A Sparkling Rosé by any other name…just might be a Crémant – #Winophiles

Crémant Rosé pairings

‘Tis the season for a little celebrating and nothing gets a celebration started better than bubbles. Something about how the bubble sparkle in the glass, or how they tickle your nose when you head in for a sip.

Bubbles are great for atmosphere, they set the mood. They are also perfect with those delicious salty, fatty treats we like to have around. From popcorn to caviar, they make a great match. And beyond just appetizers or snacks, they are great with a meal. The acid and bubbles clean your palate between each bite, making every bite taste as good as the first.

Now, bubbles come in many forms. There is Cava and Prosecco, sparkling wine, Champagne…and then there is Crémant.  Crémant is the topic for the French #Winophiles this month and we will be taking to twitter on Saturday November 17th at 11 am EST to discuss Crémant.  Join us by following the hashtag #Winophiles!

Crémant

What is Crémant? Well it’s bubbles made in the “methode champenoise” from outside of the Champagne region in France. (So secondary fermentation in the bottle)

The word Crémant means “Creamy”. The term was originally used for a Champagne that was slightly less sparkly, the bubbles were creamier, with a little less pressure in the bottle.

Some of the areas that you will find Crémant in France include: Crémant d’Alsace (Alsace), Crémant de Bourgogne (Burgundy), Crémant de Loire, Crémant de Limoux (Languedoc-Roussillon), Crémant de Bordeaux, Crémant du Jura, Crémant de Savoie and Crémant de Die.

One of the best things about Crémant is the variety of grapes that you might get to try in them. We were only able to easily locate Crémants from Alsace, Burgundy & the Loire.  Below is a list of these Crémant regions with the grapes that can be included in them (variety, my friends, is the spice of life!)

Crémant Regions and grape varieties allowed

Crémant d’Alsace (Alsace)

If it’s a rose, it will be 100% pinot noir, if it is not, it can include pinot blanc, pinot gris, riesling, chardonnay, auxerrois or pinot noir.  (1/2 of the Crémant in France is made here)

http://www.winesofalsace.com/wines/varieties/cremant-dalsace

Crémant de Bourgogne (Burgundy)

Most Crémants here use pinot noir and chardonnay (it is Burgundy after all), but they may also use gamay, aligoté, sacy & melon

https://www.bourgogne-wines.com/our-wines-our-terroir/the-bourgogne-winegrowing-region-and-its-appellations/cremant-de-bourgogne,2458,9253.html?&args=Y29tcF9pZD0yMjc4JmFjdGlvbj12aWV3RmljaGUmaWQ9MzAxJnw%3D

Crémant de Loire

Primarily these Crémants use chenin blanc, cabernet franc and pinot noir. But the allowed grape varieties include: chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, pineaus d’aunis, and grolleau (looking some of those up!)

http://loirevalleywine.com/appellation/cremant-de-loire-touraine/

Rules for Crémant

Each of the AOCs for Crémant have individual rules but they do have a few that they all adhere to:

  • Hand Harvesting
  • Not over 100 liters of juice for 150 kg of grapes
  • Secondary fermentation in bottle
  • Finished wines cannot have a dosage (added sweetness for secondary fermentation) that is over 50g per liter of sugar
  • Age 9 months on the lees before being disgorged and held an additional 3 months before going to market

So with all these different grapes from different regions how does it affect how the wine tastes? Well, we rounded up a couple of Crémants and tasted through to see. With 3 Cremant d’Alsace, a Cremant de Loire and a Cremant de Bourgogne we had a little variety.

The Crémant Rosés

Lucien Albrecht Crémant d'Alsace Brut Rosé.

Lucien Albrecht Crémant d’Alsace Brut Rosé.

Lucien Albrecht Crémant d’Alsace Brut Rosé

This wine was received as a sample

This wine from Lucien Albrecht is 100% Pinot Noir and comes from the house that was one of the three founding members of the Crémant d’Alsace AOC.

Made from free run juice, this wine ages on the lees for 14-16 months.  It sits at 12% alcohol and runs around $22.

You can read more about this wine in a previous bit we did on Alsace.

