Crémant de Bourgogne vs. Champagne: Pourquoi Pas?

Emily L Turner, wine blogger for E Romantic HotelsWhat wine has such widespread connotations of good cheer and happy occasions as Champagne?

Emily L Turner, wine blogger for E Romantic HotelsAlmost universally appreciated as the eternally invited guest whenever there is reason to celebrate, Champagne has few real competitors, if only for the psychological association that has been so effectively branded in people’s psyches.

I’m not going to challenge that association. There is a time and a place for Champagne – and here’s hoping it’s often throughout this new year. A valuable lesson I’ve learned from living in Burgundy, however, is that times and places for Champagne’s neglected little brother, Crémant, seem to present themselves much more frequently, transforming routine occasions like Sunday brunch or pizza night into truly festive events.

Although one can find sparkling wine throughout France, Crémant de Bourgogne refers to that produced just outside the region of Champagne. In fact, Burgundy and Champagne come in such close contact that Burgundy’s Route du Crémant could feasibly link with a Champagne trail.

“It’s a small appellation, but one that is becoming more and more important because people realize Crémant is made using the same tradition as Champagne, and there is not that much difference,” says Jean-Louis Chaumonnot, a small vintner from Bissey-la-Côte, in the northern Côte d’Or. I called him to inquire about the exact differences, and am delighted to learn he remembers our brief encounter a few months back.

“Yes, yes, I remember you, Mademoiselle,” Monsieur Chaumonnot chuckles warmly, recalling the rainy day we met at the Fall Truffle Festival. I had tasted a bit of his 100% Chardonnay Crémant and decided right away it would be a good match for my New Year’s celebration stateside. (At 6.50 € a bottle for such a crisp sip of bubbly, there was no excuse not to buy some, even if it risked weighing me down a bit on the way home.)

The only difference between Crémant and Champagne, according to Monsieur Chaumonnot, is the geographical location.

“We don’t have the right to the Champagne appellation, but we use the same vines, and the same fabrication methods.” He pauses. “There is just one little difference that is not very important: when we harvest and put the wine in bottle, we must age it on its lees for a minimum of a year, whereas the minimum for Champagne is 15 months – a three month difference.”

There is not a hint of resentment in his voice. Despite the undeniable marketing advantages that would come with an association with fine Champagne, it is obvious to Monsieur Chaumonnot that this cannot be. In France, unlike in the U.S., if the grapes are grown outside the region of Champagne, the sparkling wine must be called something else. Does a rose by another name smell as sweet?

“To someone who hasn’t tried Crémant, I say, ‘taste, and then tell me what you think,’” says Chaumonnot, tout simplement. His voice is kind, encouraging, and most tellingly, confident. He knows the craftsmanship that goes into handpicking the grapes and producing their juices. He and his wife Chantal employ just one additional full time hand to help them with the vineyard’s 2 hectares of vines: their daughter Elodie. The three of them produce a Crémant de Bourgogne Rosé, made from 100% Pinot Noir grapes and a Ratafia de Bourgogne in addition to their Chardonnay based Crémant.

What makes Crémant special is that while it is a vin de fêtes, served “preferably in a flute,” as reads Jean-Louis Chaumonnot’s brochure, it remains reasonably priced and approachable. Trader Joe’s carries several $10 choices, and you’ll rarely find it anywhere priced above $25. Some bottles are noble enough to pair with Christmas ham. Any would marry well with salty appetizers. (I get a real kick out of pairing Crémant with pizza or popcorn. It could be a run-of-the-mill movie night, but pop a bottle of crisp, acidic bubbly and it’s a party.)

True, Champagne is and probably always will be the top dog at weddings, graduations, anniversaries, and on Valentine’s Day, but Crémant undeniably has its place. If you haven’t already, take Monsieur Chaumonnot’s advice and just taste it. You might find that grounds for bubbly aren’t so few and far between after all.

**Why not visit Monsieur Chaumonnot’s winery and taste with the man himself? Bissey-la-Côte is only 100 km from “Les Remparts” Bed and Breakfast, featured on this site. Rent a car and drive through beautiful Chablis wine country into Crémant central!

Emily L. Turner is an American writer and budding photographer who divides her time between her old Kentucky home and Burgundy, France. She began her life in France as an exchange student in Dijon, then taught English to primary students for a year in Beaune, and is now pursuing her passion for wine. In addition to freelancing for several print magazines, she writes about her experiences on her blog, EmilyintheGlass and loves to hear from her readers!

by Emily L. Turner
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