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Celebrate New Years Alsatian-Style

by Gil Kulers

by Gil Kulers

Alsatian vineyards in the winter.

Alsatian vineyards in the winter.

I swore I would not write a New Year’s eve piece on sparkling wines this year. I mean, it’s not too hard to find advice regarding December 31st’s “must have” wine. Then I got a letter from Greg Lobiondo.

Greg represents the Conseil Interprofessionnel des Vins d’Alsace (CIVA), essentially the Alsace winemakers association. He thought it would be a great idea (mind you, Greg gets paid to pass along great ideas to guys like me) that I write about Crémant d’Alsace for a New Year’s Eve wine column.

Mmmm…Greg stumbled upon a sizable chink in my armor. I just happen to have a significant soft spot for Crémant d’Alsace, the delicious sparkling wines made in the northeast corner of the French Republic. Greg wasted no time in getting a few samples together for me to try.

I’ve been lucky enough to have spent a fair amount of time in Alsace—one of the absolutely most gorgeous places in the world with unparalleled food and wine quality. I worked there, played there and nearly perished with my family on a hiking expedition in a national park there (a story I’ll save for another time). If the Family Kulers ever considered pulling up roots, we’d easily replant in Alsace.

One of the many things that put a wistful curl in my smile when I think of Alsace is the sparkling wine of the region. You’d be hard pressed to enter an Alsatian household anytime after, say, 11 a.m. without being handed a glass of crémant. Crémant is Alsatian for “nice to see you!”

Before getting into what crémant is, let’s consider what it is not. It is not Champagne, and not because Champagne can only come from the Champagne region of France. Alsatian winemakers are allowed to use chardonnay and pinot noir grapes (key components in Champagne) for crémant, but they are more likely to use the somewhat pedestrian pinot blanc grape. This gives crémant a lighter, easily approachable style, more appropriate for a quick clink and a quaff.

Crémant is not expensive. The priciest crémant will set you back no more than $30 to $35. Most are under $20.

Crémant d’Alsace is not what you would call a food wine. Sure, it goes great with the wonderful charcuterie and rich onion tarts of the region, but I think Crémant d’Alsace is pretty good all by itself, what some folks would call a cocktail wine.

Sparkling wines—also called crémants—are made in other regions of France (Burgundy and the Loire Valley come to mind), but not a whole lot is made. Outside of Champagne, nobody makes more dry sparkling wine than Alsace. About one out of every five bottles of wine coming out of Alsace is filled with bubbles, about 30 million bottles annually. This means you should be able to find a bottle or two of Crémant d’Alsace in any decent wine shop.

Names to look for are Lucien Albrecht, Albert Mann, Jean-Baptiste Adam, Willm, Dirler and Domaine Agapé.

So what is Crémant d’Alsace? To me, it reminds me of the folks who make it. They are easily approachable people who practically bubble over with friendliness. They are frugal, paying only for substance, with little tolerance for flash. They enjoy making things of quality, like the solid, timber-beamed houses they live in.

I think Greg would agree with me that more Americans should ring in 2011with a taste of Alsace.

Gil Kulers is a certified wine educator with the Society of Wine Educators. You can reach him at gil.kulers@winekulers.com.

Lucian Albrecht Cremant

Lucien Albrecht, Blanc de Blancs, Crémant d’Alsace, France

• $20 • Two Thumbs Way Up • Pleasant aromas of sour dough, tangerine, peach and lime. It has a crisp, citrusy acidity and flavors of tangerine, lime with a light nutmeg/toffee spice. Effervescent, but not overly so.

Domaine Agapé, Emotion, Crémant d’Alsace, France

Domaine Agapé, Emotion, Crémant d’Alsace, France

• $19 • Two Thumbs Up • Aromas of banana, petrol and orange juice concentrate. Lots of minerals with a simple tart lime and toasted coconut flavor, reminiscent of key lime pie.

(Wines are rated on a scale ranging up from thumbs down, one thumb mostly up, one thumb up, two thumbs up, two thumbs way up and Golden Thumb Award. Prices are suggested retail prices as provided by the winery, one of its agents, a local distributor or retailer.)

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