Sparkling wine – outside Champagne

The generic term for most sparkling wine made in France, but outside Champagne, is crémant.

The complete range of legal terms for such wines, is:

  • cremant (ou crémant) for wines made in the same way as champagne, that is the traditional method, with a minimum pressure of 3.5 atm – the same as in Champagne (where in practice it’s normally 5-6 atm).  Traditionally crémant signified a lower pressure, with a delicate creamy mousse – in WSET terms a delicate mousse me thinks. Nowadays crémants may have up to the full 5-6 atm.
    Cool – the best crémants come from cooler sites, owing to either high altitude – Limoux, or latitude – Alsace, Northern Burgundy and the Loire.
    Soil – the best crémants are made from grapes grown on calcareous soils – Anjou-Saumur, Limoux, Northern Burgundy and Touraine.
  • Of interest is Mumm de Cramant –  a blanc de blancs champagne, known until the 1990s as Crémant de Cramant, Cramant is a grand cru village in the Cote des Blancs. The wine has a delicate creamy mousse, having a pressure of just 4.5 atm, showing that the otherwise typical Champagne pressure of 5-6 atm is not necessary.  It costs around £50.
  • mousseux – for wines made by any method, including charmat, also known as tank or cuvée close – see 1, 2 and my tasting note.
    There are however French wines made in the same way as champagne but have mousseux in their name, these have a minimum pressure of 3 atm.
  • pétillant (ou petillant)- a wine with a pressure of 1-2.5 atm.
  • perlant – a wine with a pressure of around 1 atm.

As I systematically taste this range of wines, the tasting notes will be filled out with mine*.

The Cremant AOC requirements of are:

  • hand harvesting.
  • whole bunch pressing
  • maximum pressing of 100l of juice from 150kg grapes, that is about 5% more than champagne
  • traditional method
  • a minimum pressure of 3.5atm, but many are made to 5-6atm, as with champagne.
  • lees ageing at least 9 months, 12 months for the Loire, wines from Die are different too; higher quality wines can be on the lees for several years, 3-6 for example.

With the exception of Clairette de Die, non-aromatic varieties are used.

There is a range of regional cremants, normally called ‘Cremant de’, with the exception of some wines from Die, Limoux, Saumur Brut and Vouvray.

In terms of production volume, the ranking (Wine Business International Report 2008, informed by WSET notes 2009), from the top is:

WSET 2009:

  1. Alsace
  2. Die
  3. Burgundy
  4. Loire
  5. Limoux
  6. Bordeaux

Wine Business InternationalReport 2008:

  1. Cremant d’Alsace – 230khl
  2. Cremant de Bourgogne – 170khl
  3. Vouvray Mousseux – 170khl
  4. Clairette de Die – 160khl
  5. Saumur Mousseux – 120khl
  6. Others – 370khl

In any event Alsace, Burgundy, and then the Loire.

