When I started my journey into the sommelier world, I thought all sparkling wine was Champagne. Surrounded by new colleagues that were aware of the facts, my naiveté was met with blank stares, nervous laughter and the occasional, quizzical head tilt. As a sensible, frugal 28-year-old in New York City, I tried almost every wine I could afford, and soon learned that there is a whole world of sparkling outside of the overpriced Champagne. Quickly, my goal became to find the class and elegance of the acclaimed sparkler, without a late rent payment. The answer: Crémant.
Crémant is sparkling wine made in special designated regions all over France like Alsace, Bordeaux and Burgundy – to name a few. Champagne is sparkling wine made specifically in the Champagne region just a short train ride from Paris. Regional grapes are used in the making of Crémant, although some appellations are permitted use of some the Champagne grapes. For example, in Crémant D’Alsace, Pinot Gris, Riesling, Pinot Blanc and Auxerrois are used with the addition of Chardonnay – one of the primary grapes in Champagne production. Additionally, both wines require hand harvesting.
With the exception of aging requirements, the two wine cousins are virtually made the same way. Crémant requires nine months on the lees before disgorgement where Champagne requires minimum 15 months for non-vintage, 30 months for vintage.
Each wine undergoes two fermentations, which create those pleasurable bubbles that tango on your tongue. Crémant also mirrors the Champagne model of sweetness levels, but without being able to exceed 50g per liter of added sugar. It’s a rarity to see either wine approach that level of sweetness.
I’m not knocking Champagne – by any means. Champagne is the popular, beautiful, elegant movie star loved by all. Crémant has the same ambition, if not the same elegance starring in the same film.
Crémant is fascinating because of its expression of France’s variety of winemaking regions. Great to bring to dinner parties, knowing you brought something of quality without spending too much.
Though I love Champagne, and the name itself will always hold an aura of appeal, Crémant is a nice, quality, inexpensive alternative for the everyday celebration.