Crémants redux

I’m giving a thumbs-up to French non-Champagne sparkling wines (aka Crémants). The Louis Bouillot Crémant de Bourgogne rosé ($17 at Sherry-Lehmann) was on my recent to-try list, and did not disappoint. Lovely pale-coral hue in the glass (apologies for the poor-quality photo), softly effervescent with a hint of watermelon and cream on the palate, it offers an inexpensive alternative to a rosé Champagne.

48 - Cremant glass (2)

No disrespect to Champagne—it can provide some of your most delightful tasting experiences—but at typical Champagne prices, it is routinely consigned to special occasions. (If the euro continues its swoon, however, those prices for U.S. customers will eventually—maybe as soon as late 2015—fall, a moment we await impatiently.)

In the meantime, drink more sparkling wines, more often—whether from France or anywhere else that is producing it. They pair spectacularly with many foods. And sparklers offer variety that many of us have not yet explored.

If you only stick with French Crémants, you’ll find a lot to choose from. Manhattan’s wonderful Chambers Street Wines, for instance, currently has on hand a Burgundy Crémant, Tripoz, made from 100% Chardonnay ($26) and a rosé from Jura, Bodines NV Arbois ($24), that blends Pinot Noir, Trousseau and Poulsard.

Crémants from Alsace are popular. Conjure an alsacienne Pinot Blanc or Reisling, but in bubbly form. Sherry-Lehmann carries an Albrecht Brut Blanc de Blanc from Alsace for $17. Loire winemakers are also producing sparkers.

So, aside from not commanding their price premiums, what sets Crémants apart from their Champagne cousins? Since the same méthode champegnoise is commonly employed across producers, it comes down to terroir and, usually, grape varieties. (Burgundian Crémants will more closely match the varietal blends of Champagne—Chardonnay and Pinot Noir—than those from other French appellations.) Sample a few and decide what you like.

The Bubbly Debrief

With Bubbly’s biggest night* behind us for another year, I’m pausing to assess the three sparklers—fittingly, all of French origin—we drank over the holidays. Here is the line-up:

44 - Gruet, L'Ermitage, Grande Dame

• Gruet Brut “Champenoise” Gold Label – This New Mexican star held center stage on Christmas Eve, paired with a meal of one fish/two ways (chilled shrimp cocktail followed by garlicky shrimp scampi)—my modest take on the traditional Seven Fishes feast. $16 at Sherry-Lehmann.
• Roederer Estate L’Hermitage Brut 2003 – To accompany an array of cheeses and charcuterie, we started the December 31 festivities with this Anderson Valley, California, offspring of venerable French Champagne house Louis Roederer. Priced around $40-$45, depending on the retailer.
• Veuve Clicquot La Grande Dame Brut 2004 – Saving the best for last, we popped the cork at midnight on this Veuve Clicquot classic from Champagne’s stellar 2004 vintage. A deal while it’s still in stock at Buy-Rite in Jersey City for $120.

44 - 3 corks

The Gruet family brought their Champagne-making experience with them from France to the New World in the 1980s, after discovering promising, high-altitude, inexpensive terroir around Albuquerque. Like all of their sparkling wines, the Gruet Brut is aged for a minimum of 24 months. Tasting of apple cider, it’s not a complex wine but stands up well with food. At this price point, I’ll have it again—and seek out Gruet’s other sparklers.

L’Ermitage along with L’Ermitage Rosé are the high-end lines of family-owned Roederer Estate, produced only as single-vintage cuvées. The 2003 earned high marks across the board from the usual critics: Wine Enthusiast 96, Wine & Spirits 94, Wine Spectator 93. If you can’t find this vintage, look for the 2005. My first sips were peach-infused, then a hard-candy lemon-drop flavor settled in. The minerality was just right.

44 - Roederer, Grande Dame caps

La Grande Dame was the favorite Champagne of a now-deceased friend and oenophile, but since we’d somehow never tried it, this was the obvious choice for ringing in 2015 when we spotted it in Buy-Rite’s Champagne cabinet. The 2004 is a refined Champagne, with lemon and minerals on the nose and the palate. The initial uprush of bubbles after opening was misleading, as it quickly subsided into a gentle effervescence. Wine Spectator conferred 92 points on this beauty.

These three wines span a range of price points, from everyday to special-occasion, and I can recommend landing on each one of them. Cheers!

*While New Year’s Eve is unlikely to be dethroned from its perch as the time of maximum sparkling-wine consumption, why not resolve in 2015 to drink more of it more often?