Proper Guide to French Wine (Sparkling Edition)September 22, 2015
Bubbles, but no champagne? Allow Proper Threads to explain.
There’s a whole world out there– of sparkling wines that have nothing to do with champagne. Albeit the most recognizable type of sparkling wine, champagne is merely a wine-producing region in the north of France…that got famous after a slip-up by an old monk. It’s not that we’re here to knock champagne…we have no problem putting back a few bottles of Laurent-Perrier or Vueve Clicquot [eh, brosé?] But most people don’t know is that there are a plethora of sparkling wines produced throughout the different regions in France–particularly blancs and rosés.
But first things first, let’s get some vocabulary out of the way.
Crémant [cray-mawn] is a term you’ll often see on certain sparkling wines from France. “Crémant” indicates that the sparkling wine is made using the same technique as champagne [methode traditionnelle], but because crémant is not from the Champagne region, it’s not called champagne. Crémants may also not be made from the same grapes used in champagne production, and often times they aren’t as effervescent. In terms of naming, “crémant” is followed by the region where it’s produced. For example, crémant de Bordeaux and crémant d’Alsace [al-zas] are crémants from the Bordeaux and Alsace regions, respectively. The region will clue you in on the grape.
Blanc indicates that the white was made with white grapes, such as chenin blanc or chardonnay
Rosé indicates that although the wine was made with red grapes, the grape skins were only in contact with the wine for a short period of time–enough to achieve the rose color.
Rouge indicates that the wine was made with red grapes.
Brut refers to the sweetness of a sparkling wine. During the aging process, winemakers add sugar to help alleviate the tartness that comes from the acidity of sparkling wines. Wines with no added sugar are referred to as “Brut nature,” while those loaded up with sugar most are called “doux”
Important note: labels such as “dry” and “extra dry” refer to the sweetness of the wine. They’re sweeter than brut. And if we’re taking French sparkling wine, it may say “sec” on the label instead.
Now it’s time for the good stuff.
A good [and easy] way to get an idea of what type of sparkling wine you might like is to go for ones that are made with the same grapes of your favorite still wines. For example, most crémant de Bourgogne is made from pinot noir and chardonnay grapes, while wines from the Loire Valley often use on the chenin blanc grape.
French Sparkling Wines–A Cheat Sheet
This is one of the most common types of French sparkling wine [sans champagne]. This wine is responsible for about half of the crémant production in the country. Although it’s from a similar growing region as champagne, crémant d’Alsace tends to be pretty fruity. However, that fruit depends on the grape. Crémant d’Alsace draws from a wide varietal of grapes, including pinot noir, pinot blanc, chardonnay and riesling, among others.
Although some vouvray wines are still wines, this is a wine that also comes sparkling. Vouvray is crisp and relatively sweet thanks to its chenin blanc grapes. It’s also got somewhat of a mineral flavor. As with most wines from the Loire Valley, a sparkling vouvray works well with fish dishes.
Crémant de Loire
Like vouvray, this is another wine from the Loire Valley in northwest France. Endemic to the region, the crémant de Loire relies heavily on chenin blanc, although touches are chardonnay grapes are used in the blend. Crémant de Loire rosé often uses cabernet franc.
Blanquette de Limoux
Blanquette de Limoux gets it’s named from the Mauzac grape which forms a white down on it’s leaves. Made using the methode traditionnelle [like champagne] this is a very bright and fruity sparkling wine. Although the majority of this wine is made from Mauzac grapes, it may also add chardonnay and chenin blanc.
Crémant de Bourgogne
While Crémant de Bourgogne comes in different varieties (blanc, blanc de blancs, blanc de noirs, and rosé) this crémant uses a combination of pinot noir and chardonnay grapes, and can include aligoté, melon and sacy grapes. Generally speaking, crémant de Bourgogne varieties are fresh, vigorous and ripe.
Now that you’ve been briefed, allow us to propose a toast–to Paris @ Night, our new fall and winter collection, a collection that’s bold, masculine and like nothing you’ve ever seen. But because Paris @ Night is anything but standard, we wouldn’t dare toast with some run-of-the-mill champagne. A crémant should do. Consider yourself cultured and ready for the next brosé season.