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Crémant d’Alsace

Crémant d’Alsace

by Great British Chefs 16 November 2015

Over recent years our knowledge of different varieties of sparkling wines has grown dramatically, both in the UK and worldwide. Crémant d’Alsace is one of the most popular varieties in France outside of Champagne.

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Sparkling wines are one of the fastest growing styles of wine, particularly in the UK. Our craving for bubbles has made this a very exciting time to explore many different styles, not just because there are more alternatives available, but because we are also finding new ways and times to enjoy them. We are realising that there is no need to keep bubbles just for celebrations, but to have it as a refreshing aperitif, with food - even dessert - and also as a refreshing tipple.

Bubbling up in Alsace

Sparkling wines are made all over Europe and the rest of the wine world - even, increasingly, in the United Kingdom. However, France still dominates this category. While Champagne still commands the top spot, we should remember that there are many wines made in the same traditional way, maybe with different grapes, throughout France. These are labelled “Crémant”, and the most popular of these AOC sparkling wines is Crémant d’Alsace. Crémant d’Alsace has been made for over a century, but it is amazing to think that it was only in 1976 that this strict quality appellation was created, thanks to the efforts of only a handful of pioneering wineries and now produced by over 500 wineries in the whole region.

Points of note for Crémant d’Alsace

  • AOC Crémant d’Alsace comes in different styles but, to be labelled as such, it must have been made in the same ‘traditional’ method used in Champagne.

  • Most wines you will find are fresh and dry, but they will often be marked by elegant floral, as well as lightly bready, notes. The taste is refreshingly light, with some rounded tropical fruit character and buttery brioche flavours.

  • These are usually made from a blend dominated by Pinot Blanc with the rest being any of the other local Pinot Gris, Riesling, Auxerrois, Pinot Noir and even Chardonnay (the only permitted use of this grape in Alsace).The driest wines are labelled ‘Extra-Brut’, but you can find ‘Brut’ (dry) and ‘Demi-Sec’ (off-dry) styles as well.

  • The refreshing acidity of these wines is a great foil for creamy cheeses, and a great variety of canapés.

  • It is increasingly common for Crémants d’Alsace to be aged between 2 to 5 years, with the vintage promoted on the bottle and for the wines to show more complexity and gastronomic qualities.

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Made in Wineries rather than Vineyards

Sparkling wines owe much of their character to the decisions taken by the winemakers in their wineries rather than where the grapes were grown. In the first place, to make a great sparkling wine, you need lots of fresh crisp acidity, so grapes are picked early, much earlier than they would be if they were being made into still wine. This means that the grape has not had the time to develop much of the unique character that would come from its location.

This is fortunate since Crémant d’Alsace is now so popular that it represents almost 25% of all the wine made in Alsace, so it helps to grow it wherever you can to make sure you have enough grapes. Many of the vineyards at the foot of the Vosges mountains are now dedicated to growing grapes to try and keep up with the demand.

The final style of the wine is affected by a number of factors:

  • The choice of grape blend; Pinot Blanc adds crispness, floral notes and apple fruit, while more Riesling, Chardonnay or Pinot Gris adds tropical fruit, and more body, and Pinot Noir adds more creamy …

  • The amount of time the wine spends on its “lees” - these are the leftovers once the yeast and sugar have fermented to make the bubbles in the bottle. This needs to be a minimum of 9 months in Alsace. They add the classic bread or biscuit notes to sparkling wines.

  • The choice of how sweet the final wine should be, which is decided as the wine is prepared for sale.

Drinking and eating

Sparkling wines of quality are always a great complement to special occasions even when enjoyed without food. Crémant d’Alsace is a versatile sparkling wine best served chilled as an aperitif or to match cold starters, canapes or seafood dishes. A fresh blend based on Pinot Blanc will liven the atmosphere without overwhelming the palate. The wines, especially the Blanc de Noir and vintage, also go very well with poultry and white meats.

Try wines labelled as individual grapes like Riesling or Pinot Gris. These will be made 100% from those grapes, and the exotic flavours will add more complexity and fruit depth to the wines to match similarly exotic dishes, especially spiced dishes.

For real depth and a little added body, seek out the rare wines made with 100% Pinot Noir. These will either be white sparkling wines made in the “Blanc de Noirs” (White from Black) fashion, or else delicately pink to create a fresh rosé sparkling style.

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A choice of parties

What kind of party is your sparkling style?

Some sparkling wines like to give off the image of being a “grand ball”, with designer dresses, string quartets and caviar on ice, while other sparklers are “music festivals” full of pumping sounds and hedonistic dancing.

Crémant d’Alsace is more of a “garden party” in the grounds of a grand historic house - at the same time elegant and restrained, but also casual, fresh and breezy. It is relaxed enough to allow you to mingle with friends, and inclusive enough to attract new ones. This is not about showing off or unbridled festivity, but refreshment and pleasure.

Further reading

In this series we are exploring the region of Alsace and its main grape varieties in better detail so you can identify the right match for your particular occasion.

For further information visit the detailed site about Alsace wines, food, tourism and history at AlsaceWines.co.uk which also includes recipes and food matching suggestions.

Finally, once you start to explore the many fantastic wines, it is worth recording your experiences to make it easier to remember and find your favourites. Alsace Wines have created a bespoke app to help all wine and food lovers to do this, so install ‘WineShare’ today to record and share your experiences.

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