Crémant is an interesting creature. It’s a style of wine that is produced across France and it is governed by two sets of regulations, first the regulations that govern the Crémant style of wine, and then second by the regulations which cover each Crémant AOC. There are 7 regions of France which are permitted to produce Crémant under AOC rules. Crémant d’Alsace, Crémant de Bordeaux, Crémant de Bourgogne, Crémant de Die, Crémant du Jura, Crémant de Limoux and Crémant de Loire. Alsace is by far the most common region, and it’s easy to find in the US. It also produces the most (over 50%) of all Crémant production. It differs from a traditional AOC in France because it is not geographically located, and each region is permitted slight variations in the types of grapes allowed. There are three things all Crémant wines will have in common: they are produced using a designated method, the grapes are hand-harvested and are subject to limitations on the amount of juice extracted, and they must age on the lees 9 months prior to disgorgement and then an additional 3 months in bottle prior to being released. The cépage of each region is designated locally, but most regions permit (and some require) the use of grapes other than the three permitted in Champagne.
Crémant wines are legally only white or rosé. There are red sparkling wines produced throughout France, including in the Crémant AOC regions but they are properly called Mousseaux rather than Crémant.
Initially, Crémant was used to designate a style of wine produced in Champagne. Crémant means “creamy” and it was described a style of Champagne which was less effervescent than the usual. Now, only one Champagne house, Mumm, produces a “Crémant”, which they now label as “Cramant” because since 1985, the AOC designation refers specifically and only to wines which are produced outside of Champagne. This change was the result of an agreement to drop the use of the term “méthode Champenoise” on labels of wines originating outside Champagne to prevent confusion between Champaign wines and wines produced in the style of Champaign. The style itself is now referred to as “méthode traditionnelle” and that designation is allowed on bottles which are made in adherence with that process. This includes all Crémants.
Although the AOC designation is relatively new, sparkling wine production is indigenous to each of these regions. In order to qualify for an AOC, sparkling wine must have been produced and marketed from a region prior to the 1980s in order to qualify for application for AOC designation.
Crémant wines are produced in the entire Alsace AOC. The AOC designation was granted in 1976, making Alsace one of the oldest of the Crémant AOCs. It is also the largest, with one quarter of Alsace’s production dedicated to Crémant and 50% of all French Crémant being produced in this AOC. The permitted varieties for white Crémant d’Alsace are limited to
Riesling, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Auxerrois Blanc and Chardonnay – which is a primary difference between Alsatian Crémant and still Alsatian wines, which are not allowed to use Chardonnay in their blends. Although Chardonnay is allowed, it is not often featured. Pinot Blanc is usually the main varietal, with Riesling and Pinot Gris added for richness, depth and complexity. Only Pinot Noir is permitted in rosé.
Crémant de Bordeaux
Geographically, one of the largest of the Crémant regions in France, it also produces the least wine. Because of the obvious success of still, dry red Bordeaux, production of this Crémant is declining and only accounts for 1.6% of Bordeaux’s production. However, some excellent examples are still produced. The grapes permitted are the traditional Bordeaux varietals: white varieties Ugni Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc,
Semillon and Muscadelle and the red varietals Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenère, Malbec, Merlot and Petit Verdot. Both rosé and white wines are allowed under the designation.
Crémant de Bourgogne
Burgundy’s Crémant is made primarily from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir with Aligote, Melon de Bourgogne and Pinot Blanc rounding out the white grapes in the blend and some Gamay used in rosé and blanc de noirs Crémants. Burgundy also produces a sparkling red wine called Bourgogne Mousseux which is unusually its own AOC designation, rather than a sub-type of either Bourgogne or Crémant. It received its AOC designation in 1975.
Crémant de Die
You know the Rhone region had to have a place in the Crémant AOCs. Die is in the northern area of the Rhone and it actually produces two different AOC-designated sparkling wines. Clairette de Die is the older of the two, receiving recognition as an AOC wine in 1942. It is produced from 75% minimum Muscat and the remainder Clairette. Its production method differs from Crémant and it is generally both sweeter and lower in alcohol than Crémant or other traditional method sparkling wines.
Crémant de Die was recognized with AOC designation in 1993. Initially, it was only produced from Clairette and was simply drier than Clairette de Die. However now, Aligoté and Muscat are included in the blend which give it a nose of green fruit and a rounder palate than Clairette de Die. Because of it’s vinification and fermentation process, it also has notes of brioche, vanilla, honey and nuts from the extended lees contact.
