The end of the year means endless opportunities to gather with family and friends. And whether celebrating holidays or simply making the time to get together and appreciate life’s pleasures, what better way to toast with your loved ones than with a glass of sparkling wine? If only the stuff was easier on the wallet.
Well, guess what? It can be. While Champagne generally carries price tags that start around the $35 mark, a range of delicious and affordable French Crémants are typically available around $20. Crémant is the name used by many French wine regions for sparklers made the same way as Champagne, with the second fermentation in the bottle. Though almost all are brut, or dry, different regionally focused grapes are occasionally included, so flavor profiles can vary widely depending on the varieties used and the wine’s origin.
Here, we’ve singled-out the best regions for Crémant, with recently reviewed recommended bottled to buy now. Taste around to find your new favorite budget bubbles and rejoice all season long. Cheers!
Crémant de Limoux
The Languedoc region has a rich history of sparkling wine production, specifically around the appellation of Limoux, which is the westernmost, highest and coolest appellation in the Languedoc, so it’s well-suited to sparkling wine.
While the south of France generally has a warm climate, those conditions are tempered by Limoux’s unique attributes. “Limoux, located on the foothills of the Pyrenees mountains and at the share of waters between the Mediterranean Sea and Atlantic Ocean, has the right elevation to preserve acidity, with fresh nights and sufficient rain, for good maturation of the different varieties of grapes,” says Jacques Calvel, owner of Domaine J. Laurens.
Many historians believe that the first sparkling wine was produced at the abbey in Saint-Hilaire in Limoux in 1531, which predates any records of Champagne production. These early versions were produced primarily from Mauzac, a local grape, and called Blanquette de Limoux.
While Blanquette is still made today, production now favors the more globally recognized Crémant de Limoux, which was officially designated as an Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC) in 1990.
Crémant de Limoux is made from a maximum of 90% Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc, with up to 40% Pinot Noir and 20% Mauzac also permitted in the blend. The traditional-method sparklers are aged the French Crémant standard nine months on the lees, then disgorged and cellared for a minimum of another two months prior to release.
“The complexity of Crémant de Limoux is never-ending,” says Gérard Bertrand, the founder, winemaker and blending expert of his eponymous winery. “The Chardonnay grown in Limoux can show a wide range of aromas, which enhance the aromatic complexity, while Pinot Noir has a thin, soft skin showing a high acidity. Combined with the traditional Mauzac and Chenin Blanc, Crémants de Limoux show a complexity and a fruitiness unattainable elsewhere in France.”
The wines are finely moussed and well balanced, typically offering just-ripe citrus and orchard-fruit tones that are coupled with earthy, floral characteristics, bright acidity and soft toasty accents. They are versatile pours that are perfect as an aperitif or paired with lighter fare like fish, seafood, chicken or pork. —Lauren Buzzeo
Domaine J. Laurens NV La Rose N° 7 (Crémant de Limoux); $23, 91 points. Lovely scents of red cherry and plum skin are coupled with an earthy hint of pressed violet on the nose of this fresh and inviting sparkling rosé. A bright and vibrant red color, it’s medium in weight and offers a fine mousse to support the rich red-fruit flavors, while a spicy flourish graces the finish. Cynthia Hurley Wine Imports. Editors’ Choice. —L.B.
Château Martinolles NV Brut Rosé (Crémant de Limoux); $20, 89 points. Just-ripe nectarine, white cherry, lightly toasted apple and strawberry hull waft from the glass of this expressive sparkler. It’s fruity and lightly creamy on the palate, with lovely flavors of fresh orchard fruit and snappy berry framed by medium carbonation and bright acidity. The finish boasts good endurance, with just a hint of toasty character. Wine Traditions. —L.B.
Gérard Bertrand 2017 Cuvée Thomas Jefferson Brut Rosé (Crémant de Limoux); $20, 89 points. Made with 65% Chardonnay, 20% Chenin Blanc and 15% Pinot Noir, this rosé sparkler opens with delicate hints of strawberry hull, melon rind and a touch of lemon peel. The palate is brisk and highly carbonated, with a mouthfilling mousse and ample acidity to complement the ripe red-cherry and strawberry flavors, all kissed by a hint of toast that endures on the finish. USA Wine West. —L.B.
