I haven’t written about sparkling wine for quite some time – in fact, I’d barely opened any for months until this week. But, despite everything, there are still birthdays, anniversaries and other celebrations that may well deserve a glass of fizz – not least now that small gatherings are allowed.
The long, hot evenings have got me back into bubbles, and the type I’m pouring at the moment, partly because of its extraordinary price/quality ratio, is crémant.
Crémants are France’s quality sparklers, made in the meticulous, bottle-aged, traditional champagne method but outside the Champagne region. Major crémant areas include Burgundy (Bourgogne), Limoux, Alsace and the Loire; it is made in the Jura, Bordeaux and other spots too.
It’s important to know that each region uses its own grape varieties, so don’t expect uniform flavours across the country. Generally, Burgundy’s crémant tastes a little richer and softer – more champagne-like – than most; Alsace tends towards the crisp and steely. Crémant can be white or rosé, but all are on the dry side.
It’s good to see them becoming better known – if you’re bored with Italy’s simple tank-method prosecco and happy to shell out just a few pounds more, a crémant should reward you with character and complexity from time ageing on the yeast lees. Try it with light savoury canapés and seafood starters.
Here are three exceptionally good-value bottles for those new to crémant, then perhaps move upmarket with wines like the elegant, lightly toasty La Croix Montjoie Crémant de Bourgogne Brut, France (BBR, £19.95), a serious alternative to champagne.
The Exquisite Collection Crémant d’Alsace Brut Prestige 2017, France
(12.5%, Aldi, £8.49, in store only)
Snappy, fresh fizz made from a blend of grapes, mainly auxerrois with pinot gris (grigio). Juicy citrus notes prevail, especially pink grapefruit and lemons. A mouth-watering, great-value aperitif.
Cuvée Royale Crémant de Limoux Brut NV, France
(12.5%, Waitrose, £11.99 down to £8.99 until June 9, in store and waitrosecellar.com)
A good offer on a chardonnay-based crémant from south-west France, quite ripe with rich notes of toast and cream; this works well with food, ideally, pastries.
Calvet Crémant de Bordeaux Brut NV, France
(12%, Tesco, £10, in store and online)
Consistently appealing, fairly light Bordeaux crémant with a crisp, clean character of green apples and lemons. I like this well enough on its own, but it also makes a fine base for a sparkling cocktail.