After New Year’s Eve we tend to put sparkling wines on the back burner, but thanks to over 200 years of clever marketing by Champagne, bubbly is our "go to" celebratory wine. Perhaps Champers is not our first choice for Super Bowl Sunday (though it could be) we still have Valentine’s Day and spring weddings to consider, so finding a new form of sparkling wine is always useful. Here is where Crémant de Bourgogne comes into play.
Bourgogne is French for Burgundy, the region of origin for this wine. Burgundy is only a few kilometers from the Champagne region, so the soil conditions and climate are very similar, yet Crémants tend to be half the price of comparable Champagnes. The term “Crémant” is used in Burgundy, Alsace and the Loire to distinguish their sparkling wines from Champagne, though they are made in the same méthode champenoise. Crémants tend to have a softer, “creamier” texture on the palate, hence the name “Crémant.” Though vinified in the same way as Champagne, Crémants tend to have less pressure after their fermentation, and therefore fewer bubbles and less of the fizzy mouth-feel. Now the term is used for most non-Champagne French sparklers, made méthode champenoise from seven regional appellations.
Veuve Ambal, now available locally at ABC Fine Wines and Spirits, produces Crémants de Bourgogne, which are very reasonably priced. The base level is the non-vintage Crémant de Bourgogne, which is a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Aligoté and Gamay. The first two grapes are commonly used in Champagne while the latter two are used more in still Burgundy and Beaujolais. This atypical blend gives the wine some floral notes on the nose, as well as hints of tart, green apples and a soft richness on the palate with just a hint of chalky limestone on the finish. Though still a Brut, this version seems a hint sweeter due to the different grapes used in the blend, and at $15 it’s half the price of beginner Champagnes. Being the softest of the three I would pair this one with light apps or a fruity dessert, like a trifle or a cobbler.
All of the Veuve Ambal bubblies are bottle-fermented like Champagne, and they produce two other levels that only use Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, and therefore have more of the classic flavors of Champagne. The Brut 2010 has more yeast and biscuit on the nose with a hint if almonds, but it is crisp and clean on the palate with a long finish. Getting any vintage bubbly for under $20 is a noticeable feat and this producer delivers. Here I might pair some creamy French cheese like Brie or Camembert with a nice crusty baguette.
Their reserve, the Cuvée Marie Ambal, at $23 per bottle, reminds me of Veuve Clicquot, which is more than double the price. Aged for three years before release, I get more of the complex yeast or brioche notes on the nose, with hints of pink grapefruit and citrus blossoms on the first whiff. It finishes with all the brisk tartness and rich complexity I’d expect from the best Champagne producers. Since this is the richest of the three we can pair heavier foods like prosciutto-wrapped asparagus (a vegetable that is always tricky to pair) or smoked almond stuffed dates. I might even pair with a course of the meal, like smoked oysters or grilled scallops.
These three bubblies are food-friendly and affordable options that can make any day the perfect day to celebrate, so give these and other Crémants a try. If you can’t make it to your local ABC Fine Wines and Spirits, in Gainesville, you can try The Wine and Cheese Gallery and no doubt find a comparable Crémant. There is more to bubbly than just Champagne. Cheers!