Crémant de Loire
The small town of Saumur, dominated by its massive castle, is the heart of Loire sparkling wines. Crémant de Loire can be made anywhere in Anjou, Saumur and Touraine, but the Saumur producers have the knowledge, the history of sparkling wine production and the miles of underground caves for aging the bottles.
Stylistically, Crémant de Loire takes its cue from the valley’s still wines. They have the same freshness and a light touch, never too fruity, always with attractive acidity and often with bright or chalky minerality. It is a refreshing combination and the wines are memorable for their vibrant immediacy.
Within this stylistic framework that is dictated by the Loire’s cool climate, the producers have free rein. The list of grape varieties permitted in Crémant de Loire is long, though the main grapes are the central Loire classics: Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. Grolleau Noir and Gris, Orbois, Pineau d’Aunis and Pinot Noir are also featured. But Sauvignon Blanc, so dominant in the Eastern Loire, is a deliberate omission. Its grassy, herbal plangent character just does not fit into a sparkling wine bottle.
Chardonnay, of course, is a stalwart of sparkling wines across France, but here in the Loire, blended with the two Cabernets, it freshens up its game, keeping a creamy texture while adding delicious extra acidity. Chenin Blanc, the other dominant grape, brings entrancing apple nuttiness. The Cabernets add texture and, of course, appear in the small quantity of rosé Crémants de Loire.
The Loire has been noted for sparkling wines since the 19th century, most specifically from the two appellations of Saumur and Vouvray. But since the Crémant de Loire AOC was introduced in 1975, it has increasingly been considered the finest Loire sparkling wine, with stricter production methods and longer bottle aging before release than other regional sparkling wine appellations and styles.
This versatile sparkler comes into its own both as an apéritif and an accompaniment to fish and shellfish, encapsulating all that is best about elegant Loire wines. —Roger Voss
Domaine du Petit Clocher NV Brut (Crémant de Loire); $20, 90 points. This sophisticated wine is ripe with white fruits, minerality and a good balance of fruitiness and acidity. Crisply textured with a creamy mousse, the wine is ready to drink. Kinson The Future of Wine. —R.V.
Bouvet-Ladubay NV Brut Excellence (Crémant de Loire); $13, 89 points. This ripe, nutty wine offers tastes of apple and green plum. Its perfumed flavors are given a great lift by the attractive bubbly mousse and soft texture. The aftertaste is fresh and fruity. Kobrand. Best Buy. —R.V.
Monmousseau NV Brut (Crémant de Loire); $20, 89 points. This is an attractive wine, a blend of Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc. Toasty bottle age adds to its interest while preserving plenty of fresh, bright fruits. Drink now. Grape Expectations. —R.V.
Crémant de Bourgogne
Burgundy is as close to Champagne as you are likely to get in the world of French Crémant. Its northern vineyards are within mere glass-raising distance of southern Champagne. And, as far as flavor profiles go, the same grapes, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, are used in both regions.
Despite the similarities, there are some notable differences. Northern Burgundy is a tad warmer than Champagne, while the southern reaches of this long wine region, in the Mâconnais and Beaujolais, are significantly warmer. The north, in the areas west of Chablis and in Châtillon-sur-Seine, is the classic, traditional source for bright, fruity Crémant de Bourgogne, although grapes can be sourced from the entirety of the region.
Even the legendary villages of the Côte de Nuits, such as Nuits-Saint-Georges, Gevrey-Chambertin and Vosne-Romanée, have parcels of vines in the flat valley dedicated to Crémant production. Many small domaines across the region produce Crémant, though the majority of the big brands, such as Veuve Ambal, Louis Bouillot and Bailly Lapierre, are based in Beaune or the Auxerrois. Crémant de Bourgogne is generally richer than Champagne, with an emphasis on fruit rather than the more mineral structure of a Champagne. It balances these characteristics with ample freshness, though the ripe fruit flavors are key to the regional style’s appeal and satisfaction.
While the principal grapes used in Crémant de Bourgogne production are Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, others are permitted. Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris are also allowed, as are Aligoté and Gamay, more common in Crémants from Southern Burgundy and Beaujolais; the latter can’t make up more than 20% of the final blend.