 

Levert Frères Crémant de Bourgogne Brut Rosé Millésime 2013

This is one of the oldest properties in Burgundy.  You will notice the “depuis 1595” on the label.  The estate is in the Mercurey appellation in Côte Chalonnaise.

The 2013 Vintage was 80% Pinot Noir and 20% Gamay. (so while I didn’t celebrate Beaujolais day in the normal fashion…I did drink some Gamay!)  It spends 24 months on the Lees.  It too sits at 12% alcohol and runs around $18.

Deligeroy Crémant de Loire bottle shot

Deligeroy Crémant de Loire

Deligeroy Brut Rosé Crémant de Loire Cave De Vignerons de Saumur

This wine comes from a cooperative formed back in 1957 in the Loire.  They are located in the Saumur appellation on the top of the hill in Saint-Cyr-en-Bourg.

The Deligeroy Brut Rosé is 100% Cabernet Franc grown in soils that include the tufa limestone from which many of the famous Loire castles are built.  Vines here are 20-30 years old.  This wine sits 12 months in racks before disgorging.  Alcohol is 12% and it runs around $18

Tasting and pairing

For this tasting we really wanted to look at the differences in the wines.  These are rosés which means you get a bit more “grape” in them from the skin contact.  The wines are from different regions and different grape varieties, so we expected there to be significant differences.

When I poured the glasses, the color was the first thing that struck me.  The Levert Frères Crémant de Bourgogne was significantly lighter in color than the other two, that light onion skin color.  As we went on to taste, that appeared in the glass.  This wine had less skin contact and as such was lighter with less distinguishable fruit on the nose or the palate. It did however seem to have a little more acid to it.  It ended up being Michael’s favorite in the pairings.

The other two wines, were influenced by their grapes.  The Albrecht Crémant d’Alsace had red berry notes as did the Deligeroy Crémant de Loire, but the notes in the Deligeroy were a little deeper, the Cabernet Franc showing through.

Pairings

As the holiday season is here, we went with a crowd pleasing cheese platter to pair with.  We are geeky and tend to one by one, taste and pair each element to see which pairing we like best.  Below, you will see the results.

Cheese plate with vegetables

Brie, blackberries, lobster pate, cherry preserves, smoked salmon, raw vegetables, salmon spread, strawberries, almonds, cashews, prosciutto

Brie: Any double or triple crème cheese is brilliant with crémant.  I stacked a bit of the brie on a cracker and smeared a little of the cherry preserve on top and found this went really well with the Crémant d’Alsace and the Crémant de Loire with their berry notes.

Lobster Paté:  I had this lobster paté with Cognac in the cupboard and popped it out to try.  I found that the extra richness in the Crémant de Loire really stood up to the richness in the paté and made this an exceptional bite.

Strawberries:  The red berry notes in the Crémant d’Alsace really blossomed here.

Blackberries: Again paired best with the Crémant d’Alsace

Proscuitto:  This brought out the fruit in all the wines.

Smoked salmon:  This salmon was thicker cut and applewood smoked.  The smoky flavor was a bit much for most of the wines, but it paired best with the Loire.  I think had this been a slightly lighter salmon the pairing would have been better.

Raw vegetables with dip:  A suggestions from Wines of Alsace.  This is also typical holiday fare with a veggie platter, so we thought this would be a good test!  We went with a salmon dip and it was perfect with the wines.

Popcorn in a bowl

Popcorn

Popcorn: Bubbles and buttery popcorn are always a good bet.  (potato chips too!) And they are great affordable snacks to keep everybody happy.  This went well, but we also did a pairing with some white Crémant d’Alsace and found the popcorn went better there (more on that later).

Crémant Rosé and lobster tails

Crémant Rosé and lobster tails

Lobster:  Well…pink with pink and lobster with butter screams for bubbles.  This is maybe a little more decadent than snacks for a holiday party, but…when the guests have gone, treat yourself.  Here was where the lack of berry notes in the Crémant de Borgogne came in handy.  This wine really sang with the lobster.  The other wines were fine, but I found the berry notes a bit of a distraction.

Apple and cranberry tart.

Apple and cranberry tart.

We finished out our evening with apple and cranberry tarts.  I always like fruit deserts and the berry and bread notes in all three of the wines paired wonderfully here.

