Not all bubbles are made equal, but beyond the world of Champagne is a vast universe of sparkling wine that can be just as delightful. Yanni Tan highlights age-old region-specific varieties that are the pride of the Old World producers.
Crémant (pronounced cray-mon) is a high-quality sparkling white or rosé wine produced in France outside the Champagne region, but made using the same “méthode traditionelle” (French for traditional method) for Champagne. Following the first fermentation process within the barrel, a labour-intensive second in-bottle fermentation involving the tirage step of adding sugar and yeast is necessary to create the bubbles and form a rich, creamy texture. Other strict regulations with regards to the grape varieties, harvesting, pressing, maturing and ageing also apply.
Only eight regions in France are authorised to produce Crémant: Alsace, Bordeaux, Burgundy, Die (Rhône), Jura, Limoux (Languedoc- Roussillon), Loire and Savoie. In total, there are over 6,000 French producers. Only one place outside the country is allowed to make Crémant, and it is her northern neighbour of Luxembourg – more specifically, the district of Moselle.
While the grapes used in Champagne are only chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier, the Crémant regions have different terroir and
microclimates, and are therefore given the liberty to use a wider but still restricted selection of native grapes.
For example, the ever-popular Crémant de Bourgogne (Burgundy) features primarily chardonnay and pinot noir, along with a secondary group for blending that includes pinot blanc, pinot gris, gamay, aligoté, melon and sacy. Crémant d’Alsace is made from six grape varietals including pinot noir, pinot gris, riesling, pinot blanc, auxerrois, and chardonnay.
Meanwhile the dominant grape in Crémant de Loire is chenin blanc, and in Crémant de Savoie, they are jacquère and altesse. The main varietals in Crémant de Luxembourg are riesling, pinot blanc, rivaner (müller thurgau), elbling, auxerrois, pinot noir and chardonnay. Bordeaux is the only appellation that permits the use of sauvignon blanc.
From such differences alone, you’d expect the winemaking styles and resultant flavours and aromas among the regions and producers to vary widely – from close similarities to Champagne’s biscuity, nutty richness to profiles that showcase more fruit, honey, patisserie or flowers.
Domaine Mongeard-Mugneret Chloé Crémant de Bourgogne N.V.
“This Blanc de Blancs (100 per cent chardonnay) has a great aroma of white flowers and citrus fruits. Its bright acidity gives it a great balance with the salt and fat of the food dishes, accenting the round juicy structure of the wine and cleansing the palate. It is a perfect pairing with poultry such as turkey for Christmas, or a great marry with French bouillabaisse (seafood soup) during New Year, or perfect for suckling pig for Chinese New Year.” – Eric Rao of Enoteca
Frey-Sohler Crémant d’Alsace Brut Rosé
“This pure pinot noir is slightly vinous yet versatile, and can be paired with a charcoal-grilled wagyu steak, a Peking duck or simply with a platter of semi-soft to hard cheeses, such as fontina, cantal, emmental, parmigiano.” – Jean-Michel Cosny of Ampelia Fine Wines
Mousseux is the French word for “sparkling”, and Vin Mousseux (pronounced vaan moo-su) is the general term used for bubbly that is neither Champagne nor Crémant. It is made by a variety of methods, including the traditional method; méthode ancestrale (ancestral method in French, which is the oldest method allowing bubbles to form naturally in-bottle during the second fermentation without the addition of sugar and yeast); or the Charmat method (first fermentation process in a barrel, followed by the second one in a tank).
Also made in the key wine regions across France, Vin Mousseaux production is regulated by regional governing standards called AOC (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée) that represent each locale and its wine types. In fact, the first sparkling white wine ever produced in France is the Blanquette de Limoux of Languedoc-Roussillon by Benedictine monks circa 1500. Made chiefly from the mauzac grape with some chardonnay and chenin blanc, it is today produced under AOC Blanquette de Limoux.
Other familiar examples from the Loire region are the sparkling whites of AOC Saumur Mousseux featuring chenin blanc, chardonnay and sauvignon blanc; and the famous rosé bubbles of AOC Anjou Mousseux made from a blend of cabernet grapes, gamay, grolleau, malbec and pineau d’aunis.
Considering the sheer number of wine appellations and estates in France, the character of Vin Mousseux can range widely. An example of a unique mousseux is the Domaine Le Fay d’Homme Vin Mousseux Brut X Bulles NV, which comes from a five-generation wine-growing estate in appellation Muscadet Sèvre et Maine, also in Loire. Made with 90 per cent melon and 10 per cent côt, it boasts a nose of fresh raspberries and a mineral palate infused with well-balanced fruits and freshness.
