CREMANT PUTTING THE FIZZ INTO ALSACE

By Rose Murray Brown MW  Published in The Scotsman 15 June 2024

Cremant d’Alsace is one of France’s hidden gems, with over 80% of this wine sold in France itself.

Today fizz in the small region of Alsace, tucked between the Vosges mountains and river Rhine in eastern France, is a big success story.  Cremant d’Alsace is almost one third of the region’s production with 33 million bottles, making it significantly larger than Cremant de Loire (17 million) and Cremant de Bourgogne (19 million).  It is now second only to Champagne in French traditional method fizz production – and accounts for 35% of fizz drunk in France.

Cremant d’Alsace AOC only emerged in 1976, but this fizz has a much longer history.  Whilst Alsace was caught up in a tug-of-war between France and Germany, the massive popularity of sparkling wine began to emerge.  Fizz became popular in Alsace, as it was in Germany, but French fizz from small regions was drunk locally.

So that is why we see a relatively small amount of Cremant d’Alsace in the UK.  We mainly light fresh aperitif styles which were popular in the 1980s and 1990s – often made using the minimal lees ageing mandatory for Cremant.

Yet in my deep dive into the subject of fizz in Alsace, a whole new world of crémant was revealed – a secret the French are clearly keeping to themselves.

At our tasting of 20 different producers held at the leading fizz winery Dopff au Moulin in the quaint village of Riquewihr in Alsace, it was clear that top fizz producers here are now gearing up to make more premium Cremant d’Alsace – and the results are astonishing.

According to Etienne-Arnaud Dopff (pictured below) who led our tasting, whose great-grandfather spent two years training in Epernay in Champagne before returning home in 1911 to pioneer the first Cremant: “In Alsace today we are not aiming to compete with Champagne, as our style is different – but we are now focusing on upgrading the quality of their top cuvees”.

All Cremant is made using secondary fermentation in bottle, the same as Champagne – but the Alsaciens are now enhancing complexity and potential for ageing with longer ageing on lees.  Some of the excellent fizz we sampled had 66 to 120 months on lees giving incredible richness and depth: ‘OR Zero Dosage’ 2013 Domaine Zeyssolf, Absolu Grande Cuvee NV Domaine Bott-Geyl and Clos Liebenberg 2012 Domaine Zusslin were amongst my favourites.

The focus on grapes for Alsace’s fizz is also changing.  Historically in early C20, fizz was made with Sylvaner and Gewurztraminer, but found to be either too dry or too fruity – so now Pinot Noir, Pinot Blanc and Auxerrois are the main grapes for the blends, with a little Riesling.  Now 4,442 hectares are dedicated to fizz in the region.  Producers are also experimenting with Chardonnay – which has increased in plantings in Alsace from 15 hectares in 1990 to 250 hectares today.

Dopff added a word of caution: “Cremant d’Alsace production has doubled in size since 1990s when it was just 15 million bottles – but we must be careful we don’t become too large in our small region, as we need the grapes for our other wines”.

Our 20 Cremant cuvees included an incredible selection of Blanc de Blancs, Blanc de Noirs, Rose, single varietal wines, fizz with solera blended base wines and more – all on offer at remarkably good value for money.  The key is finding these wines, but if you are visiting the region look for producers: Bott-Geyl, Zeyssolf, Zusslin, Boeckel, Jean-Claude Buecher, Emile Beyer, Dopff au Moulin and Pfister.

CREMANT D’ALSACE TO TRY:

Cremant d’Alsace Cuvee Julien NV Dopff au Moulin

£14.30 bt The Wine Society

Light crisp, floral and delicate aperitif style, classic well-aged 50% Pinot Blanc & 50% Auxerrois blend with two years on lees; shows what value for money Cremant d’Alsace can be.

Cremant d’Alsace NV Bruno Sorg  ***STAR BUY***

£20-£22 bt Roberts & Speight; Good Wine Shop; Fortnum & Masons; St Andrews Wine

Chardonnay included here alongside Pinot Blanc, Auxerrois and Pinot Gris aged three years on lees; touch of toast and yeast on nose, rich fine mousse, minerally undertones. Very good.

Cremant d’Alsace Brut NV Leon Beyer

£14.95 hf bt Little Fine Wine Co; £21.75 bt Yapp Bros

Another elegant blend of Pinot Blanc and Auxerrois aged on lees for two years; vibrant fresh aperitif style with soft rounded mousse and citric fruit flavours.

Cremant d’Alsace ‘Zero Brut’ NV Leon Boesch ***STAR BUY***

£27.95 bt Cork & Cask, Edinburgh

Biscuity, appley style, pure poised acidity in this Pinot Blanc and Riesling blend; twelve months on lees in oak followed by two years on lees in bottles gives a creamy complex mouthfeel and flavour.

 

The wines which impressed most at the MW tasting are pictured below – including Bott Geyl’s Absolu Extra Brut, Domaine Zusselin’s Clos Liebenberg, Dopff’s Solera Brut Nature and Zeyssolff OR Zero Dosage 2013:

 

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