Hopefully you now have some ideas for things to pair with sparkling wines this holiday, whether you are curled up for a quiet evening or feeding a crowd.  And reach for a Crémant!

We also did a piece on the two beautiful Crémant d’Alsace white wines that we paired with a simple dinner the night before! You can read up on Crémant d’Alsace perfect for a country picnic (maybe in the living room).

The French #Winophiles

So there is this wonderful group of wine writers who gather monthly to discuss French Wine.  We pick a topic and we all taste and pair and write a piece and then we get up (early for me) on the 3rd Saturday of the month to discuss. This month is it Crémant and here are all the amazing pieces that the French #Winophiles have written on the subject this month!  Check them all out!

Liz Barrett from What’s In That Bottle is writing “Affordalicious Alsace: Best Bubbles for the Buck”

Jill Barth from L’Occasion will show us “A Festival of French Crémant”

Camilla Mann will talk about a tasting pairing, Lingcod, Legumes, and Domaine Mittnacht Frères Crémant d’Alsace on her blog Culinary Adventures with Cam.

Susannah Gold from avivinare.com will share her post “French Cremant – Perfect Sparklers for the Holiday Season” Susannah is also on Twitter @vignetocomm and Insta: @vignetocomms)

Martin Redmond will be “Elevating Weeknight Fare with Cremant d’Alsace” at the Enofylz Wine Blog

Nicole Ruiz Hudson’s post on SommsTable.com will be “Crémants for Going Out and Staying In”

Wendy Klik of A Day in the Life on the Farm is writing “Rustic Elegance; Fall Vegetable Soup paired with Cremant” which sounds perfect for Thanksgiving!

Jane Niemeyer will teach us “How to Pair Crémant d’Alsace and Food” at alwaysravenous.com

Payal Vora’s post at Keep the Peas will be called “Crémant d’Alsace: More Than Just A Sparkling Wine”

Lauren Walsh from The Swirling Dervish will “Add a Little Sparkle to Your Holiday with Crémant d’Alsace”.

Jeff Burrows will be pairing “Elegant Crémant de Bourgogne Served with Lobster Two Ways” at foodwineclick.com

Gwendolyn Alley from winepredator.com is going to be looking at Crémant Rose: 4 Affordable Food Friendly Beauties for #Winophiles

David Crowley from cookingchatfood.com will be discussing the “Best Food Pairings for Crémant d’Alsace”

Rupal Shankar the Syrah Queen will be giving us “Five Reasons to Drink Crémant d’Alsace this Holiday Season”

Neil will be joining us from Eat, Live, Travel, Write with a post entitled “Champagne taste but not a Champagne budget? An exploration of France’s Crémant wines”

Kat Wisnosky of Bacchus Travel and Tours, who was our fearless leader and host for the month shares with us Crémant – The Perfect Style of Wine for A Festive Meal

Don’t forget to check back with us here at Crushed Grape Chronicles for more on wines from around the world and closer to home. You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

Crémant d’Alsace perfect for a country picnic (maybe in the living room)

Crémant d'Alsace pairings

Okay, I know, it’s not really picnic season right now, at least not in North America, but sometimes you just want to curl up by the coffee table and have an indoor picnic and that’s just what we did with these two beautiful Crémant d’Alsace wines.

We were focusing on Crémant Rosé for our post with the French #Winophiles, but we had a couple of beautiful sparkling white Crémant d’Alsace wines come in that we thought you should be on the lookout!  They would be perfect for holiday parties, or for a simple relaxing dinner after a day of holiday shopping.

Pierre Sparr Crémant d’Alsace Brut Réserve

Pierre Sparr Crémant d'Alsace

Pierre Sparr Crémant d’Alsace

This Crémant comes from the heart of the Haut-Rhin where Maison Pierre Sparr has been making wine since 1680!  80% Pinot Blanc and 20% Auxerrois the wines are whole cluster pressed separately and undergo their first fermentation in stainless steel. They are then blended and head into secondary fermentation in bottle.  They sit on the lees for 12 to 16 months. The soils here are granite, limestone, gneiss and chalky-clay.  Alcohol is at 12.25% and you can find this wine for around $19 per bottle.

