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.

New to me in 2015, part 1

I gravitate to the familiar as much as anyone. I reorder the South African Chardonnay that is so delicious (and affordable), pick up another bottle of that California Pinot Noir I love, and seek out a particular Provençal rosé when we’re on the cusp of summer.

But I also crave the new, or what’s new to me, anyway—whether it’s a varietal, an appellation, a producer. Trying what is unfamiliar is essential to one’s personal wine education, and thanks to today’s wine marketplace—which delivers an ever-broader selection of wines from the around the world—that education is easier than it’s ever been.

Here is my current short list of new-to-me wines I’m planning to drink over the next few weeks. What I think of them may shape the next iteration of my to-try list.

47 - Louis Bouillot Cremant de Bourgogne

  • Crémants – You can’t call them “Champagne” but they are French and sparkling . . . and so much cheaper than their exalted siblings from the Champagne region. Crémants hail from regions like Alsace, Burgundy and the Loire, and their grape composition reflects those regional origins. Right now in my cellar: a Louis Bouillot Crémant de Bourgogne rosé and Thierry Germain’s Bulles de Roche, a Loire crémant from the Saumur appellation.

47 - Thierry Germain Bulles de Roche Saumur

  • Portuguese reds –In the wine world, Portugal is more than Port, Madeira and Vinho Verde (which can be red or white—“verde” in this context connoting young, unaged). But until recent years U.S. wine consumers have had limited access to the country’s diverse offerings. Lately I’ve spotted Portuguese rosés and reds on local wine shelves and I’m curious to taste them. I’m starting with an inexpensive 2012 offering from Lavradores de Feitoria, based in Douro, the home of port but where red tables wines are now getting a foothold.

47 - Lavradores Douro

  • California reds with deceptively awful names – The Crusher and Ménage à Trois Midnight are the ones I’m seeking out. Priced in a comfortable $11 to $14 range, I’ve read and heard positive reviews of these dark red blends. The Crusher is Cabernet-dominant, while the vintage 2012 “Midnight” is a Merlot-Cab-Petite Syrah-Petite Verdot blend. The 2012 and 2013 vintages were stellar in California for reds, which could make these wines an extra-great value.

What “new” wines are in your rack?