Crémant: The French wine that is not quite Champagne - but has the same fizz and regulations

What’s in a name? Christine Austin raises a glass to Crémant, a quality sparkling French wine that is not Champagne but still has the fizz and there are plenty of rules and regulations to how it is made.

It is the name that sets it apart from other wines – Crémant de Loire.

Crémant is the name given to French sparkling wines that are not champagne. There are crémants from Alsace, Limoux, Bourgogne and Bordeaux, but to me, the name Crémant de Loire conjures up a view of that broad, meandering river, with grand châteaux around every corner.

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If you haven’t enjoyed a holiday in this region, especially with children, you have missed a treat. There are just so many things to do, if you enjoy canoeing, cycling or just exploring vineyards.

Saumur – with a château, vines and the lovely river LoireSaumur – with a château, vines and the lovely river Loire
Saumur – with a château, vines and the lovely river Loire

Crémant de Loire is produced In the central part of the Loire, in Anjou, Saumur and Touraine. The name Crémant means ‘creamy’ which refers to the frothy head of bubbles that rise in the glass as the wine is poured, and because it is from France, there are all kinds of regulations which determine how it is made.

For a start this is a quality wine, so there are rules about what grapes can be used, the yields, and even how those grapes are harvested. Then, to show that this really is a wine that deserves serious attention, it must be made using the traditional in-bottle fermentation method which takes time and skill.

The wine must be aged for a minimum of twelve months on yeast lees to allow the flavours to develop and fill out, although most producers extend that aging significantly.

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As a comparison, champagne is also subject to the same rules of fermentation, and the legislation requires the wine to spend just slightly longer in bottle developing its flavours.

Some of the enthusiastic producers of Crémant de LoireSome of the enthusiastic producers of Crémant de Loire
Some of the enthusiastic producers of Crémant de Loire

What is excellent about this wine is the price. In terms of quality for money, it is difficult to beat Crémant de Loire. It is fresh enough in flavour to enjoy as an aperitif, but that creaminess is not just the head of bubbles, it translates into the flavour too.

Rounded and soft, Crémant de Loire is the kind of wine that can be enjoyed throughout a sunny afternoon, so it is good for garden parties and even weddings.

Although there is a long list of grape varieties that may be used in Crémant de Loire, including the champagne favourites of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, most often Chenin Blanc is the main component along with other small additions, particularly if the wine is rosé.

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The heart of Crémant de Loire production is Saumur and just to the south west of the town is a ridge of chalky limestone known as tuffeau that was quarried centuries ago to build the grand châteaux of the region.

Now those kilometres of underground cellars are used for ageing the bottles and no air conditioning is needed here. The temperature remains the same from summer to winter.

If you are holding any summer celebration and are looking for a terrific value, great tasting fizz, then look no further than these lovely wines.

Recently I spent several days in the Loire region, tasting hundreds of wines and meeting some of the very enthusiastic producers. These are some of the best wines I tasted.

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Prince Alexandre Crémant de Loire, Waitrose £14.99 down to £10.99 until 30 July: Terrific value, especially while on offer, this comes from the co-operative, Cave de Saumur which is an exemplary organisation, bringing together quality producers to make expressive, balanced wines. Made from 70% Chenin Blanc with Chardonnay and Cabernet Franc adding their flavours, this has been aged for 12 months on lees. It has ripe pear and apple fruit, with peach notes and a crisp finish.

Gratien & Meyer Crémant de Loire Brut, Tesco £13 down to £11 until 15 July, Clubcard holders only: From one of the long-established wine producers of the region, this has 40% Cabernet Franc in the mix with Chenin and Chardonnay and it seems to have bigger flavours and a positive, fruity style, while still retaining its edge of lively freshness. Great value, especially on offer.

Langlois Brut NV, Crémant de Loire, Roberts and Speight £14.99: When so many French wines are described as Chateau this or that, the name of this company Langlois-Chateau is confusing, but it is just the names of the owners. Back in the early 20th century, Edouard Langlois and his wife Jeanne Chateau bought an established wine company and put their own names over the door.

Even after the champagne house Bollinger bought the company in 1972, the name stayed the same, although occasionally just the name Langlois is used on labels. So, at this estate, Chateau refers to a person, not a grand house.

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Bollinger’s involvement over the last 50 years has ensured top quality styles and winemaking. Their blending of wines from different sites results in consistent quality and long ageing produces complex, rounded flavours.

Made from over 50% Chenin Blanc sourced from mainly limestone soils, with Chardonnay and Cabernet Franc adding depth, this has been aged on its lees for over 2 years. It has a lively style, with light white floral notes, crisp apple freshness and just a hint of peachy roundness on the finish.

The price at Roberts and Speight matches Majestic and comes down to £13.49 if you buy a dozen bottles.

Langlois Chateau Classique Brut Rosé Crémant de Loire, Majestic £16.99 on a mix six deal: Everyone loves a glass of pink fizz, and unlike most pink Prosecco wines, this is dry which means that is works well as an aperitif and alongside fish, shellfish and salads. It also goes remarkably well with strawberries.

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Made from hand-picked Cabernet Franc and Pinot Noir grapes, this is a delicate shade of pink, with aromas of red fruits and peaches. The palate is soft, with strawberry fruit and a thread of citrus across the palate. Roberts and Speight also stock this wine.

Crémant de Loire Organic Originel De Grenelle, Le Bon Vin, Sheffield £19.50: Maison Louis de Grenelle was founded in 1859 and is still an independent company. They own extensive, slightly spooky cellars, carved out of the rocks underneath Saumur, where they mature over 4 million bottles of sparkling wine. This Organic Originel is made to organic standards and has been aged for 18 to 24 months in constant cool temperatures. It has a toasty aroma with rounded apple and pear notes, a hint of red forest fruits and a firm, crisp finish.

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