 40% of Vouvray is sparkling.
Chenin Blanc for Vouvray
Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay and Cabernet Franc for Saumur