  • Alsace (Cremant d’) – dominated by pinot blanc as a varietal, and in blends with auxerrois, chardonnay, pinot gris, pinot noir and riesling; traditional method; styles – blanc de blancs, brut, demi-sec and rosé; over 500 producers under a single syndicate. In 2011 275,000hl were produced.
    Tasting note – sweetness according to style, brut is common; aromas of apple, apricot, ripe pear, white flowers; 12% abv.
    Climate – Alsace is the driest (400-500mm rain) department in France, being sheltered from the damp westerly winds by the north-south running Vosges Mountains.  Sunny, hot and dry in summer, long dry autumns, with a very cold continental winter.
    Soil – the vineyard stretches more or less north-south for 100kms, but only a few kms wide; and so there is a veritable patchwork of soils – granite, gneiss, limestone, sandstone and schist.
    Viticulture –  200-400m altitude, on the south and south-east facing slopes of the Vosges foothills, where the dry climate gives less disease pressure; max yield 80hl/ha; VSP trellising and canopy management.
    Other – 50 GC villages out of 120 odd, some top producers continue to boycott the AOC system; no PC tier. Two co-ops dominate – Cave de Turckheim with 200+ members, and Hugel – these two sell 80% of overall production, along with 100 independent producers.
  • Bordeaux (Cremant de) – this appellation extends over the entire Bordeaux vineyard; so there is a wide variety of soils; traditional method; production is mostly white at 9,000 hl, with some 200hl of rosé; styles – from dry to sweet.
    White wine varieties – sémillon (varietal examples),  sauvignon blanc, muscadelle; together with cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc (varietal blanc de noir examples), carmenère, merlot, malbec and petit verdot.
    Rose wine varieties – cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, carmenère, merlot, malbec and petit verdot.
    Tasting note – (sémillon) pale lemon yellow; aromas of ripe lemon, white grapefruit, almond with a hint of brioche; a dry wine, with medium (+) acidity.
    Climate – maritime.
    Soil – various.
    Viticulture – 200ha in production, max yield 72-78hl/ha, guyot pruning on wires.
    Other – according to Harpers in 2017 [1], the number of Bordeaux producers also turning to offering a cremant has doubled to 200 between 2014 and 2017, perhaps sensing, in view of the runaway sales of Prosecco, that there is money to be made in this sector.
  • Bourgogne (Cremant de) –  Auxerre and the Cote Chalonnaise dominate production, though the appellation covers Chablis, Côte d’Or, Côte Chalonnaise (principally Rully), Mâconnais and Beaujolais; producing about 1.6m bottles; traditional method; can be white or rosé, but not red; styles – brut, blanc de blancs from just chardonnay, blancs de noirs and rosé; varieties –  chardonnay, pinot blanc, pinot gris or pinot noir, gamay and aligoté (used to add acidity).
  • Tasting note –  brut rosé – from pinot noir and gamay; aromas of woodland fruits – blackberry, raspberry and strawberry, biscuit and croissant; a dry wine, medium acidity, with a light body, with 12% abv.
  • *Tasting note – Brut, blanc de blancs, 100% chardonnay; pale gold, medium (+) intensity; aromas of ripe pear, white peach, almost tropical – like guava, biscuit and honey; a dry wine, medium acidity, 12% abv, medium (-) body, medium (+) intensity flavours of honey, ripe apples and pears, with a hint of ginger biscuit, creamy mousse with medium persistence and a medium length.
  • Climate – continental in the north progressively moreMediterranean towards the south and Beaujolais.
  • Soil – varied in this log nort-south region – generally limestone and marl (clay and limestone) in the north, granitic in the south in Beaujolais.
  • Viticulture – max yield 65hl/ha.
  • Die  (Clairette de) methode Dioise ou methode ancestrale – muscat dominated – 75-100% muscat blanc à petits grains and not more than 25% clairette, an acidic grape, which has an aroma profile of apples and green fruits.  It is made by the Ancestral Dioise method (must be mentioned on the bottle) , which preserves the flavours and freshness of grapes.
    Delicate pressing is followed by vatting and  cooling, and a very slow low temperature fermentation lasting several months ensues.  At an incompletely fermented 3% abv, the wine is  bottled with a crown cap, without liqueur  de tirage, and fermentation continues to 7-8% abv, meanwhile building CO2 pressure.