The tasting notes on their site mentioned “dried mango and hints of nuts”, so I picked up dried mango and cashews to see if they would pair well.

Cave de Ribeauville Giersberger Cremant d’Alsace Brut

Cave de Ribeauville Giersberger Crémant d'Alsace Brut

Cave de Ribeauville Giersberger Crémant d’Alsace Brut

The oldest wine cooperative still operating in France, Cave de Ribeauville produces 72 different wines.   Like the Pierre Sparr, this wine sits at 80/20 with Pinot Blanc and Pinot Auxerrois.  It sits in bottle for at least 9 months. Alcohol sits at 12% and I had trouble finding the SRP for this particular wine.  The closest I found was in euros at 8.95 which would make this a bargain at around $10.25 US.

These are tasty and affordable sparking wines. If you want to understand the term “crémant” take a sip of one of these wines and swish it around in your mouth. The creamy delightful texture is the essence of “crémant”

We asked for some suggestions and had some great options!  Casey of Travelling Corkscrew mentioned popcorn, oysters and anything with soy.  Martin Redmond of Enofylz Wine Blog suggested potato chips, popcorn and triple creme cheese.  We opted to pair these with popcorn, pot stickers (another shout out to Casey for the pairing with soy inspiration), brie (we had to settle for double creme), dried mango, cashews and ….Fried Chicken! (that came from the Wines of Alsace site) The acid and bubbles with the fat are perfect!

I recommend takeout.  Life is busy enough during the holidays.  Then park yourself on the floor at the coffee table, turn on your favorite Netflix and pop a bottle of Crémant d’Alsace!  You can thank me later.

Don’t forget to check back with us here at Crushed Grape Chronicles for more on wines from around the world and closer to home. You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

Sparkling wine or Champagne

In honor of #ChampagneDay…here is a little primer on Sparkling wines and Champagne that we put together as we planned our Sparkling pairing for our Crushed Grapes and Open Minds Event.

The Sparkling Wine

As we planned for our Crushed Grapes and Open Minds event we knew that we wanted to begin with a sparkling wine.  Bubbles are celebratory and a great way to get an event off to the right start.  We also knew that with our sparkling wine we would serve it in glasses rather than flutes, which would not keep the bubbles as much, but would allow guest to smell the aromas behind the wine. We looked at many different sparkling wines, and it was important to me to find something with some yeast or bread on the nose, to give us a chance to talk about how Sparkling wine is made in the traditional Champenoise method.

Quick lesson on Sparkling wine:

There are two methods of making a sparkling wine. One is the “Charmat” or “Tank” Method, the other is Methode Champenoise.

The Charmat Method

The Charmat method is a less expensive way to make a sparkling wine. The secondary fermentation (the one that causes the bubbles) is done in a large pressurized tank instead of in the bottle. Because you can only get 2-4 atmospheres of pressure in this way, the bubbles tend to be larger. Prosecco and Lambrusco are made in this way.

Methode Champenoise

Methode Champenoise or Methode Traditionnelle is more expensive because it is more labor intensive. This starts by making a base wine then adding sugar and yeast to the bottle which starts a secondary fermentation. The bottles are placed in riddling racks, which tip the bottle slightly upside down allowing the lees (the dead yeast cells) to collect in the neck of the bottle. You know that Veuve Clicquot Champagne? Well Madame Nicole Barbe Clicquot was the inspiration behind riddling racks. She hated the cloudy look of champagne, because at the time the lees would settle in the bottom of the bottle and when your poured it, it would get all cloudy (think Kombucha). So she had these racks created which would hold the bottles at a forty five degree angle with the neck down. Several times a week, workers go in and turn the bottle, in some cases giving it a small shake to make sure the lees are not caking or clinging to the glass. Then they freeze the neck of the bottle so that they can “disgorge” the plug of lees that has settled in the neck of the bottle. They then refill the empty space in the bottle often adjusting the sweetness in the process and cork and cage the wine. Because these wines do the secondary fermentation in the bottle (the big heavy champagne bottles) the pressure is higher, at 6-7 atmospheres of pressure which is what gives you those very small fine bubbles.

Popping a champagne cork!

Popping a champagne cork!