Domaine Le Fay d’Homme Vin Mousseux Brut X Bulles NV
“This is an interesting one! It is not a rosé, yet there is an ever so slight perception of colour – an idea of orangeness, perhaps coming from the 10 per cent cot (malbec). A wine fresh in salinity, stone fruits and minerals, it drinks of its close proximity to the Atlantic. It is also a wine for celebration, and one that pairs exceptionally well with your festive desserts such as a tart of fresh fruits, Christmas Kouglof or even a good ol’ panettone!” – Joshua Loke of TWDC
Germany and Austria
The German term Sekt (pronounced zekt) became widely adopted as the generic name for sparkling wines produced in the country, after the Treaty of Versailles was signed in 1919 to prohibit the Germans from using the word “Champagne”. While there are an estimated 2,000 producers of Sekt in Germany, the bubbly is also made in small quantities in Austria.
No other country in the world guzzle as much bubbly as the Germans (274 million litres in 2020), who mainly drink domestically mass-produced labels using the Charmat (tank) method, and did not craft fine Sekt in modern history. Having said that, some of Champagne’s most renowned houses like Krug, Piper-Heidsieck, Bollinger and Mumm were founded by Germans who had travelled to the region in the early 19th century to learn winemaking.
Over the past decade in Germany, however, the tide has been quickly turning, thanks to an increasing number of small estates and growers making premium vino. While the name Sekt isn’t protected, there is a classification for the finer varieties. The label Deutscher Sekt b.A. (aka Sekt bestimmter Anbaugebiete or Qualitätsschaumwein b.A.) is used for those with a minimum of 85 per cent of the grapes – including riesling, silvaner, pinot blanc and pinot noir – sourced from one of Germany’s 13 designated wine regions. They are Ahr, Baden, Franconia, Hessische Bergstraße, Mittelrhein, Mosel, Nahe, Palatinate, Rheingau, Rheinhessen, Saale-Unstrut, Saxony and Württemberg.
At the top rung is Winzersekt, which are exceptional single-varietal, estate-grown sparkling wines. Produced using the traditional method, they must feature fruit that is sourced from the estate itself or combined with a local cooperative’s, and the label needs to state grape variety and vintage. The most popular varietal is riesling, while the rest are pinot noir, chardonnay, pinot meunier, muskateller and traminer.
Across the border from Germany, the Austrian Sekt Commission launched Austrian Sekt Day on Oct 22, 2017, and released a new set of standards to define the highest Austrian sparkling wine category termed Sekt g.U. (Protected Designation of Origin or PDO). Only three quality classes of Klassik, Reserve and Grosse Reserve are allowed to list Sekt g.U. on their labels.
The Reserve wines must be from a protected designation of origin, and its minimum of 18 months of ageing puts this classification on a par with non-vintage Champagne. The top tier of super-fine Grosse Reserve (grand reserve) must adhere to even more rigorous rules similar to those of Champagne’s premier or grand cru system. Austria’s three major wine growing regions are Niederöesterreich (lower Austria), Burgenland and Steiermark (Styria), while there are 16 smaller wine production areas. Currently, the estates producing high-quality “grower Sekt” number around 200.
Fruity, floral, highly perfumed and bursting with fresh acidity, Sekt as a whole is usually sweeter than Champagne. The texture tends towards creamy, while dominant notes are usually that of citrus fruit, jasmine, marmalade, pear, peach and melon.
Malat Reserve Brut Nature
“This is a blend of chardonnay and pinot noir. Its minerality and light fruit notes can be enhanced with dim sum such as siew mai, ha gao and wanton, or even with something a little bit heavier such as local dish char kway teow or fried carrot cake.” – Jean-Michel Cosny of Ampelia Fine Wines
Stift Göttweig Sekt Brut
“This is made by fermentation in small wooden barrels, with a few months of lees contact in a small wooden barrel, and disgorged after 30 months without dosage. Perfect for the festive season, this elegant sparkling wine can be nicely paired with fresh oysters with no or very little lemon to avoid overwhelming acidity or with smoked-salmon toasts topped with caviar, creme fraiche and dill.” – Jean-Michel Cosny of Ampelia Fine Wines
Christoph Hoch Kalkspitz Pet-Nat NV
“Fresh, natural white petnat made using the ancestral method from Grüner Veltliner and Zweigelt, this wine is quite delicate and will get along very well with many types of seafood like lemon-grilled salmon with asparagus, Filipino-style ceviche or roasted halibut fish with baby tomatoes.” – Jean-Michel Cosny of Ampelia Fine Wines
The premier sparkling blanco (white) and rosado (rosé) wine of Spain, Cava (Spanish for cellar and pronounced ka-va) is accorded the country’s Denominación de Origen (DO) status. Nearly all Cava comes from the Penedès region in Catalonia in the northeastern corner of Spain, with many large estates located in the village of Sant Sadurní d’Anoia. Other production regions such as Aragon, Basque Country, Castile and León, Navarra and La Rioja are mainly in the north, with the exception being Extremadura and Valencia.
