Weekend Wine: French Bubbly Without the Champagne Price

'Tis the season for all things sparkling

In order for a wine to be called Champagne, it must be from a carefully delimited area of France about 90 miles east of Paris. After centuries of experimentation, French winemakers have found the ideal combination of weather, soil, and sunshine to grow the grapes in the king of sparkling wines.

However, many areas of France work diligently to create their own masterpieces of bubbly and since they are less known, they also arrive at our shores running about half the price of Champagne. Given the potential threat of a blistering tax on French wine, this would be a good time to try and/or stock up on these bargains of French sparkling wine. I have three recommendations, though any good wine shop will have other examples that they can recommend as well.

Staying close to the source should offer the benefit of a similar climate and the closest wine region is Burgundy. They are also dominated by the same primary grapes, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. One of the better choices here would be Louis Picamelot Crémant de Bourgogne Brut Les Terroirs ($20), a wine made in the traditional manner and tasting quite similar to the fine wines of Champagne.

Moving further east, the area of Alsace offers a number of possibilities, but the easiest to find is luckily also one of the best. Lucien Albrecht’s Crémant d’Alsace ($20) is made from Pinot Auxerrois, Pinot Blanc and Chardonnay grapes and offers a tart wine with delicious small bubbles and enough bright acidity to match up nicely with Gulf shellfish, especially oysters.

Finally, Crémant de Limoux is produced down south in the Languedoc. The folks in this area claim they invented sparkling wine back in 1531 which is five decades before Champagne. Whoever is right, the Limoux wines also use Chardonnay and Pinot Noir but add a touch of Chenin Blanc which adds a lemon verbena aroma that is quite enticing. One of my favorites is Faire la Fête Brut Rosé. This Crémant is still reasonably priced at $20 and is an ideal accompaniment to roasted chicken or salmon.

Happy New Year!

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Champagne, Alsace, Limoux, Burgundy, Crémant


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