With the arrival of summer, rose’ and sparkling wines naturally come to mind. The choices are numerous under the headings of Champagne, prosecco, cava, German sekt or North American sparkling wines. For something different, readily available and reasonably priced, Cremant d’ Alsace wines are worth exploring for summer entertaining.
The Alsace region lies in northeastern France and borders both Germany and Switzerland. The Cremant d’ Alsace Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC)is one of three earmarked in the region and was designated in 1976 for the production of sparkling wines.
The French term “Crémant” is used to define sparkling wines made in the traditional method, but outside of Champagne. The méthode Champenoise or traditional method requires that the second fermentation, which creates the bubbles, must occur in the bottle. This is followed by a minimum nine months aging on lees, bringing about a richer mouthfeel.
While Champagne is restricted to using only Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay, the crisp and dry Crémant d’Alsace wines are mostly from Pinot Blanc, produced as a single-varietal or blended with auxerrois blanc, pinot gris, riesling, chardonnay and pinot noir. Auxerrois blanc is grown extensively in the Alsace region and is described as a “full sibling” of chardonnay.
The Crémant d’Alsace Rosé must use 100 percent pinot noir, grapes, inviting comparisons with a recent surge in production of rose’ of pinot noir in California.
I recently tasted some sparkling wines and rose’ from Crémant d’Alsace that illustrated a variety of styles, from classic blanc de blancs, featuring pinot blanc, to vibrant rose’ of pinot noir and bold, dry zero-dosage releases.
The Lorentz family, for over 160 years, has been producing some of the most widely distributed wine from the region, available in over fifty countries. Comprised exclusively from pinot noir grapes, the Gustave Lorentz Crémant d’Alsace Brut Rose’ ($25), after dosage and aging on lees, is fresh, crisp and offers variety of subtle fruit nuances to the palate. Other Gustave Lorentz wines are readily available in local outlets and online.
Domaine Alfred Mann, guided by biodynamic farming with best organic practices, has a reputation for maintaining low yield grapes that result in a maturity and richness to their wines. The Alfred Mann Crémant d’Alsace Extra Dry Brut 2016 ($24), a blend of pinot blanc, auxerrois blanc and pinot noir from mature vines is bone dry and acidic while exuding conspicuous fruit aromas and flavors within a rich texture.
Centuries old, the Domaine Valentin Zusslin is now run by two generations of the family and converted in 1996 to bio-dynamic viticulture. The Zusslin Crémant d’Alsace Brut Zero Sans Soufre ($25) is produced without sulphur or any added sweetness through dosage. I found a unique bouquet of citrus and toast followed by a vibrant acidity with soft citrus notes. It would pair well and enhance shellfish and seafood dishes.
A well-reviewed sparkling rose’ that is priced below $20, the Allimant Laugner Cremant d’Alsace Rosé ($18) offered the most expressive aromas and intense fruit flavors of any of the wines. Tart with strong strawberry hints, critic Jancis Robinson, in describing the wine, said it was “Not remotely complex but there is so much delicious fruit in there that who cares?”
Another bone dry wine with no added dosage, the Dirler-Cadé 2015 Brut Nature Sparkling Crémant d’Alsace ($22), a blend of pinot noir, pinot gris and auxerrois, offers more balance of acidity and richness and would serve as a delightful aperitif.
With reviews in the mid-nineties, the Lucien Albrecht Cremant d’Alsace Brut Rose ($24) expressed ripe apple notes on the nose and palate and delivered both a crispy and creamy mouthfeel. The producers feel it could continue to develop for another decade.
Another good value is the brightly salmon-colored Pierre Sparr Cremant d’Alsace Brut Rose NV ($20) with complex aromas and flavors of citrus, strawberry and spice. It also delivers a nice minerality on the finish.
Besides Crémant d’Alsace sparkling wines, there also are Crémant de Loire (Loire Valley) that feature chenin blanc grapes, Crémant de Bourgogne (Burgundy) with chardonnay and pinot noir and even Crémant de Bordeaux, based from cabernet franc and other local varietals. However, there is enough diversity of style within Crémant d’Alsace releases that make them very competitive based on quality, accessibility and affordability comparisons.
Lyle W. Norton is a wine enthusiast and blogger in Santa Rosa who has written a wine column for 15 years. Visit his blog at www.lifebylyle.com or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. He is a guest columnist.