Produced only using the traditional method following a system similar to that for Champagne, Cava is however different in taste profile due to its dramatically different climate and soil from France. And it also features mainly endemic grapes: Macabeo (or viura) is the dominant grape varietal that is blended with parellada and xarel-lo. Chardonnay and pinot noir are popular in the Reserva labels, while Spanish grapes of garnacha, monastrell and trepat are used for the rosado.
Beyond basic Cava, which is most common and similar to Crémant, there are three higher categories that abide by more rigorous production rules. They are Reserva Cava, whose requirements are similar to that of non-vintage Champagne; and Gran Reserva, which follows the style of vintage Champagne.
At the pinnacle is the “gran cru” level Cava Paraje Calificado (CPC), which has a minimum 36-month ageing requirement, must be estate bottled and originate from qualified single vineyards with vines older than 10 years. The list of CPC vineyards and their Cavas is short, but they are the most prestigious estates that age their wines longer than required.
Heritage winemaker Familia Ferrer, whose ancestors founded the largest sparkling wine company in the world, Freixener, has been making 100 per cent estate wines at its Can Sala winery, producing its CPC-labelled Gran Reserva with minimum 120 months of ageing. The five-generation Gramona family also has a super-premium CPC line called Enoteca Gramona, whose ageing exceeds 12 years, and a biodynamic Argent label that is aged over 44 months. Roger Goulart also practises long ageing for its wine, and for the Gran Reserva, the period is over five years.
Young Cava is typically crisp, tart and zesty, exhibiting flavours of citrus and orchard fruit. Aged and vintage Cava are more complex and intense, revealing more floral notes as well as savoury ones of patisserie, toasted nuts, marzipan and even smoke.
Familia Ferrer Can Sala 2008
“We recommend pairing with mushroom or truffle dishes, smoked salmon or parmesan. The nutty flavour and slightly ginger spicy of the wine compliment the umami notes of such dishes. The lively mousse of the bubbles and the acidity also lighten and clean the palate after the deep, savoury food flavours. Or it can be served as a digestif after dinner. It goes well with fresh, acidic and not-too-sweet desserts, usually those with fruits.” – The Straits Wine Company team
Gramona Argent Blanc 2016
“The Gramona Argent Blanc pairs best with food that is rich and salty. It is perfect for the Christmas roast where the Cava’s natural freshness cuts through the fat of the meat to make the whole combination more balanced and flavourful. The sparkling wine is also naturally great with tapas and paellas. It is particularly beautiful with grilled seafood like octopus – the toasty notes of the food blend harmoniously with the acidity of the cava.” – Kenny Wong of Wines Online
Roger Goulart Gran Reserva Cava Brut 2015
“This wine features 18 months of ageing in the champenoise (traditional) method, and contains the three usual cava grapes with a higher proportion of xarel-lo. It can be served as a starter with a full artichoke dipped in mayo and a little bit of balsamic vinegar. If you want to feel the vibrant atmosphere of Spain, you can also have it with a lobster paella.” – Jean-Michel Cosny of Ampelia Fine Wines
While Prosecco (pronounced pro-sek-ko) is loved as a valued white bubbly, not many know that it is only made in the Veneto and Friuli-Venezia Giulia regions sandwiched between the Dolomite mountains and the Adriatic Sea in northeastern Italy.
It is a geographic origin-protected and classified DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) or DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita) sparkling wine that has to have the glera grape as the main varietal, to be blended with others like perera, bianchetta trevigiana, verdiso, chardonnay, glera lunga and the pinot grapes. Also, it was only in May 2020 that the Prosecco rosato (rosé) category was approved, so do look forward to exploring a new group of sparklers.
Like the Champagne region, the original Prosecco production village of Le Colline del Prosecco di Conegliano e Valdobbiadene in the province of Treviso is recognised as a Unesco World Heritage Site for its viticulture heritage that dates back to Roman times. The wine, however, is made using the modern method of re-fermentation in stainless steel tanks so as to better control the quality as well as to retain the intensity and freshness of the aromatic grape varietals used in Prosecco.
The entire Prosecco region’s unique geography and microclimate, along with historic grape-growing practices and the tank method, result in a light-bodied, frothy and fruity wine that is just a tad sweeter than Champagne or Cava but less yeasty. It tends to express a lively bouquet of jasmine, orange blossom and acacia flowers with a palate of orchard and citrus fruit, melon, nuts, honeycomb and baked goods.
