Monday, 3 April 2017

Cremant Sparkling Wine tasting 2017

Last year, I wrote about how Cremant is the great “undiscovered bubbly”. We know Champagne, Cava and most recently have gone potty for Prosecco.

Cremant is a French fizzy wine. The production process has to follow strict guidelines; grapes must be hand gathered, no machines; double fermentation (the second being in the bottle) and only 8 regions of France are allowed to call their bubbles Cremant. The name hints at one of the essential qualities of the wine; a creamy texture across the mouth.

I was invited to Business France’s Cremant tasting for 2017 at Edel Assanti Gallery in London’s Soho where 12 producers were ready to show off their best bubblies. Chilled magnums of other notable Cremants were also waiting to shared. To top off this thoroughly French treat, savoury and sweet Macarons were available on tap!

I got started with Domaine Schwach (pronounced “shwah”). The name gives you a clue of their location, in Alsace, near the German border. I was guided around the Schwach wines by Eric Zweibel, a Dorset based expert (and award winning) Sommelier, originally from Alsace. I tried the Blanc de Blanc (made solely of pale/white grapes), a wine with hints of lemon aromas and sherbetty fizz. It has good complexity, as a result of the initial 12 month fermentation in lees. One to drink on its own for a celebration, or as an aperitif. Alsace’s dishes often feature smoked hams and smoked cheese, Eric advised this Cremant D’Alsace Blanc de Blancs would go well with these traditional foods. 

Next was a Blanc de Noirs, made from black/dark grapes, namely Pinot Noir (the same grape as Champagne). I detected a light pinky tinge in the colour, and the flavours were very different from the Blanc de Blancs; this was strong, structured and more “masculine” as described by Eric. Finally I tried the Cremant d’Alsace Chardonnay, a completely different wine, made by adding 4 grammes of sugar for the second in-bottle fermentation. The colour of this wine is incredibly pale, but the flavours exude pure elegance. Clean, rich, creamy on the palate, this 100% chardonnay sparkling wine is unique. Domaine Schwach is a modest 19 hectare winery, run by the same quality obsessed family for three generations, their wines are far more creamy in texture than the other, crisper Cremants in the tasting.

Next was Domaine Moutard-Diligent, a North Burgundy winemaker more famous for their Chablis and Irancy. A winemaker originally founded in 1645 in the Champagne region, and having made Champagne for three generations, Moutard-Diligent bought a vineyard in Burgundy in 2004. In 2015, they decided to use their long held expertise in sparkling to make Cremant de Bourgogne. I tried the Cremant de Bourgogne Les Vignolles, a Brut (dry sparkling wine) made of 50% Pinot Noir (the Champagne grape) and 50% Chardonnay. A barely-there pale colour, tiny bubbles, delicate slow fizzing; it has the look in the glass of a fine sparking wine. A crisp and extremely dry flavour tempered with real elegance makes this bubbles suited for seafood (think a seafood platter in the Summer sunshine), or sushi. 

Cremant de Jura is the new “up-and-coming” Cremant Appellation. The vast majority of the Jura Cremants are white. 100% Chardonnay varieties exist. If a blend is used, it must be made of a minimum of 70% Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Trousseau grapes. The other grapes allowed (to help provide balance and flavour) are Poulsard and Savagnin. The wine must be aged for a minimum of one year. I tried the 100% Chardonnay Marcel Cabelier 2012 Cremant de Jura. This wine was unique for its 20-24 month aging in lees, before the second in-bottle fermentation. Beautifully pale, this wine had delicate, balanced dry flavours with good minerality. 

Another wine producer which caught my attention was “La Compagnie de Burgondie”, a fascinating combination of three specialist makers; Caves Bailly-Lapierre (Cremants), Vignerons de Buxy (Cote Chalonnaise and Premier Cru) and Alliance Vignerons Bourgogne Beaujolais (Beaujolais). Bailly-Lapierre, as Pierre Jerome Beretti explained, is famous for being the producer who created and registered the Appellation of Cremant de Bourgogne in 1975. The Cremant de Bourgogne Brut Reserve is a four grape blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Aligote and Gamay. With an intriguing scent of toast and a touch of dead leaf (sounds terrible, but think of Autumn in the air), it has frothy little bubbles, and good balanced dryness. It is fresh as the amount of added sugar is extremely modest. The finish is short, but pleasant. A bubbly for an aperitif or for enjoying with sophisticated starters, it should sell for around £14 in the UK, making it affordable luxury. 

Pierre let me try the Cremant de Bourgogne Chardonnay, a new product not yet on the UK market. Made from 100% Chardonnay, it as fresh, clean white aromas, with subtlety. Hints of pear are present. Balanced acidity on the tongue with elegant fruit. A long and satisfying finish makes this a wine worth experiencing with all of your senses. This is a wine which would be excellent for Summer celebrations. 

Cremant de Limoux is the sparkling wine made close to Limoux in the Languedoc region, given Appellation status in 1990. 

The Terroir La Baume Cremant de Limoux 2016 is a Gold Medal winning wine, made from a Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Chenin Blanc grapes. The fine bubbles give character, and the crisp flavour, slightly appley aroma and meadow freshness make it highly suitable for fish and seafood. A wine to watch out for, being a worthy award winner. 

Cremant de Loire is made using Chenin Blanc grapes in the Anjou, Saumur and Touraine areas. Nathalie Safran introduced me to the Cremant de Loire of Caves de Grenelle, the only specialist sparkling wine maker in Saumur. 

Established in 1859, this is a wine house which has been family run since its inception. The first wine I tried was the “pretty in pink” rose, Cuvee Si Irresistable; a Mousseux Brut, rather than a Cremant. This wine, made of Grolleux grapes is so different because it has a very short fermentation, hence the reason it cannot be called a Cremant. It is flowery, strongly aromatic, with a little sugar in the aroma (I swear I am able to smell sugar in other people’s tea). The flavour is fresh and light, making is great for sunny days and desserts. But Nathalie warned me not to be unimaginative; the wine, she says, will surprise you with its suitability for food, citing oysters as being particularly well matched. 

The second wine was the Cuvee 3/7.7.4, the Caves de Grenelle, also called “La Magie du Noir” (the “Magic” of black). Devised to be the ultimate expression of what can be done with Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc and Pinot d’Aunis, it has a pronounced colour, minerality in the flavour and a strange, pure, almost medicinal aroma. It is a “statement” wine of creamy delicacy, and should be  bought now and saved in a cellar for a few months.

Snigdha visited the 2017 Cremant tasting organised by Business France as their guest. This review represents my honest opinions. Snigdha has received no incentive, financial or otherwise for posting this review.

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