    A minimum of 4 months lees ageing follows, the wine is then disgorged using the transfer method, filtered to remove stray yeasts, and bottled.
    Tasting note – pale lemon; aromas of white flowers, apricot, lychee, rose and citrus; described as having an edge of sweetness, so off-dry perhaps with balancing acidity; medium bodied with low alcohol.  A wine designed to be drunk young, otherwise over time as with the muscat based VDNs, dominant and unpleasant geraniol flavours develop.
    Climate – in the foothills of the Alps, sheltered by the Vercors mountains to the north, at 400-700m altitude, with 300 days of sunshine, so cool, so should have fresh acidity; semi-continental climate moderated by the Mediterranean via the valley of the Rhone, close to the West.
    Soil – stony, comprising chalky clays and sedimentary rocks.
    Viticulture –  from google maps street view of a Jaillance marked parcel, it looks like single cordon trained, spur pruned.  Small vineyard plots, scattered along the slopes of the Drôme Valley.
    Other – an organic co-op, the Cave de Die Jaillance dominates, producing 80% of all sparkling wine.
  • Die (Clairette de) methode traditionelle – varietal clairette, production method as for cremant de Die, below.
  • Die (Cremant de) Brut) methode traditionelle – comprising not less than 55% clairette (which adds acidity and aroma), with up to 10-40% aligote and 5-10% muscat blanc à petit grains.
    Traditional method, with 1st fermentation at 18-20C, to give dry white base wines. After blending for style, the liqueur de tirage is added and a 2nd low temperature fermentation under crown cap ensues, to accumulate CO2, over a period of 1-3 years, including time on the lees.
    The wine is then disgorged à la glace, and liqueur d’expedition added.
    Tasting note – pale intensity gold, the clairette flavour profile is one of orchard fruit – apples, russet apples, pears; it’s a light dry wine, with fresh acidity and a clean finish; medium alcohol at 11.5-12% abv.
  • Limoux (Cremant de) – up to 90% chardonnay plus chenin blanc, with 10-20% mauzac (mauzac is synonymous with blanquette) and  up to 10% pinot noir; traditional method; minimum 15 months lees ageing; two styles – brut and medium dry.
    Tasting note – a dry wine, with aromas of orchard fruit, citrus, white flowers, toast, and honeyed spice; and a palate of more exotic fruits; 12% abv.
    Climate – close south-west of Carcassonne in the far south-west of France, on south facing foothills of the Pyrenees, at 200-500m altitude.  The vineyard is divided into 3 parts. To the east it is influenced by the Mediterranean, and so is hot and dry; to the west it is more temperate, being influenced by the Atlantic, and so has more rain too; in the middle it’s a melange.
    Soil – light, stony, argilocalcareous – also known as limestone clay.
    Viticulture – double cordon spur pruned seen on google earth street map view.
    Other – a co-op Sieur d’Arques dominates (there is at least one other), producing 80% of all sparkling wine.
    • Limoux (Blanquette de) – minimum 90% mauzac, plus chardonnay and chenin blanc; traditional method; minimum 9 months lees ageing; two styles – brut and medium dry.
      Tasting note – pale lemon, with aromas of green apples, spring flowers and honey; dry to medium dry; with a fruity flavour – lower quality examples have a cidery note; with a light body.
    • Limoux (Blanquette de, Methode Ancestrale) –  varietal, 100% mauzac; the wine is bottled when partially fermented, at 4-5% abv, which continues to ferment under a mushroom cork closure, reaching a minimum of 5-6% abv; it is undisgorged, and so slightly cloudy. There are no rules on pressure or lees ageing.
      Tasting note – cloudy, sweet – and relative to plain Blanquette de Limoux less pressure; with aromas of apple, apricot, peach, acacia and hawthorn; 7% abv.  This unfiltered wine needs to be stood upright for some hours to allow the sediment to settle out.
    • Loire sparkling wines – Saumur, Vouvray and the Loire AOCs are the most important producers.   Tom Stevenson comments in his World Encyclopedia, that chenin blanc, the dominant variety used for sparkling wine in the Loire, is too aromatic to produce the classic brut style, dominating autolysis and post disgorgement aroma and flavours.  Styles range from zero dosage to extra-sec.