Sweetness levels in Sparkling wine

Yep, this can be confusing. Dry is not really dry. Typically in a wine, dryness is dependent on the amount of residual sugar in the finished wine. In the fermentation process, yeast eats the sugar, in the end, if it eats all the sugar you get a dryer wine, if there is sugar left over…well that is the residual sugar! In Sparkling wines dry comes in the wrong place for my brain on the sweetness scale. Here we go with our rundown of wine sweetness.

This is from Sweetest to driest:

Doux: Sweetest (this will give you over 2 teaspoons of sugar for each glass)

Demi-Sec: a little less sweet (only 1 to 2 teaspoons of sugar per glass)

Dry: Not REALLY dry (3/4 to 1 teaspoon of sugar)

Extra Dry: Well, it’s dryer than dry! (1/2 to ¾ teaspoons)

Brut: Now we are getting dryer (1/4 to ½ teaspoons of sugar)

Extra Brut: Dryer than Brut with (less than ¼ teaspoons of sugar)

Brut Nature: Okay here we go…this is the driest! (less than 1/6 teaspoon of sugar in a glass)

This is important to keep in mind, because unless you go to a great little wine shop where they are smart and knowledgeable, it is unfortunately likely that they will point you in the wrong direction on the dryness scale. (toss this info in your phone for when you go champagne shopping!)

We narrowed our choices to a California Sparkling Wine, a Cremant, and a Champagne and brought them home for a tasting.

The Finalists

3 sparkling wines

Three sparkling wines, Gloria Ferrer Sonoma Brut, Louis Bouillot Cremant de Bourgogne and Champagne AJ de Margerie a Bouzy

The California Sparkling wine was a Gloria Ferrer Sonoma Brut

I picked this one up because the description said “crisp” and “toasty”. This wine was hand-harvested Pinot Noir and Chardonnay (traditional Champagne grapes) from Sonoma County in California and specifically in the Carneros District. Carneros is the lower part of the Sonoma/Napa Region, closest to San Francisco. They have over 40 selections of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay planted on their estate. This gives them some diversity in the grapes they are harvesting to create a consistent cuvee. With sparkling wines a Cuvee is a non-vintage blend, which means multiple years can be blended together. That means a warmer vintage can be blended with a cooler vintage to make a cuvee that matches the one you put out last year. So year after year, customers can be sure that the wine will taste the same. This blend is mostly Pinot Noir, which has little skin contact so that you don’t get any pink in the wine.

Gloria Ferrer Sonoma Brut

Gloria Ferrer Sonoma Brut

Louise Bouillot Cremant de Bourgogne Blanc de Blanc

The nose on this said ”aromas of citrus and flowers, evolving into butter and brioche notes with age”.

So lets start with the “Blanc de Blanc” part. That indicates that it is a sparkling made from white grapes (blanc is white, so white of white). In this case it is mostly (85%) Chardonnay.

Now the “Cremant” .Cremant (“cray-mont”) is a method champenoise sparkling wine that is made outside of the Champagne region. It can be made from grapes other than the traditional Champagne grapes. It originally indicated that the wine was less fizzy or bubbly than Champagne.

Onto the “de Bourgogne” part…so the region this wine is made in is Bourgogne (Burgundy), a region known for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

Louis Bouillot Cremant de Bourgogne

Louis Bouillot Cremant de Bourgogne Blanc de Blanc

Champagne A. J. de Margerie a Bouzy Grand Cru

This wine is from the Champagne region and is 90% Pinot Noir and 10% Chardonnay. The tasting notes said “Dry, cherry, berry, toast”.

It is from the famed Bouzy is a village in the Montagne de Reims Region of Champagne where Pinot Noir is mostly grown (there you go with why it’s 90% Pinot!)

Champagne AJ de Margerie

Champagne AJ de Margerie a Bouzy

And the winner is…

So we tasted and they were all very nice, but the Champagne had the bread I was looking for on the nose. It wasn’t quite toast and brioche was not a term that I felt would resonate with people. As I continued to smell the visual of hamburger buns came to me. When I mentioned this to Michael, he immediately could smell it. We had our sparkling wine.

