This post is from Easter Lunch, which was as good enough a reason as any to pop open some bubbles, and that’s just what we did with the Louis Bouillot Crémant de Bourgogne Perle d’Ivoire. The focus of this post is Crémant, partly because I’ve written a fair bit already about Burgundy and its grapes, but mostly because it is really worth understanding.
Crémant is a catch-all term for sparkling wines made in the traditional style, so if you see something that’s labelled Crémant, you can be sure of a few things right off the bat. First off, within France and Luxembourg it’s a controlled term, such that it is associated with an appellation. Along with those appellations are specific rules and restrictions regarding a wide range of facets of production (which is pretty much true of every appellation). These will determine the permitted grapes, yields in terms of HL/HA, and the way in which the wine is actually made.
[A side note - there is a sparkler from Yellowglen called Vintage Crémant. I'm fairly certain it's just a cheeky appropriation of not only the term "Crémant" but also the term "Vintage" as there's no indication of year of production when I try to order a case. I can't comment on the wine itself but as I rule, I hate it when producers, usually in the New World, take terms which have strict, often legally defined, meanings from the Old World and throw them around willy-nilly.]
Areas in which Crémant is produced are spread throughout France (while Luxembourg has a single Crémant de Luxembourg covering the entire country) and mirror many of the larger appellations, including Alsace, Bourdeaux, Burgundy, Die, Jura, Limoux, and the Loire Valley. The one thing they share in common is the way in which they’re made. The extraction rates will vary by appellation, but there is a limit to how much juice may be used per quantity of grape, though it’s usually expressed in the reverse as the minimum quantity of grapes is required per quantity of wine. Almost always the base wine will be a blend of different vintages, though there are examples of vintage Crémant, including some from the featured producer. The second fermentation will take place not just in bottle, but in the bottle in which it will be sold.
If you’re still scratching your head as to why this is at all interesting, for me there are two main reasons. First, each region has its own specification as to allowed grapes. If you’re drinking Champagne, you’re likely having a wine that is a combination of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, though there are a handful of other grapes permitted even if they constitute much less than 1% of the area under vines. However, if you’re sipping Crémant d’Alsace, you could instead be tasting Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Auxerrois, and Riesling in addition to Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. For Crémant de Loire, Grolleau and/or Chenin Blanc could be the local grapes (or possibly Cabernet Franc). Crémant de Die is mainly the Clairette, while Crémant de Jura could have Poulsard as well as Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
Crémant de Bourgogne is a bit of a curiosity. Like other regions, you get a mix of the grapes permitted in their still wines, so in this case Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, but some components of Gamay and Aligoté are also permitted. (I don’t know if the Burgundian Sauvignon Blanc grown in St-Bris is permitted.) What makes it a curiosity is that when many people think of Burgundy, the image is of tiny production, walled vineyard where ownership of the vines many change row to row, and very specific geographical indicators for tiny little appellations. Crémant production in Burgundy is the complete opposite, with big companies, huge volumes, and grapes sourced from throughout the region.
However, this leads into the second thing that is of interest with Crémant, and that is the value proposition. It is not, generally speaking, an expensive wine, though it is often very well made, and it’s always made in the traditional method. So in addition to ticking a box for an interesting collection of grapes, it’s very often a good value. I don’t typically talk too much about price with regard to the wines I cover, but a Crémant de Bourgogne will cost you a good deal less than a comparable sparkling wine from Champagne. Before I have the black helicopters of the CIBC swooping down on me, they’re not the same. There are stylistic differences and obviously, within Burgundy the premium grapes go into still wine, whereas within Champagne the best grapes are for sparkling wine. For me, Crémant is what I want to be buying when I have a party for more than dozen people. For smaller gatherings, I can afford to spend more, but when I want to put something sparkling that I know I’ll enjoy into the hands of a lot of people, Crémant can be perfect.
Louis Bouillot is a large producer and part of the Boisset La Famille des Grands Vins. Founded in 1877 by Jean Bouillot in Nuits-Saint-George, it’s grown into one of the largest producers of sparkling wine in Burgundy. I couldn’t find their exact address but I remember driving past a huge facility of theirs next to the motorway when I was staying near Nuits-Saint-George last year – check out the view. They do a range of entry level Crémants, including blanc-de-blanc, blanc-de-noir, rosé, and a mix of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Aligoté and Gamay. They also produce some vintage Grands Terroirs which are expressive of particular geography, another rarity for Crémants. The Perle d’Ivoire is either 100% Chardonnay or there is 5% Aligoté as well – the Boisset Family Estates product page says the former at the top of the page and the latter down about halfway.
This wine was pale lemon green in the glass with a veritable bubble storm. The bead persisted until the last glass was finished, a few hours later. It had a fresh lemon nose, some floral notes, and was developing, but it had a medium minus intensity. The aromas were very light, but what was there was certainly fragrant, a bit like a wildflower you really have to get your nose into. Delicate would probably be the right term. On the palate, there was very crisp acidity and a medium body with medium plus flavour intensity and medium minus alcohol. There were notes of sweet lemon, bitter lime, a little oak (not sure if any is used), some minerality, and grapefruit. It had a medium length and a clean finish.
There were no faults – nothing out of place. Not the most intense, full bodied, or flavourful sparkling wine I’ve had, but perfectly formed for what it is, and a very good value.
Finally, it’s a good candidate for sabrage, and knowing I had a spare bottle in case of catastrophe, I had a go. Step 1: get an appropriate blade. This is a Sabre à Champagne Laguiole that my wife bought for me a year or two back, and which for me qualifies in the Best Gift Ever category. However, any heavy blade will do, and I actually had very good results once with the back of a cleaver.
I don’t really have an action shot, but I’ll upload a video at some point. But the goal is to hit the ring on the neck at the point where the seam running up the bottle hits it. If you look closely, it’s generally pretty easy to spot, though not as easy to hit. If you’re successful, you’ll get a cleanly decapitated bottle. Unfortunately, getting the amount of force to use just right is all down to experience. You want it to be a crisp blow with just enough force to nip the ring, but not so much that you’ll cause a mess. No description I can write will actually be helpful – you just have to give it a go, and then another, and another, until you have a decent success rate. Even then, not something to do with a really expensive bottle unless you like to live dangerously.
If you’re really lucky, you’ll get one of these – a cork with the end of the neck of the bottle still surrounding it in a relatively clean ring. It’s tricky, not only because you can’t shatter it with the blow, but also it has to survive landing wherever it goes. We have one from the first time we saw sabrage demonstrated, mounted on a little bit of plexiglass with a ribbon, from Pierre Jordan at Haute Cabrière.
Be safe – always chop the top of bottles away from people you like. A serious note on safety, you actually need not worry about glass shards in your wine, as the pressure (and sometimes wine) that is released when the top is removed pushes them away from the bottle, particularly if the bottle is held at an angle.
And as with just about everything related to wine, really at the end of the day it’s about drinking, and so if you managed not to shatter the bottle, your wine will taste even better for the risk you took and the skill you demonstrated. Or at least that’s what I keep telling myself.