Grapevine: A new choice bubbles up
We are fast approaching the time of year when sparkling wine sales skyrocket.
Only a few years ago, the decision was by and large confined to whether to buy Australian or French sparkling. We now have Prosecco, Cava, Pet-Nats taking up their fair share of space on wine lists and store shelves, it means that branching out into unfamiliar territory is now far more common and a few steps off the beaten path is often where great value can be found.
Champagne is still the most recognised sparkling wine in the world, and so finding similar styles that are slightly more affordable is a difficult task, particularly with so many other styles competing for attention. The region has a unique mixture of agriculture, production and promotion. No other region has been able to build and protect an image as successfully, which allows the Champenoise to attract a premium price with a combination of a genuinely high-quality product and strong brand.
There are, however, plenty of other regions that have the agriculture worked out – a unique geology, climate and mix of grape varieties planted that work well together with the potential for high quality wines that don’t have quite as strong a brand image. Take, for example, Burgundy, where the principal grape varieties are similar to that of Champagne with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay leading the way, producing what many consider the finest still wines in the world from both of these varieties.
The French region doesn’t have the same brand awareness for its sparkling wines though, nor do many others in that country, but if we take the sparkling production techniques learnt and refined in Champagne and combine them with fruit grown in one of the great regions of the world there is a great opportunity to find very good wines without the premium price tag. In Burgundy, you can identify these wines by their label of Crémant de Bourgogne. Several other regions also use the Crémant term preceding their regional names.
To be labelled as Crémant, the wine must maintain stringent quality standards, similar to those in Champagne. For examples, maximum yields are regulated to restrict overcropping which leads to wines that can taste thin and simple. Whole bunch pressing is required which resulted in delicate, high quality juice and of course ageing is an important factor; some sparkling wines see only a few months of ageing, whereas Champagne requires at least 12 months on lees, Crémant demanding at least nine. The extended time on lees is required to allow the lees (dead yeast) to break down and produce the toast, brioche and creamy characters so prized in traditional method sparkling wines.
Andre Delorme has been producing sparkling wine in Burgundy since the 1940s, considered a leading producer of the style, their Non-Vintage Blanc de Blancs ($32) has power, showing citrus, pear, brioche, toast, a fine persistent bead and smooth texture before a crisp dry finish. Crémant is, of course, not Champagne, but given the typical Crémant de Bourgogne can be found between $25 and $40, the quality on offer is often much better than equally priced sparkling wines that may not get the same high standard of treatment, particularly the ageing, and in the scheme of sparkling wine offer very good value.