We’ve sipped Crémant d’Alsace before here on Crushed Grape Chronicles,
as you can see in:
We do agree that Alsace Rocks!
These wines were received as Samples. No other compensation was received, and all opinions remain our own.
This time we delve a little deeper into the sparkling wine of Alsace with some delicious #Samples we received from Teuwen Communications and Vins Alsace.
We are led this month by Jill Barth of L’Occasion. You can read her preview post “Winophiles Drink Crémant d’Alsace“.
We also had the opportunity to do a live Zoom chat with Thierry Fritsch the Chief Enologist and Educator for CIVA, the Alsace Wine Board.
Thierry has worked for the CIVA (Conseil Interprofessionnel Des Vins D’Alsace) for 25 years. He walked us through the history and climate of the region and then led us into the story of Crémant d’Alsace.
Where is Alsace?
We should take a moment to remember where we are. This is Northeastern France, right on the German & Swiss borders. In fact, this section of land has been bandied back and forth between France and Germany. As a result, the language here is a mix of French and German. You will find this influence in the food and culture also. But Thierry likened the Alsatians to the people of Corsica. After being tossed back and forth they are more French than the French.
Geographically, the region sits between the Rhine River and the Vosges Mountains, which create a rain shadow, making this region warmer than Champagne to the west. But due to its latitude and distance from the ocean, it is still considered a cold continental climate. You get a large diurnal shift (day to night temperature) which allows the grapes to retain their acid and develop beautiful aromas.
The Bas-Rhine sits at a lower elevation to the North and the Haut-Rhine at a higher elevation to the South. Across the river and the German Border, you find the German wine regions of Baden and Pfalz.
The region is perfect for cool-climate aromatic grapes. You have the noble varieties for the Grand Crus that include: Gewurztraminer, Muscat, Pinot Gris, and Riesling. Beyond that, you have 6 other grapes: Pinot Noir, Pinot Blanc, Sylvaner, Chasselas, Auxerrois, and Klevener de Heilgenstein (also known as Savagnin Rose). Lastly, there is Chardonnay which is only allowed to be used in Crémant d’Alsace.
A Culture of Family and Sustainability
Families are the soul of Alsace. Small vineyards are passed down from generation to generation. Some are into the 15th generation. This means that the people here are in the long game. They care deeply about making sure the land is preserved for future generations.
The region was a pioneer in France for organic and biodynamic farming back in the 1960s, and today 35% of the vineyards in Alsace are either certified organic or are in the process of conversion.
Now on to the term Crémant.
Crémant originally referred to a sparkling wine in Champagne that did not reach 6 bars of pressure in the 2nd fermentation. This term is no longer used in Champagne and is reserved for the Crémant AOCs. In turn the Crémant AOCs do not use the term “Methode Champenoise“, instead using “Méthode Traditionelle”.
Crémant is made in the Methode Traditionelle with the second fermentation in the bottle. It is made in 8 different regions in France, but more than half of that is made in Alsace. Here it is made to 4.5 atmospheres of pressure, but generally, the consumer is unlikely to notice this difference.
The grapes that are allowed are: Pinot Blanc, Auxerros, Riesling, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Pinot Noir is the exclusive grape allowed in Crémant Rosé and Blanc de Noirs.
The flavors imparted by the grapes are significant. The nose on Cremant is more expressive than simple yeasty, bready notes. It can be rich in both aromas and on the palate.
Each variety brings something different to the wine. Pinot Blanc brings a soft delicateness to the wine, Auxerrois brings depth and roundness, as does Pinot Gris. Riesling adds lively fruit and freshness. Chardonnay adds elegance.
When we speak of the still wines of Alsace, we talk about the tapestry of soils in the region which give each vineyard something unique and give such variety to the wines of the region.
Crémant from the region, while it has been made for a long time, was only recognized as an AOC in 1976. When I originally learned about Cremant, I learned that it was grown closer to the Rhine River in the lower flatter part of the region. That is changing. Smaller producers are starting to make Cremant and in the future, you are likely to be tasting the difference in terroir in these sparkling wines.
Quality and Value
It has been said that for $40 you can get a mediocre bottle of Champagne or a fantastic bottle of Crémant d’Alsace. The three bottles we sampled ran between $19 and $27 each. These are sparkling wines I would return to time and time again. And…they were all unique!
Maison Pierre Sparr is located in the middle of the Haut-Rhin north of Colmar and the family’s winemaking history goes back to 1680. Sigolsheim, where the family’s vineyards were located was destroyed in WWII. Pierre Sparr witnessed this destruction and rebuilt the family Domaine. He was a pioneer in “Estate Bottling” wines in Alsace.
