It is one of the newest Bordeaux appellations (1990) and comes with a very strict set of specifications, including manual harvesting and second fermentation in bottle using the Champagne method… Produced throughout the wine-growing region, Crémant de Bordeaux has seen record success in recent years. For its very affordable price tag (ranging from €5 to €20, on average €6 in France), this sparkling wine is perfect for all occasions, festive or otherwise, from drinks with friends to family meals, parties and New Year’s Eve…
“You can’t simply become a Crémant producer overnight. There is a real aspect of craftmanship, of real expertise,” explains Lionel Lateyron, a Crémant producer in Montagne Saint-Émilion whose great-grandfather was already making Crémant in 1897.
Specific approaches to winegrowing, grape harvests carried out exclusively by hand, initial fermentation in vat, followed by a second fermentation in bottle… producing a Crémant de Bordeaux means adhering to a very strict set of specifications based on the Champagne method.
First, the grapes. “We can use any Bordeaux grape variety to produce a Crémant, which gives us a lot of freedom. We are able to paint our own picture, with any colors we like!” enthuses Lionel Lateyron. All Bordeaux grape varieties, red and white alike, are permitted in the specifications for a Crémant. “For our Blanc de Blancs, we prefer working with 100% Semillon, and for the Blanc de Noirs with 100% Cabernet Franc“, explains Stanislas Cattiau, Managing Director of the Cloître des Cordeliers in Saint-Émilion.
Unlike Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon is closer to Chardonnay, the grape variety used in Champagne. It ages better, taking on toasty, brioche notes.
These grapes are harvested exclusively by hand. “Our philosophy is to respect the integrity of the grape before pressing“, adds Lionel Lateyron. For this reason, the appellation’s specifications require grapes to be transported in non-watertight containers no taller than 60 cm to prevent the grapes from being compressed.
During initial fermentation in vat, base wines from several different vintages can be used. Vintage Crémants do exist, however. “Every vintage is different. When we begin harvesting, if the year is particularly exceptional, we can decide to produce a vintage“, explains Stanislas Cattiau.
The addition of liqueur de tirage (a combination of yeast and sugar) triggers the second fermentation, this time in bottle, which is a specific feature of the Champagne method. For 6 to 8 weeks, the yeast consumes the sugar, leading to the release of alcohol and carbon dioxide, creating a sparkling wine. Stanislas Cattiau continues: “At this stage, in accordance with the specifications, we try to keep CO2 levels as low as possible in order to create a delicate effervescence. This is what creates the remarkably fine bubbles.“
Ageing on the lees can then begin. This lasts for at least 9 to 12 months, but here too the Crémants des Cordeliers have a unique approach.
We age our Crémants in our Saint-Émilion cellars for 4 to 8 years. From an organoleptic perspective, it is this ageing process that contributes roundness and finesse.
Riddling (where the yeast sediment which has gathered at the bottom of the racked bottle becomes concentrated in the neck of the bottle) is followed by disgorging, where the neck is plunged into a solution that freezes the sediment so that when the bottle is opened, the frozen sediment is forced out.
The last step gives the Crémant its finishing touches, with liqueur d’expédition (a mixture of wine and sugar) being added before the cork, capsule and wire cage are then placed. “That’s when the Crémant is dressed“, as Lionel Lateyron puts it.
Today, in Bordeaux, we mainly produce ‘brut’ Crémant (with sugar levels below 12 g/liter). That’s what consumers expect. The demi-sec, which is much sweeter (between 32 g and 50g /liter) is no longer really adapted to the market.
“The liqueur d’expédition flavors the wine, while respecting the balance between sweetness and acidity“, adds Stanislas Cattiau. “There are many ways to approach this final step. The sugar can come from grape must and the wine added can first be aged in oak barrels… As when smoking a ham, it’s the characteristic finishing touch to your product.”
A sparkling wine can be called a “Champagne” only if it is produced in the Champagne region of France. It is similar to a trademark. The word “Crémant” is used to describe all sparkling wines produced in France using the Champagne method (second fermentation in bottle) outside the region of Champagne. Crémant is therefore found in eight appellations: Alsace, Bordeaux, Burgundy, Die, Jura, Limoux, the Loire Valley and Savoie.
Every Crémant must respect various production rules specific to the region in order to use the PDO (Protected Designation of Origin, traditionally called AOC in French)
Crémant differs from Champagne primarily due to the different grape varieties and production terroirs (Champagne uses Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Meunier).
Another difference is the ageing method used. For a Crémant, the minimum period of time required between bottling and release for sale is 9 to 12 months (ageing involves waiting for the liqueur d’expédition to be fully incorporated), versus a minimum of 15 months for Champagne, and one month for Prosecco.
Prosecco is an Italian sparkling wine produced using faster, less expensive methods. Harvests are mechanical and grapes are not picked by hand, and the second alcoholic fermentation takes place in a closed, pressurized tank rather than in bottle. The resulting carbon dioxide is therefore kept in the wine by bottling it under pressure. This technique takes a minimum of three weeks.
In the 19th century, stones for building housing in Gironde and Bordeaux were extracted from underground tunnels that were very humid and had a very low temperate range. It was in these tunnels that the technique to induce secondary fermentation in base wines gradually developed, leading to the production of white and rosé sparkling wines.
The “Bordeaux Mousseux” PDO was recognized by decree in March 1943. By defining much stricter production rules, producers later gained recognition, through the decree of 3 April 1990, of the “Crémant de Bordeaux” PDO.
Although it represents only 1% of total Bordeaux production, in just 10 years, the production of Crémant de Bordeaux has grown five-fold, rising from 1.8 million bottles in 2010 to 9 million bottles in 2018.
This success is now irrefutable when compared to competitor PDOs; in 2019, 1.4 million bottles of Crémant de Bordeaux were sold in supermarkets (+19%/total stable PDO) for 7.7 million euros (+19%/total PDO +1%). This has led to Bordeaux recording the fastest growth out of France’s main PDOs, excluding Champagne, for the third year running.
Crémant de Bordeaux has a truly affordable price tag: €6 on average in France, ranging between €5 and €20. Served between 7°C and 11°C, Crémant de Bordeaux is perfect for a wide range of festive occasions. It pairs beautifully with desserts, shellfish, salmon, cheese, white meats, and red fruit desserts. It is recommended to serve this sparkling wine in a fairly large standard wine glass.