In France, sparkling wines that are not champagne are referred to as cremant. French for "creamy", the wine gets its name because it has a slightly lower atmospheric pressure in the bottle than champagne, and is therefore considered to have a creamy mouthfeel rather than a fizzy one. These wines are made using the same methods as champagne, but each region may use grape varieties other than the three classics (chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier) used in the Champagne region.
There are eight AOC cremant regions in France, and one outside the country - Cremant de Luxembourg. The cremant wines of Burgundy - Cremant de Bourgogne - have much in common with champagne, as they are made predominantly with chardonnay and pinot noir.
The styles of Cremant de Bourgogne are:
Cremant de Bourgogne Blanc - minimum of 30 per cent chardonnay and/or pinot noirCremant de Bourgogne Blanc de Blancs - all white grapes, of course, usually chardonnay, but some winemakers may add a small amount of aligote
Cremant de Bourgogne Rosé - mostly pinot noir with an optional addition of gamay noir
Cremant de Bourgogne Blanc de Noirs - entirely pinot noir
Within these styles, there is a wide range of flavour profiles, from classic cremants to some you might mistake for champagne. Each of the cremants I had the pleasure of tasting recently in Burgundy had a distinct personality.
Classic cremants are the ones that use chardonnay and pinot noir, as well as the other grapes that are permitted in Burgundy - aligote and gamay noir. I found that the cremants with a bit of aligote in them had a slightly bitter almond finish - most noticeable in Bailly Lapierre's Cremant de Bourgogne Brut Reserve Noir et Blanc. Its Cremant de Bourgogne Rosé Brut - a classic blend of pinot noir and gamay noir - showed a bit of strawberry bubblegum flavour, a character of the latter grape, along with the fresh cherry notes you find in pinot noir. This rosé, although it said "brut" on the bottle, was more on the sec side (in other words, not bone dry), which would make it a good pairing with a classic Cantonese roast goose.
Maison Simonnet Febvre, part of the Louis Latour family of wines, also makes a range of sip-worthy cremant de Bourgogne, all of which I would put in the category of "Are you sure this isn't champagne?" The only grapes it uses in its cremants are chardonnay and pinot noir. There's even a vintage 2011 cremant made from 90 per cent pinot noir and 10 per cent chardonnay - it has heaps of yeasty brioche, warm apricots, peaches and tart apples with a lush, creamy finish. It's a cremant that would hold its own next to a champagne made from the same grape combination.
A winemaker who's trying to take the cremant de Bourgogne to the next level is Jean-Charles Boisset. He is married to Gina Gallo, the third generation of America's largest winery, and Boisset's family has a long history in Burgundy. He also owns DeLoach Vineyards, in California.
Boisset's JCB Cremant de Bourgogne varieties, with their eye-catching modern and numbered labels (the numbers are significant years and dates in his family), are also made only from chardonnay and pinot noir. He has also made a biodynamic cremant called Infini, which has no sulphur dioxide added to it, a great aperitif wine for those who are sensitive to sulphites. His top drop, the Crème de la Crème de Bourgogne JCB 50 Brut 2008, of which there are only 50 cases, follows the same hallmarks as a vintage champagne - all chardonnay, and 60 months on the lees in oak, and it was intense, biscuity, toasty, with ripe apples, pears and apricot compote on the nose and palate. The price? Surprisingly, it costs more than a bottle of Dom Perignon.
Most other cremant de Bourgogne varieties are wallet-friendly compared with their cousins in Champagne. All are enjoyable as an aperitif. The original Kir Royale is made with cassis de Dijon and a basic cremant de Bourgogne brut.
Nellie Ming Lee is a food stylist and part-time sommelier studying with the Court of Master Sommeliers.