Little Known Sparklers
Two Great Options for New Year’s Eve
It’s time to talk about bubbles. For better or worse we associate New Year’s Eve with sparkling wine, though of course we could enjoy sparkling wine just about any time. One of the reasons we look to bubblies this time of year is that we are celebrating and sparkling wine is a celebratory wine, and often priced that way. But there are options out there. Options that might allow us to pop a cork just about any time we like.
Champagne is the king of sparkling wines, and the wine that most obviously frames our point of reference here but should we want something more modestly priced, either for New Year’s or any day we’re in the mood so some fizz we can and should look beyond the obvious. The truth is that sparkling wines are produced just about everywhere one finds great still wines but today i want to talk about two of the lesser known yet consistent source of great, fresh fizz.
To begin with let’s stay in France where there are so many options for sparkling wine that one could spend a week writing about them. For the sake of brevity I’ve chosen to focus on only one of these sparkling wines: Cremant d’Alsace. Simply put these are sparkling wines made in the Champagne method, known as Cremant, from the region of Alsace. Made in the champagne method here refers to having had the secondary fermentation, the one that creates the bubbles in the wine, take place within the bottle.
Coming from Alsace, these wines are allowed to be produced from a different group of grapes than Champagne, which must be produced from any combination of the three allowed varieties: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier. In Alsace the Blanc de Noirs must be 100% Pinot Noir but the remaining sparkling wines can be produced using any blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Riesling, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, and/or Auxerrois that the producer sees fit to bottle.
While Cremant d’Alsace may be something of an unusual wine to many here in the States it has proven to be a wildly successful wine throughout the world and now accounts for nearly a quarter of Alsace’s annual production. The producers in Alsace love it because they are able to harvest the fruit for these wines earlier than their harvest for table wines. This is a common practice when producing sparkling wines. The base wines for sparkling wines need higher acids than table wine, since there is generally some sugar added during the production of sparkling wines and acid is required to help balance out that sweetness. An earlier harvest means less risk of issues in the vineyard such as rot, and less risk of late season rains that are the bane of every producer’s existence.
The results are are steady stream of improving sparkling wines, generally at quite attractive prices. These Cremant d’Alsace tend to differ from Champagne in some notable ways. The mousse, a fancy term for the bubbles, tends to be less fine that with most Champagne and the flavors of the wines tends to be fruitier than Champagne, which generally has more of the nutty, toasty, brioche-like character that is imparted by lengthy ageing of the wine on the yeast cells that were used to produce the secondary fermentation.
Cremant d’Alsace tend to be roughly $18-$25 a bottle, and offer an attractive alternative for the sparkling wine buyer. On the following page you will find tasting notes for 6 widely available producers that might appeal to you but don’t hesitate to ask your local wine store about other options they might have on their shelves.
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