A great wine on the table
Over the years, I have come to enjoy Crémant more and more. One reason is that it is a splendid companion at the table. In addition, it also very cheap in relation to the quality and the amount of work invested in the production.
Crémant is important for Alsace
Alsace has, as we all know, three basic AOC. The most recent of these is AOC Crémant d'Alsace formally effective as of 24 August 1976.
There are four important regions in France for production of sparkling wine according to Métode traditionnelle; Champagne, Loire, Bourgogne and Alsace. With respect to volume, Alsace ranks as number 2 with a yearly production of ca 255 000 hectoliters, e.g. 33 million bottles. This corresponds to about 10% of the production of Champagne. In fact, the huge company Moët et Chandon produces as many bottles of sparkling wine a year as Alsace.
To reach this volume, 18% of the 15 500 hectares of Alsace are devoted to crémant. The arithmetics works out; 0,18 x 15 500 = 2 800 ha which is close to the 32 000 ha of viticultural area in Champagne.
The domestic consumption of AOC Crémant d'Alsace corresponds to as much as 30% of all 'vin mousseux' in France.
Production of sparkling wine according to the method developed in Champagne includes the following steps:
A basic wine, high in acidity, is vinified to a desired level of alcohol. The grapes are harvested close to maturity normally at 11% potential alcohol, and is chaptalized so that the fermentation will end at 12.5%. This wine is registered and given the formal designation 'Vin destiné à l'elaboration de Crémant d'Alsace', Wine to be used for the production of Crémant d'Alsace.
- The basic wine is bottled for a second fermentation together with additional sugar and yeast,'liqueur de tirage'. These bottles are sealed with beer caps. Then the second fermentations starts and a pressure of 4-6 bars is created in the bottles.
- The fermentation takes a few weeks, but the bottles are left to rest in piles, 'sur latte'. During this period, the dead yeast is microbial decomposition, called autolysis which adds the toasty complexity to the crémant.
- To remove the dead yeast, the bottles go through the 'remuage', normally in mechanical devices, 'gyropalettes'. During this step, the dead yeast cells are collected at a plug right under the cap.
- After the 'remuage', the upper bottleneck, including the plug of yeast, is frozen. When the cap is removed, the plug is ejected by the pressure within the bottle, 'dégorgering'. Immediately, the bottle is topped with a small amount of 'liqueur d'expedition', i.e. base wine with a small amount of sugar. This sugar is called 'dosage' which will give the final balance between sugar and acidity. Finally, the bottle is sealed using the traditional cork adn wrapping.
Rules, rules, rules....
- Allowed varieties are Auxerrois, Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir and Riesling (in Champagne Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay).
- Rosé may only be made from Pinot Noir (in Champagne rosé is often made by adding a red wine to a white base wine from Pinot Noir at the assemblage).
- Minimum must weight is 8.5% potential alcohol, e.g. 145 grams/liter.
- Maximum yield according to the AOC is 100 hl/ha but has in practice been limited to 80 hl/ha (in Champagne 100 hl/ha).
- The grapes have to come from vines into its' 3rd growing season.
- A maximum of 100 liters may be pressed from 150 kg of grapes, which have to be picked by hand, transported in containers of at least 100 kg and pressed whole (in Champagne 102 liters may be pressed from 160 kg of grapes).
- The wine may no be bottled for the second fermentation before 1 January the year after the harvest (in Champagne mature wine, 'vin de réserve', is added to give character).
The wine must spend at least 9 months 'sur latte' before degorging (in Champagne 15 months for non-vintage and 36 months for vintage).
Alternative production method
Barmès Buecher offers a Crémant that has spent an extended periods 'sur lattes' and where the date of the degorgement is indicated on the label. But more exciting is the strategy employed for the vinification. In Champagne, sugar is added at three steps; the chaptalization, the addition of sweet 'liqueur de tirage' and finally in the 'dosage'.
But François Barmès works it the other way around; he harvests at 13% potential alcohol but stops the fermentation at around 11.7% alcohol and 22 grams/liter residual sugar. Thereafter, the second fermentation (on bottle) is started using the natural fructose, leaving enough sugar to cover up for the dosage.
I can recommend the following producers of exciting Crémant:
- Edgar Schaller (Mittelwihr) makes several legendary cuvées of razor sharp Crémant with excellent definition.
- Fabien Stirn (Sigolsheim) whos Crémant spend 4 years 'sur latte'. The quality and the complexity is stunning.
- Bruno Sorg (Eguisheim) makes wonderful, fruity crémant with great minerality.
- Clément Klur (Katzenthal) makes clean, elegant Crémant that is a joy to drink.
- Pfister (Dahlenheim) makes (2.5 g/liter dosage) Crémant with the character of champagne and very long and complex taste.
- Lucien Albrecht (Orschwihr) is a skillful winemaker who makes crémant from very good grape material.
Crémant is cheap, prices vary between €6 and, in a few cases, €12.
The firms that dominate the market, especially the export market, are Dopff au Moulin, Dopff & Irion, Lauger and Wolfberger.