Crémant d'Alsace is the appellation for the white and rose sparkling wines of the Alsace wine region of north-eastern France. Introduced in August 1976, the appellation now accounts for approximately one quarter of the region's output – about 45 million bottles per year, up from 31 million in 2009. Apart from Champagne (150 miles/240km to the west), it is the dominant French sparkling wine appellation, with more than half the output of all Crémant wines. Co-operatives are the big-volume players, with Wolfberger alone responsible for 6 to 7 million bottles. But many of the regions most prestigious estates make sparkling wines.
As with all French Crémant appellations, the méthode traditionelle is employed to make Crémant d'Alsace. The wines must spend a minimum of nine months maturing on their lees, to ensure a certain level of complexity. This lees ageing brings the wines a toasty, nutty, sometimes flinty character. Immediately after disgorgement, a dosage is added to the nearly finished wines to bolster their final sweetness levels. Depending on the balance of sugars and wines administered in the dosage, the winemaker is able to control the sweetness of the final product – brut (very dry), sec (dry) or demi-sec (medium-dry).
Crémant d'Alsace wines can be multi-variety blends – which is the case for the vast majority – or made from a single grape variety, the identity of which must be stated on the label. This includes Pinot Noir in the case of Blanc de Noirs wines.
The grape varieties that may be used to create Crémant d'Alsace wines are those permitted under the standard Alsace appellation laws - Riesling, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Noir and Auxerrois - plus Chardonnay. The latter variety is not permitted in any Alsace still wines but was accepted into the appellation's list of permitted varieties for sparkling wine production because of its obvious success in Champagne. Pinot Blanc is most widely used as a base variety, and Pinot Gris and Riesling are often employed to add richness and elegance respectively. The grapes used to produce the wines must come from the Alsace viticultural region as delimited in 1945.
With the increasing quantity of Crémant wines produced in Alsace (output has increased 20-fold in the past 30 years), vineyards growing grapes for them are spreading ever further across the plains between the Vosges mountains and the Rhine river. The creation and subsequent growth of the Alsace Grand Cru appellation has meant that the land on the lower Vosges slopes is reserved for these more profitable wines, creating a clear east/west division between the production areas for the Grands Crus and those for Crémant.