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The Pairings for the Party

So now we had our Sparkling wine.  Time to move forward with the pairings!  Since we wanted to “Open Minds” to the aromas and then the emotions that the aromas brought with them, we wanted to set up scent jars, to let our guests compare the scents that they might be getting in the wine with the real thing.  We also needed a food pairing, something to munch on that would spark conversation and of course the art.

The Aromas

The aroma jars with this wine were cherries, berries and hamburger buns.  As cherries were not in season, I picked up a bag of frozen cherries and defrosted them.  Our berries were blueberries, cut strawberries and blackberries.

So why do you smell berries when this is a white wine?  Well, Champagne is typically made from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.  They do very little skin contact so you don’t get the red color from the Pinot Noir grapes.  So the berries and cherries you smell come from the Pinot Noir as this is a 90% Pinot Noir Champagne.

And the hamburger buns…that would be the dying yeast.  The yeast is eating up the sugar in the wine making it ferment, much like what it does to make bread rise.  So you get that yeasty/bready nose, which on this wine hit me as hamburger buns.

Hamburger Buns

Hamburger Buns

The Food Pairing

Champagne can often seem pretentious, being paired with caviar and fancy things, but it’s really a beverage about celebrating..  The Champagne maker at Laetitia in San Luis Obispo says that his favorite pairing with Champagne was popcorn. So we had movie theatre popcorn and potato chips to pair.  Champagne is really the perfect pairing for food, going great with salt & fat.  Salt & fat are delicious, but the fat will coat your tongue and block up your taste buds, and the salt makes you thirsty.  The bubbles in Champagne are perfect for clearing all the fat of your tongue and quenching your thirst making every bite taste as good as the first.  So, when it doubt as to what to pair with a meal?  Go with something sparkling!

Buttered Popcorn or Potato chips are a great pairing for sparkling wines.

Buttered Popcorn or Potato chips are a great pairing for sparkling wines.

The Art Pairing

RuBen’s Painting for this wine evoked a warmth that for me brought out the bread on the nose.  The painting was bright but also warm and comforting and there was texture on the canvas evoking the texture and bubbles in the Champagne.

Champagne

RuBen’s spectacular interpretation of our Champagne – Act2Art by RuBen

What people had to say

We asked our guests for their thoughts, maybe a memory or phrase that came to mind as they smelled and tasted the wine, smelled the aroma jars, tasted the pairing and gazed upon the art.  Here were some of their thoughts…

A perfect first date.

happy – like a picnic in an apple orchard

a field with dandelions and fresh grass

early summer

A beautiful sun shower in late April, early May

movement of life

crisp pears – a cool spring afternoon

 

Of course after the Champagne it was time to move on to the Sauvignon Blanc.  Join us back here for more on that!

Note to wine geeks, I’m kinda excited about a new book coming out called “But First, Champagne: A Modern Guide to the World’s Favorite Wine”. It’s by David White (of the Terroirist the wine blog) with a forward by Ray Isle (of Food And Wine Magazine) and promises to be a perfect book for both the newbie and the longtime Champagne lover. It is available for pre-order on Amazon https://www.amazon.com/But-First-Champagne-World%C2%92s-Favorite/dp/1510711449 and will be coming out in about 8 weeks.

For more on Champagnes here is another blog post Sparkling Wine, Champagne and those tiny bubbles

Oh and for this event I perfected my method of opening Champagne bottles!  Want to look extra cool and professional opening Champagne?  Do want I did and follow Madeline Puckette’s advice!  Visit her blog Wine Folly and check out “How to Open Champagne Safely”

Check back here at Crushed Grape Chronicles for more on the details on the wines we paired with the Art and our Crushed Grapes and Open Minds Event!   You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

And you can find RuBen and his gorgeous art at Act2Art or on Facebook

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Sparkling Wine, Champagne and those tiny bubbles

Champagne-splash

 

I had the opportunity to go to a Sparkling wine tasting last month.  Michael doesn’t do the sparkling wines so off I went on my own.  The tasting was seated and set up like a class and I did my research ahead of time to brush up on sparkling wines and learn a bit more.  I was prepared to travel the globe tasting Espumante from Portugal, Cava from Spain, Franciacorta, Trento and Asti from Italy, some Champagne and Cremant from France and maybe even some Sekt from Germany or Austria!  This tasting however drifted only briefly outside of France with the start being a Cava, the well known Rondel.  Not what I was expecting, but pretty spectacular none-the-less and as a result I probably tasted a great deal more champagne than my ticket price allowed for!