      Tasting note – chenin blanc – slight waxy oiliness, wet wool, honey, baked apple, freshly baked bread, brioche and biscuit.
      Climate – the maritime climate of the coastal Nantais starts to change to a continental one across Anjou into Saumur, and then into Touraine (Vouvray and Montlouis) at over 100 miles from the coast the climate becomes progressively more continental.
      Soil – from the west, Anjou-Saumur has schist and then chalky porous limestone (locally known as tuffeau), which continues into Touraine.
      Viticulture – high density planing with a max yield of 50hl/ha.
  • Loire (Prestige de) – a premium category for Cremant de Loire and sparkling wines, signified by a crown emblem in the label, includes vintage wines vinified under new regulations. This new category, announced in 2018, comprises 17 wines – 10 cremants, 5 Saumur and 2 Vouvray wines [2].
  • Loire (Cremant de) – production is about 80khl including rose, which can be anywhere in Anjou, Saumur and Touraine, so soil and climate varies, though it is concentrated in the Saumur area; varieties in decreasing importance: chardonnay, chenin blanc, pinot noir and cabernet franc; styles – brut and drier, to off-dry; minimum 12 months lees ageing; 12% abv.,  pressure normally around 3.5 atm.
    Tasting note: pale lemon or pale gold; salmon to cherry pink appearance for rosés; aromas of white fruits, hazelnut, almond and sometimes a touch of vanilla and liquorice; aromas of small red berries in the rosés.  Dry to off dry.  Need a year or 2 or 3 to fully develop their potential.
  • Loire (Saumur Brut) – on limestone tuffeau soils, with a range of exposures, within the Saumur AOC area; production is about 90khl, so the largest producer region outside Chamapgne; chenin blanc and cabernet franc dominate, alone or blended, and chardonnay up to 20%; minimum 9 months lees ageing; can be full sparkling or pétillant (1-2 atm).
    Tasting note – Sensory characteristics: pale lemon or pale gold, salmon to cherry pink for the rosés; aromas of white fruits, hazelnut, almond and sometimes a toasted or vanilla touch. Aromas of small red berries in the rosés.  Fresh acidity sometimes medium (+) on dry wines wines, softer on off-dry wines and slightly tannic on rosés; 12.5% abv.
    Climate – the Atlantic has a moderating albeit declining influence, which becomes more continental to the east.
    Soil – chalky (limestone) hillsides, so well-drained
    Viticulture – single guyot, 5000 vines/ha.
  • Loire (Vouvray – right bank, and Montlouis – left bank) – stony limestone soils, with areas of flint and clay and chalk and clay; production of 70khl or 60% of wine production; chenin blanc only; traditional method; style dry to sweet; can be full sparkling or pétillant (1-2 atm).
    *Tasting note – 100% chenin blanc; pale gold, medium (+) intensity; aromas of citrus, apple, ripe pear, quince and hints of toast  honey; a dry wine, medium (+) acidity, 12% abv, medium body, medium (+) intensity flavours of citrus – ripe grapefruit, honey is a strong note, ripe pear and toast, with a creamy mousse with long persistence and a medium (+) length.
    Climate – more continental than Saumur, that is hotter summers with sunshine that can last through until the autumn, which can mean very ripe grapes – so the wine style in a particular vintage is very much weather dependent.
    Soil – hillsides of stony limestone, and valleys with flinty-clay and chalky-clay, so good surface drainage and deeper water retention.
    Viticulture – AOC information says that fan pruning is used, at 6000 vines/ha.
  • Other cremant
    1. Cremant de Jura, AOC in 1995. Permitted varieties are chardonnay, pinot gris, pinot noir, poulsard, savagnin and trousseau.
    2. Cremant de Savoie, AOC in December 2015. Main varieties are white – altesse (aka roussette), chardonnay, and jacquère.

References

  1. Crémant production fizzes in Bordeaux. Harpers. [online] accessed 19/04/20.
  2. New fizz category and cabernet franc interest lifts Loire. Harpers. [online] accessed 19/04/20.
  • Updated: 19/104/20

About citbp

I am interested in everything about wine, from site selection to tasting.
This entry was posted in FRANCE, SPARKLING WORLDWIDE. Bookmark the permalink.

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