Today the Maison Pierre Sparr Cellar master is Corinne Perez who believes strongly in the benefits of sustainable practices and in elegance and purity in white wines, a trait that we found in the bottle that we opened.
Pierre Sparr Cremant d’Alsace Brut Reserve
This wine is 80% Pinot Blanc & 20% Auxerrois. The vines’ average age is 26 years and is made from sourced fruit from growers who share their philosophy in the vineyard.
The wine rests on the lees for 12-16 months and dosage is added to bring it to a Brut level of sweetness.
This comes across in the clean and elegant lines of this sparkling wine. It pours almost clear in the glass and is crisp, clean, and linear. There are notes of tart apple, and bits of yeast, but it is not the dominant note. You get green apple, wet stone, pear, a bit of fresh green herbs, and chalkiness.
This wine is elegant and clean and refreshing. 12.5% abv – $24 SRP
Domaine Dirler began in 1871 in the village of Bergholtz. South of Colmar, in the Haut-Rhin this tiny village of 1,000 people sits in the lower hills of the Vosges Mountains. Jean Dirlier is a 5th-generation winemaker.
In 2000 Domaine Dirler added the vineyards of Domaine Hell-Cadé, which are the familial vineyards of Jean’s wife Ludivine. These vineyards are in nearby Guebwiller.
This brings the vineyards of Domaine Dirler-Cadé to 18 hectares between the two. The Bergholtz vineyards have been biodynamically farmed for 20 years and the Guebwiller vineyards are being converted.
Almost half of their vineyards are located in the Grands Crus of Saering, Spiegel, Kessler and Kitterlé, with additional plantings in the 5 lieux-dits of Belzbrunnen, Schwarzberg, Bux, Schimberg and Bollenberg.
Dirler-Cadé Crémant d’Alsace Brut Nature 2017
This wine is 60% Pinot Gris, 30% Auxerrois, and 10% Riesling made in a Brut Nature style (that means no added sugar, so dry as they could get it). It is certified Biodyvin and Agriculture Biologique
The difference between this and the Pierre Sparr is dramatic, from the deeper golden color of the wine as it pours to the aromas, which are deep and rich.
We got granny delicious apples, and a tiny bit of yeast. There is a bit of a funkiness, like iodine, that is pleasant and interesting. This wine was greener and more aromatic with rich round Meyer lemon. It continued to evolve in the glass with fascinating aromas that kept me coming back.
12.5% abv – $27 SRP
Willm has been around for 120 years. The estate began in 1896 in the small town of Barr at the base of Grand Cru Kirchberg de Barr in the Bas-Rhin of Northern Alsace. They work with 6 winegrowers who share their passion for quality and respect for the environment.
In the 1930s Willm was among the first wines from Alsace to be exported to the US after Prohibition. It is said that Al Capone had some of their wines in his cellar.
They are also known for their escargot. Early on Adolphe Willm was into gastronomy and was known for his recipe for “escargots à l’Alsacienne”, snails cooked in a broth of white wine and spices.
Willm Crémant d’Alsace Brut Rosé
100% Pinot Noir, grown in Clay and Limestone soils are aged for a minimum of 12 months.
I’ll admit this had a bit of musty funk when we first opened it. Michael likened the smell to silage. Mind you this was not funky enough to keep me from sticking my nose in the glass and being fascinated. The funkiness did blow off leaving red fruit notes, with a bitter edge. There are notes of strawberry, cassis, and raspberry. It has good acid and a bit of tannin that smooths out quickly but gives it enough structure that I picture it going well with something like tuna tartar.
This really has amazing depth of flavor.
12.5% abv – $19 SRP
Pairing with the foods of Alsace!
With sparkling wines, we tend to reach for festive foods. We think of sparkling wine with hors d’oeuvres or dessert. But these wines should not simply be relegated to the beginning or end of a meal. The Bubbles in Crémant are perfect for cleaning your palate all through a meal and thus making each bite as delicious as the first!
We decided to create an Alsace-inspired feast. Vins d’Alsace has a wonderful page with the cuisine of Alsace and pairings. We decided to mix and match our pairings into a board (or 2) of foods inspired by the region.
Foods of the region are influenced by German cuisine as you will see.