So…some sparkling wine basics to start with.  The bubbles were first looked at as a flaw, but the Brits got a taste and liked it!  During the 17th century the English glass production used coal ovens rather than wood like the French and were able to create a more durable bottle that could better withstand the pressure in sparkling wine.  Prior to this it was not unusual for a cellar to loose 20-90% of their bottles to instability.Champagne splash

How did it get to England and hook the Brits you ask?  Well Champagne is a cold region and sometimes the fermentation process would be prematurely halted due to the cold temperature leaving dormant yeast and some residual sugar in the bottle.  They would box up the wine and ship it to England, where it would warm up and begin a second fermentation in the bottle and thus when opened in jolly old England it would be bubbly!

There are two methods of making Champagne or sparkling wine.  The first is the Methode Traditionnelle and the second is Charmat.  Let’s hit the 2nd first because it is quick and easy to explain.  In this method the Champagne is made in large tanks and CO2 is added to add the bubbles.  This method is used for less expensive sparkling wines.  The bubbles tend to be larger and “rule of thumb”, the larger the bubbles the bigger the headache.  These bubbles tend to disperse quickly also.  Now onto the more complicated method “Methode Traditionnelle”

The Traditional method “Methode Traditionnelle” is much more complicated and time consuming and therefore much more expensive.  After harvest the grapes are put in vats for the first fermentation which can be up to a year.  Then the wines are carefully blended and may be blended with previous years wines to create the house style.  This is known as assemblage.  The idea for French champagne makers is to create a champagne that is consistent from year to year.  After assemblage the liquer de tirage is added.  This mixture of still wine, sugar and yeast is what will trigger the second fermentation.  The wines are then bottled and capped (with simple bottle caps (anyone remember those?).  Then the 2nd fermentation begins and can take 10 days to 3 months.  After the 2nd fermentation the next step is Remuage.  The bottles are transferred to “pupitres” which are rectangular boards where the bottles can rest almost upside down.  This allows the lees and sediment to collect in the neck of the bottle.  A process known as “riddling “ is applied here.  Originally “Riddlers” would slowly turn the bottles, a bit of a turn gently each day to get all the sediment to settle in the neck, now there are machines that assist with this.  After the riddling the wine will be aged again on its lees for a minimum of one year for non-vintage champagnes and at least 3 years for vintage champagnes.  This aging allows the lees to breakdown which is what gives Methode Traditionnelle sparkling wines their bouquet and flavor.  But we are not done yet…you don’t want all that lees clouding up your beautiful sparkling wine!  The next step is Degorgement where the sediment is removed.  The neck of the bottle is put into a nitrogen solution to freeze it.  Then the bottle is opened and the solid frozen plug of lees is removed.  How in the world did they figure out how to do this?  Well for this tradition thanks the Veuve Clicquot.  Veuve in French is widow and Madame Clicquot’s husband died during the bottling process.  Legend says that she could not figure out how to get the lees out of the bottles and in her frustration threw them out into the snow, where….the necks froze first allowing them to easily remove the lees.  The final stage is to add more sugar and still wine to again fill the neck where the lees was removed.  This last “dosage” as it is called, determines the wines sweetness which goes from Brut to Sec.  Strangely enough, Extra dry is not as dry as Brut.  The Brut labels were added later to indicate a dryer wine.  So there you go the quick version of making Champagne.  It is a bit of work!

ORondel Cava Brutkay on to the tasting.  We began as I mentioned with a Rondel Brut Cava.

This is a great sparkling wine from Spain made in the Methode Traditionnelle.  It is lovely on it’s own or in mimosas and is exceedingly affordable at around $7.99 per bottle.  We tasted a Brut which was lovely, but it is also available in a Demi-Sec if you lean toward sweeter wines.  I picked up a Demi-Sec to take home for Michael to mix in Mimosas.

