Champagne and Crémant wines share a common thread – both are sparkling wines produced in France using the traditional method, a meticulous process that lends them their effervescence and character. However, there are distinct differences and unique qualities that set them apart.
Champagne holds a revered place in the world of sparkling wine, originating from the eponymous region in northeastern France. The appellation is fiercely protected, and only sparkling wines produced in the Champagne region can carry the prestigious name. This exclusivity is strictly regulated to ensure the highest quality standards and uphold the reputation of Champagne.
Crémant wines, on the other hand, are produced in various regions across France, each with its own unique characteristics and grape varieties. Some of the most well-known Crémant appellations include Crémant d'Alsace, Crémant de Bourgogne, Crémant de Loire, and Crémant de Limoux. While they share the traditional method of production with Champagne, the grape varieties used can vary widely, with Crémant producers utilizing regional grapes to create their signature sparkling wines.
Both Champagne and Crémant wines undergo the traditional method, also known as méthode champenoise, which involves a primary fermentation followed by a secondary fermentation in the bottle. This process contributes to the development of fine bubbles, complex flavors, and delicate aromas that are hallmarks of these sparkling wines. However, there are some distinctions in the aging process and legal requirements, such as minimum aging periods on the lees, which differ between Champagne and Crémant.
The vineyards of Crémant d'Alsace are located in Northeast France, between the Vosges Mountains and Germany, and enjoy a sunny, continental climate. The region experiences accelerating springs with a high risk of frost, which can lead to reduced yields. Situated at an elevation of 200-400 meters, the vineyards benefit from hot and dry growing seasons, enabling slow and steady ripening while preserving acidity. The Vosges Mountains create a significant rain shadow, but irrigation is not allowed.
Viticulture Practices and Harvest:
The vines are generally pruned to a higher crop load, with a maximum yield of 80 hl/ha. Growers declare in June if their vineyards will be producing grapes for Crémant. Pinot Blanc, one of the primary grape varieties used in the production of Crémant d'Alsace, is prone to fungal diseases and frost. Harvesting typically begins in August and continues through the first part of September, with Crémant regulations requiring hand-harvesting.
Grape Varieties and Key Characteristics:
Pinot Blanc, which comprises around 20% of Crémant d'Alsace production, is an early-budding and early-ripening variety, making it the first to be harvested. Other grape varieties used in the region include Pinot Gris, Chardonnay (only allowed in the delimited Crémant AOC), Pinot Noir, Auxerrois, and occasionally Riesling. Pinot Noir is often used to produce rosé styles.
Whole bunch pressing is employed according to Crémant rules, with a gentle and rapid press to obtain healthy, delicate juice that is low in solids and phenolics. Chaptalization is common, as potential alcohol can be low. Rosé wines are made by macerating Pinot Noir for 12-24 hours.
Maturation and Bottling:
Crémant d'Alsace is produced using the traditional method, with a second fermentation taking place in the bottle. The wines must age for at least 9 months on the lees, although 12 months is more common to retain primary fruit flavors and develop light autolytic notes. The majority of Crémant d'Alsace is bottled as Brut, with dosage levels ranging from 8-10 g/l.
Style and Quality:
Crémant d'Alsace wines are typically dominated by Pinot Blanc, with medium-plus to high acidity, medium intensity flavors of pear and apple, light biscuity autolytic notes, and a light to medium body. The wines are generally of good to very good quality and moderately priced.
Marketing and Business Considerations:
Production is split between merchants (37%), cooperatives (43%), and growers (20%). The largest company in the region is Maison Bestheim, a pioneer of Crémant production. Other notable producers include Valentin Zusslin and Mure. Since 2000, Crémant d'Alsace production has doubled, reflecting its growing popularity.
Appearance: The Mure Crémant d'Alsace displays a pale lemon color with a persistent, fine bead of bubbles.
Nose: On the nose, the wine offers medium+ intensity aromas of green apple, ripe pear, and lemon zest, complemented by subtle notes of fresh bread, brioche and toast and a hint of white flowers.
Palate: The palate is dry with high acidity and a medium body. The fine, delicate mousse presents flavors of crisp green apple, ripe pear, and citrus fruits, accompanied by nuances of biscuit and a touch of almond. The wine has a medium+ finish with a refreshing, mineral-driven aftertaste.
Conclusion: This Mure Crémant d'Alsace is a very good example of Alsace sparkling wine, showcasing the region's expression and the added complexity derived from the traditional method. The high acidity, vibrant fruit flavors, and delicate autolytic notes are well integrated, offering a crisp refreshing wine of balance. The autolytic notes of toast, fresh bread and brioche contribute to both its complexity and elegance. The wine's precise balance and medium plus finish are pleasant but it falls short of the best examples. The medium plus intensity on the note and palate elevate this wine to very good, as the aromas express clarity throughout..
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