Our 2 boards contained,
- Rustic bread (I picked up a loaf of rustic bread from the German bakery this morning that had caraway seeds)
- Sauerkraut (simple sauerkraut from the refrigerator section at the grocery store)
- Pretzels (that again, I picked up at the German bakery)
- Brown mustard,
- Potato pancakes (in our case frozen latkes from Trader Joes with crème fraiche)
- Red cabbage with apples and chestnuts (you can find this recipe on the Vins d’Alsace site)
- I’ll delve a little deeper into this as I adapted the recipe just a bit. I sauteéd ½ finely diced shallot in olive oil in my dutch oven. Then I added ½ head of thinly sliced purple cabbage1/2 cup of red wine and enough broth to cover the cabbage. I seasoned it with salt and pepper covered it and let it cook on low for 1/5 hrs. Then I added ½ cup of pecans and 1 apple peeled and diced and let that cook for an additional 30 minutes. We ate this warm, but it is great cold also.
- Potatoes & Bibeleskaes
- This one requires a bit of explanation also. So potatoes and bibeleskae are traditionally served for lunch or after dinner. These are boiled potatoes served cold with the bibeleskae which is a creamy fresh cheese sauce/dip. It can be served warm with muenster cheese melting on the potatoes, which kinda makes it a bit like a baked potato with sour cream and cheese. Here’s how we did ours.
- I boiled baby potatoes until they were fork tender then tossed them with butter and salt and pepper and set them aside to cool. The Bibeleskae in Alsace is made with fromage blanc, a fresh white cheese often made with the curds from muenster cheese, and extra thick cream. Here I substituted, cottage cheese and mixed it with crème fraiche. To this, you add chopped garlic and chives, which we added on the side. We served this with the potatoes and some sliced muenster.
- Emmentaler cheese
- Grilled Bratwurst
- I par boiled bratwursts and then grilled the pieces on the stove
- Tiny beef en croute tarts with mushrooms to add a bit of Northern French Flair
Which pairings went best?
The Dirler-Cadé was the pickiest to pair with. The rich flavors of this wine either went beautifully or clashed. Not that I mind a wine with personality and this wine had that in spades! We found that this wine brought out the tart notes in the red cabbage and apples dish. The fruit and acid and fullness of this wine made it work very differently with the food than the other two wines. The Muenster paired well with it, toning down the funky notes and pulling forth the fruit notes in the wine.
The Pierre Sparr was closest to the pairing I had pictured. This clean elegant wine was a gracious host to all the foods we paired with it. Really each bite was fresh and new after a sip of this clean refreshing sparkling wine.
The WILLM also went well across the board. It was best with the meats, having a bit more oompf than the other wines, with those slight tannins standing up to the meat. It was also really delicious with the purple cabbage pulling out the earthy notes in the wine from the Pinot Noir.
Across the board, (or boards, LOL) we ate, paired and were happy!
I love sparkling wine and especially “interesting” sparkling wine. I will be reaching for Crémant d’Alsace on a much more regular basis. These wines are affordable and have personality! They are more than just bubbles. I also think that you are going to be seeing more and more Crémant d’Alsace in a grower style, which will give you a deeper sense of place in the flavors and aromas of these wines. This is exciting! Really my friends, “Alsace Rocks!”
The French #Winophiles
Many of my friends at the French #winophiles dove into Crémant d’Alsace also and I am anxious to see their thoughts and pairings! Their articles are listed below.
If you are reading this early enough, join us on Twitter on Saturday June 18th at 8 am PT or 11 am ET to discuss Crémant d’Alsace! Just use and follow the hashtag #Winophiles.
- Cremant Wine Battered Perch; Michigan and French Classics Collide on A Day in the Life on the Farm
- A Thai Green Curry Lesson + Willm Crémant d’Alsace Brut Rosé on Culinary Adventures with Camilla
- Crémant d’Alsace: An Elegant Sparkling Wine from France on Grape Experiences
- Crémant d’Alsace: A Candidate for Your House Bubbly on Food Wine Click!
- Crémant d’Alsace Paired with Summer Fish Menus on Always Ravenous
- Crab Crêpes Compliment Crémant d’Alsace for Summer #Winophiles on Wine Predator
- Cheese Hour at the Culinary Cabin with Pierre Sparr Crémant d’Alsace Brut Reserve on Somm’s Table
- Porch Sipper of the Year: Crémant d’Alsace on Keep the Peas
- Crispy Fishwich + an Organic Cremant d’Alsace from Charles Bauer on Wineivore
- Baumann-Zirgel Crémant d’Alsace – Your New Champagne Alternative on Wining with Mel
Robin Renken is a wine writer and Certified Specialist of Wine and WSET 3 Certified. She and her husband Michael travel to wine regions interviewing vineyard owners and winemakers and learning the stories behind the glass.
When not traveling they indulge in cooking and pairing wines with food at home in Las Vegas.