Our next wine was a Cremant de Bourgongne.  So…a little explanation.  As of 1985 the sparkling wine regions outside of Champagne in Loir, Alsace and Burgundy agreed to no longer use the term Champagne.  This would be reserved only for the Champagne region.  Instead they would now use the term “Cremant”.  Cremant de Bourgogne can by law only be made with  Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grown in the Burgundy region and must be aged for a minimum of 9 months.  The Cremant we tasted was a Louis Bouillot Brut NV.  This was creamy yet dry with a nice finish.  At $15.99 it is a great value.

Now we stepped into Champagne.  The first we tasted was a Paul Goerg Premier Cru Blanc de Blancs.  Goerg is names after a respected 19th century Mayor of Vertus.  The chalky soils of Vertus lend a refreshing mineral quality to this wine.  3 years of aging adds to the wine’s complexity.  I loved the bubbles in this.  The bubbles were very fine and refreshing and the bit of minerality made it very refreshing.  It also had a lovely floral note to the nose.  Blanc de Blancs means white from whites in French, and as such this wine is 100% chardonnay (a white grape).  This was the wine I took home with a sensible $29.00 price tag.

Our next venture was into Grower Champagnes.  Now I have been hearing about these and was anxious to taste one!  To give a little perspective on this style of Champagne it’s good to know that there are 261 Champagne houses in Champagne.  There are 19,000 growers.  So for a grower to produce a Champagne is a rare thing.  We tasted a Georges Vesselle Grand Cru Brut.  There are 17 Grand Cru Villages with 100% ratings, 38 Premiere Cru Villages with 90-99% ratings and the remaining villages in Champagne are rated at 80-89%.  The ratings are depended on the Village and the soil type there.  This changed the system from one where price was based on the Champagne house to one based on where the grapes were grown. This wine was a bit toastier and had a nutty creamy quality to it.  This particular grower is in Bouzy and it is a small production with 42 acres planed n 90% Pinot Noir and 10% Chardonnay.  It is a small family production.  This wine sells for around $40 per bottle.

The next wine was by the same grower and was a DeMargeire Grand Cru Burt Rose.  Champagne roses are like regular roses in that they can be made in two ways, you may allow the grapes to have contact with the skins early on to impart the pink color and some additional flavor or you may add pinot noir (or pinot meunier) in the final dosage.  This wine uses the former method and is a light salmon in color.  As with many roses you immediately get strawberry on the nose.  It had a lengthy finish and more than a little toast on the nose.  Roses are only about 3-5% of the Champagne Export so they are a little harder to come by.  This one retails at around $43.

From here we moved on to a Franck Bonville Grand Cru Vintage Brut. (I know there were a lot of wines to taste!).  This estate consists of 50 acres in the  Cremant, Aviz and Oger areas which are all classified as Grand Cru.  It is 100% Chardonnay and was aged for 5 years on it’s lees before release.  This was heavier on the yeast and had more light fruit.  It was medium in body.  More complex than the previous wines.  It goes for $49.99

The last of our dry Champagnes was Mailly Exception Blanche.  This wine is 100% Chardonnay.  This champagne will be great through 2022. It has flavors of tangerine and almond with a hint of minerality.  The bubbles are fine and the texture smooth.  This lovely Champagne will set you back $70.

Our final taste (well of Champagne) was a Mailly Delice Demi-Sec Grand Cru.  As a Demi-Sec it is sweeter so we finished with it.  It is 75% Pinot Noir and 25% Chardonnay.  It is a blend of the latest harvest with 40% being 10 years of reserve wines.  It is aged 2 yeas more on the lees than the Brut NV.  The extra aging makes this a fuller champagne.  It runs around $45 per bottle.

champagne glassesWe finished the night with some Georges Deboeuf As it was the 3rd Thursday of November and officially Beaujolais Nouveau day!  This seasons had hints of grape candy to me.  Reminded me of the tart smell of the Lik a Stik powdered candy.  Fun and fruity it is a gulping wine!  What a down to earth way to end the evening of sipping Champagnes!

So…I have a new understanding of Champagnes.  Time to make some Bellini’s and Caviar!  And Champagne and sparkling wines go with everything, so…If you don’t know what wine to take to that Thanksgiving dinner… pick up something with bubbles (smaller bubbles to make your head happier) it will go with everything and is bound to bring a smile!

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