French Wine 101 – Affordable Bubbles- Crémant & More

Not just for New Years Eve, bubbles don't need to break the bank.

Not just for New Years Eve, bubbles don’t need to break the bank.

French Wine 101 – Affordable Bubbles- Crémant & More

Champagne is one of the first wines which come to mind when you say French Wine. Sparkling wine for celebration, it has a long and storied history. Unfortunately, the laws of supply and demand are such that something in limited supply (Champagne) and seemingly unlimited demand means there is no such thing as inexpensive Champagne. Luckily, there are alternatives! Many winegrowing regions in France produce sparkling wine made by the same method as Champagne. You can explore affordable French bubbly now, and later on we’ll post a primer on Champagne for your splurge.

Sparkling wine production is more complicated than still wine. Sparkling wines will push the top end of our 101 level budget. You can find them for under $20 in the US, but you may need to look for a sale to do so.

  • < 10€ in a shop in Europe
  • <$20 per bottle in the US in a wine shop or grocery store.
  • 2-3x the wine shop price if you’re ordering off the winelist in a restaurant – ouch.
Brut sparkling wine

Look for Methode Champenoise or Methode Traditionelle

Sparkling Wine Fast Facts

  • It’s only Champagne if its produced from the Champagne region in France. Everything else is sparkling wine; NOT Champagne.
  • Champagne method = Methode Champenoise = Methode Traditionelle
  • At its heart, Methode Champenoise is a second fermentation in the bottle. After making a still wine, yeast & sugar are added and the bottle is capped. A second fermentation raises the alcohol content and produces carbon dioxide, which makes the natural carbonation in the sparkling wine.
  • Look for Crémant. Crémant is produced in many French winemaking regions outside of Champagne.
  • Some regions allow sparkling wine under their normal AOC rules. Vouvray, for instance, can be a still wine or a sparkling wine. Luckily the Champagne-style cork and cage make it obvious which is the sparkling wine.
Sweetness – pay attention here! The same system as in Champagne is used to denote sweetness of the wine. In a final winemaking step, the wine is dosed to a certain level of sweetness. Your best place to start (and the most common) is Brut.
  • Brut Nature / Non-dosage – no added sugar at all, can be austere
  • Extra Brut – a tiny bit of added sugar
  • Brut – very dry (but can have a touch sweetness) – your best place to start
  • Extra Dry –starting to taste a bit sweet
  • Dry – noticeably sweet
  • Demi-Sec – very sweet
  • Sec or Doux – sweet as in syrup
Sparkling wine pairs with a wide variety of foods.

Sparkling wine pairs with a wide variety of foods.

Budget Sparkling (<$20 per bottle in the US)
Label – look for: Crémant de Bourgogne, Crémant d’Alsace, Crémant du Jura, Crémant de Limoux, Crémant de Bordeaux. There are also sparkling wines with other names, they are all worth a try.

Wine – First, there’s no need to serve sparkling wine in a special flute or coupe. A normal wine glass works just fine. Expect a lively white wine or rosé especially refreshing due to the natural carbonation. Aromas and flavors can vary due to the variety of grapes that can be used.

Food – Sparkling wines pair with the widest variety of foods. The food needn’t be fancy! Takeout fried chicken is a great choice, as is any fried food. Potato chips (crisps for those of you in Europe) are a great starter. Sparkling wines handle spicy food well, as well as salads, fish, chicken.

In the Wine Shop
Advice to help you in the wine shop:

  • The sparkling wines are usually grouped in their own section, so you’ll see wines from France, Italy, Spain, the US, all in one area.
  • The Champagne and premium wines will often be at the top, with less expensive wines lower down on the shelf. You might look for the Crémant towards the middle or bottom, under the Champagne
  • Start out with a Brut, then you can try others.

Opening the bottle

  • Remove the foil.
  • Cover the top with a towel (unless you want to get covered in bubbly).
  • Un-twist the cage closure, usually ~6 1/2 half-turns.
  • Don’t remove the cage.
  • Grasp the cork through the towel. The cage will help you get a good hold on the cork.
  • Twist the bottle (not the cork) to gently open the cork like a pro
  • No loud pop, the French say it should sound like a French woman’s sigh.
  • Alternately, you can always saber, instructions here.

French Wine 101 Sparkling Cheatsheet

Homework Assignment
New Years is right around the corner! Go purchase some Crémant and celebrate with friends on New Years Eve. Let me know how it goes (the wine, not your party)!

Next installment, (sometime in January):

  • French Wine 101 – Loire, Alsace, Provence
Good enough for raw oysters? Absolutely!

Good enough for raw oysters? Absolutely!


10 Responses to “French Wine 101 – Affordable Bubbles- Crémant & More”
  1. talkavino says:

    Jeff, very nice post and instructions. I would suggest after “Don’t remove the cage” to explain that one have to hold that cage together with the cork with one hand, and then twist the bottle and not the cork with another hand. This might be self-evident, but still. I would also add an exclamation mark after Don’t remove the cage – this is the point which a lot of people miss.

    Cheers! Happy Holidays!

  2. such gorgeous photos Jeff! make some crave bubbles and oysters!!

Check out what others are saying...
  1. […] Wine We love starting a meal or gathering with sparkling wine, and there is a bit of Crémant made in Bordeaux, but we don’t see much in Minnesota. I was so excited to see it in a local […]

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