Should Champagne Still Be Your Bubbly of Choice?

Should Champagne Still Be Your Bubbly of Choice?

Is champagne still the celebration tipple par excellence or are the alternatives just as good?

I am a magnet for eccentric strangers, so it was no surprise that while perusing the champagne selection in my local French supermarket just before Christmas, I was approached by a gentleman. “Monsieur,” he beckoned me to the adjacent aisle, “don’t bother with the champagne; this is what you want – same stuff, just cheaper.” And with a conspiratorial tap of the nose, he thrust a bottle of Crémant de Bourgogne into my hand. So the question is, should we be toasting with a glass of champagne, or take my new acquaintance’s advice and opt instead for crémant?

Crémant once referred to the semi-sparkling wines of Champagne, but after the term méthode champenoise was banned in 1994, the word crémant was adopted by other French regions to distinguish their own appellation d’origine bottle-fermented sparkling wines. The largest by volume is Crémant d’Alsace: Pinot blanc and Auxerrois grapes give rich, fruity character, while Riesling brings nervy acidity; Pinot noir gives elegance and Pinot gris and Chardonnay add creamy richness. The rarer Crémant d’Alsace rosé is made exclusively from Pinot noir.

Jean-Étienne Pignier amongst the vines at Domaine Pignier in the Jura

Perhaps my favourite is Crémant de Loire. Frequently hand-crafted, artisanal products, these wines are based around the Chenin blanc grape and complemented by Chardonnay and the red Cabernet franc, among others. Crémant de Bourgogne, made mostly from Chardonnay and Pinot noir, can justifiably call itself Burgundy’s answer to champagne. It’s fresh and delicate; blend it with crème de cassis to make the Burgundian aperitif kir.

To the east of Burgundy, the mountainous Jura region, famous for its sherry-like vin jaune, makes the delicious Crémant du Jura from Burgundy’s Chardonnay, Pinot noir and Pinot gris grapes, blended with the local white variety Savagnin and reds Poulsard and Trousseau.

Crémant de Limoux is arguably where it all began, in western Languedoc, nearly 500 years ago. The Abbey of Saint-Hilaire, near Limoux, is said to be the birthplace of bottle-fermented sparkling wine in France. Made from Chardonnay and Chenin blanc blended with Pinot noir and the local white Mauzac, white Crémant de Limoux is a citrus bubbly with mouth-watering hints of grapefruit, while as a rosé it shows fresh strawberry flavours.

Crémants are also made in small quantities in Bordeaux, Die in the northern Rhone, and Savoie, which won appellation d’origine status in 2014. So is crémant really a substitute for champagne? Well, yes and no. The most ambitious crémants, which often undergo far longer lees ageing than the 15-month minimum for non-vintage champagne, can represent exceptional value. But if the importance of the occasion trumps any regard for your wallet, there is still no comparison for that unique blend of richness and complexity that you find in a top-end champagne, particularly from a great house and in vintage guise.

From France Today Magazine


Champagne ‘La Grande Année 2014

Crémant de Limoux ‘Audace’ Blanc 2020

Crémant du Jura ‘Brut Nature’ Blanc 2021

Lead photo credit : A crémant tasting with Bernard Delmas of Domaine Delmas in Limoux

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