RICHARD ESLING: French sparklers on the up

A selection of fine Cremant French sparkling wines
A selection of fine Cremant French sparkling wines

If you want to drink really cheap fizz, then in the UK I’m afraid you are stuck with prosecco. But who does?

Surely better to spend just a little more and buy something that is enjoyable.

In terms of the ‘less is more’ phrase, spend the same money, buy a little less, but enjoy it so much more.

UK sparkling wine sales continue to expand, as more and more people treat it as a wine to be enjoyed at any time, rather than just for special occasions. Without going all out and buying champagne, there is a French alternative at around half the price, which is seeing a resurgence of popularity. This is the group of wines known as ‘Crémants’.

Crémant is a sparkling wine made by what is called the ‘traditional method’. This, in effect, is the same method by which champagne is made, involving the secondary fermentation (the one which produces the fizz) in the bottle. This secondary fermentation not only produces the carbon dioxide bubbles, which dissolve in the wine, but also a deposit of spent yeasts. Ageing the wine on this yeasty deposit for a certain length of time, imparts flavours, aromas and complexity in the wine, which produces a more flavoursome, interesting and elegant taste.

Crémant sales are expanding dramatically as consumers discover the greater appeal of these wines over the simpler prosecco, which is fermented in pressurised tanks rather than individual bottles. Production takes place in many different areas of France, each of which has its own set of rules and regulations governed by the Appellation Contrôlée laws. The variety of styles can be quite wide, since they often use the most common grape varieties from the region in which they are made. Thus, Crémant de Bourgogne will be made from the Burgundian varieties, whereas Crémant de Bordeaux will more likely be made from Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon – the white grapes of that region.

This makes sense since the grape varieties are adapted to the climate and soils of the different regions, but it also means that Crémants tend to have a regional style, which makes them more interesting and appealing. As with champagne, red grape varieties are also often used in the blends, even though the resulting wine may be white. The colour of red grapes is all contained in the skins, thus if the grapes are pressed and the skins are rapidly removed, the resulting juice for fermentation is white. So, the red grapes Pinot Noir and Gamay May be used in Crémant from Burgundy and Cabernet Franc used in Crémant de Loire.

The majority of Crémant is made dry or ‘Brut’, and whereas the flavours and aromas may differ, I have yet to find one whose quality wasn’t up to scratch. Some are made as single vintage sparkling wines and others are blended from different years, thus termed non-vintage. With rosé styles, special cuvées and different blends, including Blanc de Noirs (white wine from black grapes) there is a whole raft of flavours to choose from, making far more interesting drinking than the simple prosecco. Current figures seem to show that the trend is catching on and in certain sales outlets, Crémants are now outselling the Italian fizz by some margin.

As reported recently in The Telegraph, sales of Crémant were up 72 percent last year and are up nearly 30 percent in the first quarter of this year. In fact, more sparkling wine was sold in the UK in 2017 than any year previously and Crémant seems to be gaining popularity. Part of this is due to the inherent quality of all Crémant and part is due to the reasonable price, normally varying between £8 and £15 a bottle. Most independent wine merchants will have a good selection and all the supermarkets will have at least one Crémant on their shelves.

Great examples are Crémant du Jura from Aldi at an amazing £7.99 a bottle – 100 percent Chardonnay, fresh, crisp and elegant – Crémant de Bourgogne from M&S at £12 per bottle, Sainsbury’s Crémant de Loire made by Bouvet Ladubay at £11 and Crémant d’Alsace Grande Reserve from Waitrose at £10 per bottle. Try one tomorrow, or better still, try them all!

Richard Esling BSc DipWSET is an experienced wine consultant, agent, writer and educator. An erstwhile wine importer, he runs a wine agency and consultancy company called WineWyse, is founder and principal of the Sussex Wine Academy, chairman of Arundel Wine Society and is an International Wine Judge. Twitter @richardwje. Visit www.winewyse.com.

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