WINE & SPIRITS
THERE'S A WORLD OF MORE-THAN-ACCEPTABLE ALTERNATIVES FOR CLASSIC BUBBLY
The surest way to win me over as a dinner guest is to offer, when I walk in the door, a chilled crystal flute of Champagne. Entertaining with bubbly is a rock solid path to a great first impression. While Champagne, as an aperitif, starts the evening off right, it's even more dazzling when served up with dinner--even, I might add, with a Thanksgiving feast. Of course, serving real French Champagne can get costly when you've got a house full of guests. In those situations I've lately been turning to beautiful second-tier bubbly from east of Champagne in Alsace.
I discovered the charms of Cremant d'Alsace on a recent visit to the region. Alsace shares the same climactic conditions as its more esteemed sparkling wine neighbor. Made from various blends of pinot blanc, pinot gris, Riesling, chardonnay and pinot noir, cremant (the generic French term for sparkling wine produced outside the Champagne region) is a real bargain, averaging a mere $18 a bottle. The grape blends add real personality. From Riesling comes elegance and lively fruity notes, from pinot gris an opulent richness, from pinot noir charm and finesse.
With 500 producers releasing some 20 million bottles a year, cremant is awfully big business. On my tasting tour I sampled what can only be called a drop in the bucket. At Lucien Albrecht, a winery that traces its lineage to the 15th century--before Columbus discovered America--I sampled cremant alongside 18th-generation winemaker Jean Albrecht. An eccentric, larger-than-life personality, Albrecht bubbles over with enthusiasm for his beloved spirit. His Brut Rosé, the biggest selling cremant in France, undergoes malolactic fermentation, which gives it a creamy, balanced mousse. I later sampled more fine bottles at the biodynamically planted winery J.B. Adam, run by Jean-Baptiste Adam, a 14th-generation winemaker. His blend of pinot blanc and pinot noir undergoes extra long fermentation, which results in wonderful tiny bubbles.