“Champagne, in victory I deserve it. In defeat, I need it.” This quote, attributed to Napoleon, says a lot about
It is an emblematic, almost talismanic, substance which transcends mere
wine. When marking an important event,
nothing fits the bill like Champagne . Champagne
You can test this out by popping the cork on a bottle of
and just wait
for someone to ask “What’s the special occasion?” Don’t try this when on your own, obviously. Champagne
Sometimes though, we might just fancy a bottle of fizz, without the extra baggage (and hefty price tag) of
. British drinkers have taken Italian Prosecco
to their hearts in recent years. Very
different in style from Champagne ,
it’s all about fresh fruit, lightness and frothiness, allied to a little
sweetness. I’m all for a glass of it at
the start of the evening, but one is usually plenty. Champagne
If you are craving the more restrained and dry style of
, then the
other French fizz – Crémant – could be for you. Champagne
And what is Crémant? Very simply, it is sparkling wine made in the same way as
but from outside the Champagne area.
French wine law is based on the principle of guaranteeing the origin of what you are drinking – that the wine in the bottle is from the area designated on the label.
, for drinkers, may just be
shorthand for any sparkling wine.
However, in legal terms, in order for Champagne Champagne
to appear on the label, the contents must be sparkling wine from the Champagne
region around Reims in northern . France
It also has to conform to a certain method of production – more of that in a moment. So, if you are a winemaker in any other part of France, and wish to make a sparkling wine in the same way as Champagne, your product can be called Crémant.
How is wine made to sparkle? In its simplest form, carbon dioxide can be forced into any still wine, resulting in a fizzy one. Anyone with a SodaStream will be familiar with the process – and if you do have one, why not do a little experiment with any cheap bottle of wine and see the result? I’m confident that a bottle of Gallo White Zinfandel could be immeasurably improved in this way.
The other, more classy way, to make a sparkling wine is to provoke a second fermentation in a still wine. This is done by adding yeast, and sugar for it to feed on, to the wine. Alcoholic fermentation produces carbon dioxide and, if not allowed to escape into the atmosphere, will become dissolved in the wine. This second fermentation can take place either in the bottle, which is the only way permitted for
Crémant or anything labelled “traditional method” sparkling wine. Or it can be carried out in a sealed tank,
which is used for Prosecco and many other good quality sparkling wines around
the world. Champagne
|Sediment in the bottle|
|"pupitre" with hand-riddled bottles|
Second fermentation in the bottle permits long ageing on the dead yeast cells (or lees) and the development of complex flavours and fine, long-lasting bubbles. However, those dead yeast cells need to be extracted somehow, if the final wine is to be crystal clear and not murky with sediment. This is achieved firstly by gradually tipping the bottles from a horizontal to a vertical position over a number of weeks (if done by hand) or days (if done in a specially designed machine named a gyropalette), a process known as riddling.
Then, to extract the sediment the process of disgorgement takes place. The necks of the upturned bottles are dipped in a sub-zero temperature solution, creating a frozen plug of sediment. This is then ejected by turning the bottles upright and removing the bottle cap. The frozen sediment shoots out under pressure from the carbon dioxide-induced fizziness in the wine. The bottle is then topped up with wine, plus some sugar solution (or dosage) to give the required sweetness level from ultra brut (no sugar) to demi sec (40grams per litre or so). Cork on and voilà, the wine has completed its transformation into fizz and just needs to rest and recover from all the excitements of riddling and disgorgement.
|Sediment in the neck of the bottle post-riddling|
Many French wine regions produce Crémants, some of which more or less resemble
Champagne, especially if they use the
traditional Champagne grapes, Pinot Noir and
Chardonnay. Crémant from the Loire will be dominated by Chenin Blanc, which is
plentiful there, giving it a different flavour profile. ,
which is the biggest Crémant producing region, tends to make its Crémant from the fruity and neutral Pinot Blanc. Here are some that you might come across in
this country. But the best fun is to be
had – and of course keenest prices - if you come across a crémant producer on
your own travels in Alsace . France
Langlois-Château Crémant de Loire - £11.50 from www.thechampagneshop.com
Langlois is part of the Bollinger stable, so they know a thing or two about creating quality bubbles. Chenin Blanc is complemented by Chardonnay, and lees ageing has given it bready aromas and flavours.
Pfister Crémant d’Alsace - £14.65 from www.slurp.co.uk
, this is 50%
Chardonnay, giving the wine elegance to complement the fruit of the Pinot Blanc. Made by a young female winemaker who clearly
knows what she’s doing. Alsace
Louis Bouillot Perle de Vigne Crémant de Bourgogne - £9.99 a bottle when you buy 2 at Majestic
Crémant de Bourgogne is geographically closest to
and is the Crémant that we see most often in this country. This one is a reliable quality fizz from a big producer
where noble Chardonnay and Pinot Noir rub shoulders with lowlier varieties
Gamay and Aligoté. Champagne