The British seem to have always had a love of sparkling wine, Champagne in particular. However across the Channel the top selling sparkling wine in France is actually Crémant d’Alsace.
Crémant wines from Alsace are often mistaken for Champagnes and are made by the same methods, and indeed both come from the same north eastern cool climate area of France. Likewise, the grapes used in both sparkling wines, tend to be similar. The main grapes used in Crémant d’Alsace are Pinot Noir, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Auxerrois.
Pinot Auxerrois is a sibling of Chardonnay and is a cross between Gouais Blanc and Pinot Noir. It shares its name with the Auxerrois vineyards which produce a whole range of Burgundy regional appellations south of the town of Auxerre. The grape is an important component of Crémant d’Alsace, adding body, back bone and a little spice.
Crémant is the French word for “creaming” and the sparkling wines are made with slightly more than half the pressure of champagne. This doesn’t give them any less sparkle but makes a wine with a fizzy mousse of bubbles and a delicious refreshing tingle on the tongue.
The House of Jean Baptiste Adam is one of the best producers. Founded in 1614, the House is one of the rare family estates who can claim 400 years of history in wine making with no less than 14 generations of winemakers behind it.
The family’s Livre de Gourmettage (Book of the Gourmet) contains early writings that tell the story of past marketing efforts and retraces the evolution of wine sales from 1786 until today.
In the early years of the House, restaurants represented the great majority of the customer base, but the book also shows evidence of transactions in Yokohama, Japan and in New York. Today the House follows bio dynamic principles. Their Crémant is made in the Alsace village of Ammerschwihr which lies in the Kaefferkopf Grand Cru vineyard.
Jean Baptiste Adam’s Crémant Brut d’Alsace is made from a blend of Pinot Auxerrois, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Noir. The wine is a pale lemon colour with golden tints and has a dense very fine mousse. It is highly aromatic with expressive fruity notes of apricot and pear and has hints of lime blossom, spice and brioche. In the mouth it is well balanced, rounded and harmonious.
The Crémant d’Alsace Brut Rosé is made from Pinot Noir and is a pale salmon pink in colour with notes of copper. It has a bouquet of red and black currants, cherry and quince. In the mouth it is expressive, well balanced and refreshing with a dense, very fine mousse lasting to the very last sip in the glass.
These are super wines that make great aperitifs but they are also very good with food – try the Crémant Brut d’Alsace with seafood or Thai and Chinese cuisine and the Crémant d’Alsace Brut Rosé with salmon, sushi or raspberry and rhubarb tart!
The founder’s namesake, Jean Baptiste, sees the vineyard as a living organism in its entirety and only uses natural products such as yarrow, nettle and seaweed to control pests and fertilize the vines. Ammerschwihr enjoys a micro climate of sunny, warm and dry days and the region also receives the least amount of yearly rainfall which ensures the gradual ripening of the grapes creating extremely aromatic wines. The soils are a mosaic of gneiss, granite, limestone, shale and sandstone. This diversity was created as around 50 million years ago both the Vosges and the Black Forest (in Germany) were a single massif – when it collapsed the Rhine plain was formed. The Alsace vineyards are situated along the fault line and their soil is patchwork of the collapsed ancient upper layers.
Prior to the Second World War, Ammerschwihr was like a village out of a fairy tale complete with fortifications, towers, grain market, gabled houses and wine cellars. The town was so rich that it belonged to three sovereigns – the Emperor, the Lord of Ribeaupierre and the Lord of Hohlandsberg.
Tragedy struck with the Second World War and the village was turned into a field of smouldering ruins during the Battle of Colmar. The House of Jean Baptiste Adam was considered “deutschfeindlich – hostile to the Germans – and their cellar was used as a shelter for many inhabitants of Ammerschwihr during the bombing. The cellar survived intact and is amongst the oldest in the region. Their huge wooden casks are over a century old – in 1883 Jean Baptiste’s great grandfather gave one to each of his 5 children. They are still in use and the initial of each child is carved into the wood. For many years, the annual sales of each cask would be put away for each child, and on the day of their wedding, the daughters would inherit the amount.
Jean Baptiste says that with the House of Jean Baptiste Adam ‘everything is history’ but this is an estate that has embraced new knowledge alongside the old and their superb wines are well worth trying for yourself.