Crémant du Jura
The Jura is a region tucked between Burgundy and Switzerland. It’s a cool climate region that is most well known for it’s unusual Vin Jaune, which is produced in a manner similar to sherry. It also produces a number of amazing Crémant wines. The AOC permits both white and rosé Crémants made from Poulsard, Trousseau and Pinot Noir red grapes. The AOC permits Chardonnay and Savagnin white grapes. Pinot Gris is also allowed and is defined in the specification as a member of the permitted red or gray grapes. The Crémant AOC was designated in 1995 and covers the area contiguous with the Cotes du Jura, the still wine AOC for the area. Crémant now makes up roughly one quarter of wine production in the region. Under the AOC regulations, white Crémant du Jura must comprise at least 70% Chardonnay, Pinot Noir or Trousseau. Many are 100% Chardonnay. The rosés must be at least 50% of the red or grey grapes and the legal white varietals also allowed in the blend. In practice, they tend to be either 100% Pinot Noir or a blend of Pinot Noir and Poulsard.
Crémant du Jura is often considered the most like Champagne. Because of its location, the cool climate and soil types are quite similar and the town of Chardonnay, which used to produce Champagne is now in the Jura region and still making sparkling wine, although it is no longer considered Champagne. The domination of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay extend its similarity to true Champagne, however, the inclusion of Jura’s traditional grapes, particularly the Savagnin give the wines a lovely white flower and almond nose that makes it stand out.
Crémant de Limoux
Crémant de Limoux comes from the Languedoc region, although Limoux is both higher and further from the Mediterranean, which means the wines here are very different from the other Languedoc appellations. Some of the oldest Chardonnay vines in the South of France are in this region, so naturally Chardonnay plays a big role in the Crémants of the area. The other two grapes which are permitted are Chenin Blanc and Mauzac, which is called Blanquette locally. They still produce an ancestral sparkling wine made from Blanquette, but the Crémant AOC designation requires that whites be between 60% and 90% Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc and at least 30% Chardonnay and 10% Chenin Blanc. Mauzac (Blanquette) can only be 20% or less of the cepage but up to 40% Pinot Noir is permitted as well. The rules for rosé are almost identical, although the proportion of Pinot Noir permitted drops to 15%.
Crémant de Loire
The Loire’s Crémant wines typically come from Anjou, Saumur or Touraine. It was given AOC designation in 1975, the same year as Crémant de Bourgogne. Chenin Blanc plays the starring role in Crémant de Loire but Crémant de Loire also uses most of the other traditional Loire grape varietals. Obviously, sparkling stars Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are often used and Cabernet Franc, Pineau d’Aunis, Grolleau Noir and even Cabernet Sauvignon can be part of the mix. Loire lovers will notice a strange absence on that list. Even though Sauvignon Blanc’s high acidity makes it ideal for sparkling wines, most producers in the Loire feel that the Sauvignon Blanc of the region does not produce a great sparkler, so it’s intentionally omitted.
The Loire region makes a lot of Crémant and it’s readily available in the US. The predominance of Chenin gives it a lovely floral aroma that is often not present in sparkling wines, which makes it both different and fun to pair with a variety of different foods. Most of the production is concentrated in the area around the town of Saumur, which is a very easy train trip from Nantes, and worth a visit. The producers are scattered about the city, but there are several with tasting rooms in the center of Saumur and a great Loire-region tasting room within an easy walk to the train station.
Sparkling goes with just about everything. Because Crémant can range from zero dosage to demi sec, they fit well with a range of foods. They also stand on their own as either an aperitif or as a refreshing digestif. Sparkling wine matches particularly nicely with fried foods. Seriously, try it with potato chips or French fries. The acid and effervescence cut through the fat and salt and enhance the fried flavors that people like while leaving the mouth clean and ready for the next bite. The same is true for heavier foods like steak. Many people think that sparkling wines are light and should only be matched with lighter foods, the extended lees contact and crisp acidity make them more robust than you’d think. I love a quality sparkling wine with a steak, especially a steak served in the French style with a rich, creamy sauce like Béarnaise. Sweeter or lighter Crémants are lovely with rich cheeses like Brie or Roquefort and can also stand up to the pungency of a washed-rind cheese like Époisses.
INAO Regulations (In French)