Bubbly for breakfast

On our second day at the Loire Salon tasting here in France we concentrated on a few of the great names and appellations of the region as well as some lesser known areas and producers. We started off with a “breakfast of bubbles,” as our guide, the highly knowledgeable and delightful Ross Wassermann, put it. Many Americans may not know that the Loire Valley is the second-largest producer of sparkling wine in France after Champagne, and that the wines are made throughout the region from chenin blanc combined with other grapes. The appellation Crémant de Loire is the biggest for sparkling wine and also the most prestigious, though by no means a household name beyond France or even the Loire itself. IMG_4850  François Régis de Fougeroux thinks that’s starting to change. He’s the young general manager of one of the best-known Crémant producers, Langlois-Chateau in Saumur (the property was founded in 1885 by Edouard Langlois and his wife, the aptly named Jeanne Chateau, and has been owned since 1973 by the Bollinger Champagne house). As he poured for us today, Régis de Fougeroux said he believes the wines are becoming better known and are increasingly perceived as having “authenticity,” as he put it. “People are now asking for a ‘Crémant,’” he told us. It’s no wonder. The wines can be quite distinctive, are refreshing with their crisp acidity and cost a good deal less than Champagne.

Three from Langlois-Chateau stood out for me. The basic Crémant de Loire Brut, made from 60 percent chenin blanc, 20 percent chardonnay and 20 percent cabernet franc, is zesty and fresh with pretty, lemony fruit and a bargain at about $20. The 2003 Crémant Reserve is made from the same blend and has a somewhat longer finish and more minerality. The 2002 “Quadrille”Crémant Extra Brut, though nominally drier than the Bruts, is actually richer and more Champagne-like in practice with its long, creamy finish, achieved from extended contact with the lees, the remnants of the yeasts and solids of the grapes. The Quadrille is made with four varieties -- 50 percent chenin, 30 percent chardonnay, 15 percent cab franc and five percent cabernet sauvignon.

We also enjoyed some nice Crémants from Louis de Grenelle, also located in Saumur, and for me the standout was the organic “Louis” Brut, which was at once refreshing, creamy and citrusy, reminding me of lemon meringue. Our “breakfast” was a tasty one indeed. I’ll be posting on more great wines from the Loire Valley in coming days.

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