Ferro 13 Prosecco Extra Dry Millesimato “The Boss” DOC 2020
“Prosecco is the Italian welcome drink and mostly used as aperitif or with appetisers. It pairs well with finger food and appetiser, but try not to drink Ferro 13 Prosecco with spicy food; salty works very well though. Enjoy it with olives, fried calamari, tempura vegetable, light cheeses and pistachios.” – Denise Lai of Wine List Asia
Ca’ dei Zago Prosecco Col Fondo Valdobbiadene DOCG 2020
“Uplifting, fresh and dry, this prosecco makes for an invigorating aperitif to your festive feast. It also pairs very well with light seafood-based dishes or a platter of light cheeses and cold cuts.” – Joshua Loke of TWDC
Reputed to be Italy’s best-kept (sparkling wine) secret, Franciacorta (pronounced fran-chia-kor-ta) has been compared to Champagne for its traditional method of production and similar primary grape varietals. Produced in a small area historically known as Franciacorta, which is situated in the Brescia province of the northern Italian region of Lombardy not too far from Milan, the wine has the superior DOCG classification.
It is so loved within the country that only a small amount is exported, and for good reason. The revival of a rare native grape called erbamat, and the efforts of a new breed of winemakers who are championing organic viticulture, are elevating standards. In fact, the growing zone’s mineral-rich terroir and warm microclimate that is cooled by alp breezes keep grapes healthy and make the place ideal for organic production, which has since been adopted by over 70 per cent of the winemakers.
The result is bubbly that exhibits structure and refinement, boasts savoury mineral notes, and is fresh and fruity without being too acidic. The main grape used for standard Franciacorta white is chardonnay, which can be blended with some pinot nero, pinot bianco and erbamat. The trademarked Satèn, which is a soft and creamy sparkling white, is made from only white grapes and a lower bottle pressure; while the rosé must have a minimum of 35 per cent pinot nero.
Non-vintage bottlings must age for a minimum of 18 months, while the Satèn and rosé at least 24 months. Vintage labels require at least 30 months and riservas 60 months.
Villa Franciacorta Pas Dose “Diamant” DOCG 2015
“A great champenoise wine, with depth and complexity. Suitable as aperitif or as a full-meal wine for bubbly lowers. Perfect with oysters, seafood antipasti and pastas, sushi and sashimi.” – Denise Lai of Wine List Asia
Largely hailing from the Emilia-Romagna region of northern Italy, this enigmatic sparkler is famously known as a rosso (red) or rosato (rosé) even though bianco (white) versions are made. Lambrusco (pronounced lum-brew-sko) is the namesake of a truly ancient family of red grape native to that area dating back to Etruscan times. While there are over 60 such related varietals, only about 11 high-quality ones are commonly used in the wine, especially the widely planted lambrusco salamino. Most bottlings are made from a blend, although there are single-varietal labels, resulting in a full range of styles.
Out of the major appellations, the most famous are Lambrusco di Sorbara DOC, which is responsible for the region’s most esteemed labels, and Lambrusco Reggiano DOC, which features a large variety of blends and styles. There are also Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro DOC, Lambrusco Salamino di Santa Croce DOC, Lambrusco di Modena DOC, as well as Lambrusco Mantovano DOC, which is in the neighbouring region of Lombardy and the only appellation outside Emilia-Romagna allowed to make the sparkling wine.
While a wine boom in the 1980s caused wineries to use the tank method to generate high volumes to meet demand, consequently lowering Lambrusco’s quality and reputation, a new generation of independent winemakers are mounting a comeback just like their peers across the Old World. To make “modern Lambrusco” – a unique terroir-driven one with finesse and complexity, they have been reverting to the ancestral and traditional methods, restoring old vines to produce grapes that exhibit more depth, and using exclusively estate grapes grown sustainably.
In general, the best Lambrusco is dry, crisp and elegant. As a whole, the bubbly is silky, frothy and food-friendly with intense red berry flavours and a bright acidity balanced with some minerality. The rosso versions also hold more tannins and structure.
Medici Ermete Lambrusco Reggiano Secco “Concerto” DOC 2020
“This label is the most awarded and first-ever “single vineyard” Lambrusco. Being an Emilia-Romagna icon, with the being the cradle of parmigiano reggiano, parma ham and many other cold-cuts, it is too difficult to decide what to pair it with! The choices are aplenty: Tortellini either in “brodo” (broth) or “bolognese” style, gnocco fritto (deep fried dough) or tigelle (flatbread) with cheeses, and cold cuts are perfect with Concerto.” – Denise Lai of Wine List Asia
(Main and featured image: Vincent Caille/Domaine le Fay d’Homme X Bulles)
This story first appeared in the Nov 2021 issue of Prestige Singapore.