Crémant de Bourgogne producers are working to increase the style’s prominence and overall quality. In 2013, two new categories were introduced: Eminent and Grand Eminent Crémants. The wines need longer aging on the lees after bottling, 24 months and 36 months respectively, compared with the minimum nine months required for standard Crémant. Vintage dated Crémant is often aged for at least three years prior to release.
Quality? Check. Delicious ripeness? Check. And here’s another plus: It’s a Burgundy that won’t break the bank. —R.V.
Prosper Maufoux NV Brut Rosé (Crémant de Bourgogne); $20, 88 points. Packed with red fruits and with a crisp, lightly tannic texture, this is an attractive wine. Acidity and brightness are balanced with the fruit, making the wine immediately drinkable. Winesellers, Ltd. —R.V.
Vincent NV Brut Chardonnay (Crémant de Bourgogne); $20, 88. A particularly fresh wine, this is a crisp Chardonnay from the Mâcon region. It is light, poised and packed with fresh apple flavors, with a tang of lemon zest at the end. Drink now. Frederick Wildman & Sons, Ltd. —R.V.
Victorine de Chastenay NV Brut (Crémant de Bourgogne); $19, 87 points. Bright and fruity, this crisp blend of Chardonnay and Gamay is soft and packed with apple flavors and acidity that are lifted by an orange-zest aftertaste. Drink this wine now. AW Direct. —R.V.
When the French want to drink fizz but not quite push the boat out to Champagne, they often opt for Crémant d’Alsace, the country’s most popular Crémant. It’s easy to understand why this is the case.
Alsace, in Northeastern France, has made sparkling wines for more than a hundred years. Back in 1900, local winemaker Julien Dopff returned from the Paris Exhibition with a newfound love of bubbles and a resolve to make it from his home-grown grapes. The region has produced Crémant ever since.
All the white grape varieties permitted in Alsace, as well as Chardonnay, may be used in Crémant d’Alsace. Most Crémant d’Alsace is made from a blend of rather neutral Pinot Blanc or Auxerrois and other Alsace white grapes. Pinot Gris often lends body, while Chardonnay contributes creaminess and Riesling can add exotic fruit tones and overall freshness.
Pinot Noir is also permitted. It’s used in classic sparkling blends of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, vinified as white base wine. All Crémant d’Alsace rosé, where a textural backbone and elegance take center stage, is made exclusively from Pinot Noir. Vintage bottlings are wonderful matches for salmon or subtle game dishes.
Since Alsace vineyards are on the east-facing, sheltered slopes of the Vosges mountains, they enjoy mostly dry and sunny weather. This means that grapes ripen sufficiently, allowing for very low or even no dosage, the sweetness added before finalizing a sparkling wine, in Crémant d’Alsace. In the past, dosage was often employed liberally to balance the stringent acidity of sparkling wines, but today, just a little can make a big difference in terms of balance, and, increasingly, producers make Crémant d’Alsace that is perfectly balanced without this final adjustment. They are pure, focused pours that make wonderfully enlivening apéritifs. —Anne Krebiehl MW
Domaine Pfister 2015 Mélanie Pfister Breit Blanc de Blancs Extra Brut (Crémant d’Alsace); $32, 93 points. Gentle notes of Golden Pearmain apples are both mellow and fresh on the nose. The very fine foam on the lively palate makes everything creamy, yet the body remains exquisitely slender. This is elegant, bone-dry and exquisitely long. Vintage ‘59 Imports. —A.K.
René Muré NV Brut Rosé (Crémant d’Alsace); $40, 93 points. A pale-pink color and an appetizing aroma of baked red apples make this very appetizing. There is a certain creaminess on the nose, too, which also pervades the wonderfully tart but ripe red-apple fruit. In the background is a hint of patisserie as a proof of subtle autolysis. This is fresh with pristine flavors and tiny fine bubbles. It’s a real joy. Gargouille Collection. —A.K.
Lucien Albrecht NV Brut Rosé (Crémant d’Alsace); $17, 90 points. Tart apple and fresh lemon meet on the invigorating nose. The vivid palate fizzes with freshness and brings in lots of lemony brightness. The finish is harmonious, rounded, fruit-driven and dry. Foley Family Wines. —A.K.