Marketing professionals would probably tell me to always reinforce the message that “I always love all the wines all the time.” I don’t. Readers of my occasional thoughts here on the various outlets that Surdyk’s provides to me will likely know that I am a guy who likes what I like, can appreciate
a lot of the products we carry even when I don’t particularly care for them, and that I am fond of beer and bourbon and the other super interesting products that we sell here. I’m not a sommelier and I don’t really hang out with other sommeliers. But here’s the confession that will get me preemptively excommunicated from the somm community: I am not always fond of Champagne.
I’ve sampled widely, I’ve purchased them for my home, sat down with them and I have really tried to focus on them. On one level, I get it: It is a very cool climate, it can be difficult to get anything close to ripe and difficulties abound in the production of these wines. They are bubbly, fun and often interesting, but they don’t speak to me the lyrical, magical words that they seem to say
to other people. At $40-$75 per bottle, the subtleties I find there simply are not worth it to me more than once or twice per year.
That said (if you can still stand to hear the “sound” of my writing), I do love sparkling wines. Over the last few years, I have really come to enjoy the experience of opening a bottle of bubbly late in an afternoon while preparing dinner and carrying it into the meal. I have been continuously impressed at how good many of the products are from California, Spain and Italy. Of particular
note, however, are the wines from France, which are grown and produced in areas that are not Champagne.
Champagne, of course, is a specific, lines-in- the-dirt geographical area in northern France that is due east of Paris by about an hour. The rules are often arcane even for professionals, but basically, if your grapes are grown inside the area, they can be made into a sparkling wine that can be called “Champagne.” If they are not grown inside the area, they can never be Champagne. For those poor vineyards outside the blessed area, there is a different word you can use: “crémant.”
We stock a variety of crémant and have done so for years and these sparkling wines give away absolutely nothing in terms of quality of production, are made from a variety of different grapes not used in Champagne, and deliver fantastic value to the consumer. Often these wines are priced between $10 and $25, a price point that allows our customers to purchase three or four bottles of crémant for every one bottle of Champagne.
Most often (in fact, I can think of no exceptions) the wines labeled as “crémant” also carry the name of their appellation. For example, a sparkling wine from the Jura is called “Crémant de Jura” and a
sparkling wine from Burgundy is called “Crémant de Bourgogne.” I encourage you to try these items, identified in the box to the right, as not merely less expensive alternatives to Champagne, but perhaps as your first choice for sparkling wine.