cremant de bourgogne – zero dosage

Update 23.6.2012(1.4.2012)billn

louis-bouillot-brut-natureI know it’s April the 1st and here’s a post on Cremant, but don’t conflate the two!

The BIVB have been telling me for a while now ‘you know that Cremant is now 13% of Burgundy production, don’t you(?)‘ but for a number of reasons I’ve resisted their entreaties to get my pen out; not least lack of experience but more generally because I see Cremant as ‘different’ to the rest of Burgundy – amongst other things, it’s made on a more industrial scale – not exactly the small domaine principle. There are a handful of Burgundians hand-producing Cremant but they are but specks when compared to the volume of producers like Kritter, Veuve Ambal and Louis Bouillot.

Many producers in Champagne are now choosing to make their own wine instead of selling to the Grande Maisons, amongst these new artisans, ‘zero dosage’ is becoming a common theme, so it was interesting to hear that Cremant de Bourgogne producer, Louis Bouillot had just launched a range of zero dosage bottles; more interestingly from specific vineyard areas, specifically Gevrey-Chambertin (Les Grands Rayes Blancs) Savigny-lès-Beaune (Dessus Les Vermots) and a blend St Aubin, St Romain and St Véran (Les Trois Saints). There’s a fourth cuvée too which is an equal blend of the other three.

Begrudgingly, (because of their industrial volume) I have found the wines of Louis Bouillot to be quite good, and certainly high quality for their genre, so I was quite interested in these. Notably, cremant is the last resort for grapes that no-one would want to make still wine with, but choosing a zero dosage approach means there is no place to hide – the fruit needs to have decent ripeness. To aid this process LB reduced their yields from close to 80hl/ha down to 60hl/ha and then properly aged the product – of these three wines, one is a 2003 and the others are from 2005 – yes, vintage cremant!

It seemed fair to enlist the help of my neighbours to compare and contrast thes wines, and I also chose a wine from another place to act as a benchmark. One of the cremants was a blanc de blanc, the other two blanc de noirs – I chose to taste the BdB first and the two BdN to follow in no particular order. Two of the three Bouillots need time to settle after opening and develop in the glass – the third seemed rather more stable:

2003 Louis Bouillot, Les Grandes Terroirs Les Trois Saints
Blanc de blanc, zero dosage. Pale yellow, plenty of large bubbles. The nose is high-toned and quite fresh, showing a little green-skinned fruit and a faint ester impression. In the mouth the fruit is also high-toned and estery, perhaps a little aldehyde too. The impression is a little tart, but not overly so as the sweetness of fruit comes through. This is the wine that was most improved in the glass – cleaning up the fruit to lose that ester/aldehyde impression and with it the acidity smoothing out. I found the nose quite impressive and generally this to be quite tasty – a candidate for decanting perhaps(?)

2005 Louis Bouillot, Les Grandes Terroirs Dessus Les Vermots
Blanc de noirs, zero dosage. Lighter yellow. Deeper aromas. In the mouth there are more bubbles and more obvious fruit – here is another wine that needs time to settle (needs decanting) as there is too much gas to start with. As the bubbles fade, the wine comes together with clean fruit flavour and a long-lasting finish. The nose really comes together with a lovely blend of fruit and a creamy base. Very nice wine in a fresh and fruity vernacular

2005 Louis Bouillot, Les Grandes Terroirs Les Grands Rayes Blancs
Blanc de noirs, zero dosage. Light again but a more golden shade. The nose is the most complex of the three; darker aromas with a little savoury note too. Not as overly gassy as the ‘Vermots’, and despite a long line of intense fruit through the core and into the finish this is less overtly ‘fruity’ than the previous wine. The nose is really singing after about 15 minutes. Very nice wine indeed.

As a benchmark, we compared these with the following:

Benoit Lahaye, NV Champagne Brut Nature
Light in colour with the finest (smallest) bubbles. The nose is deeply perfumed with just an edge of freshness. In the mouth this is finely boned and very pretty – perhaps without the bravado of the two cremant blanc de noirs, but very tasty indeed.

The champagne was the most refined, but nobody exclaimed that it was clearly the best. Concentrating on the cremants, there were two votes for the fruit of the Vermots and two votes (including mine) for the complexity of the Grands Rayes – perhaps the Blanc de Blanc needs a little more aging, though it also needed air to clean-up – it anyway seems that I remain a Gevrey-boy! Good wines for sure – though I expect value will be in the eye of the beholder as the cremants range from €18 up to €32 (retail) – but I don’t know which costs what.

Bottles supplied for review by Louis Bouillot.

Agree? Disagree? Anything you'd like to add?

There are 6 responses to “cremant de bourgogne – zero dosage”

  1. Roelof Ligtmans1st April 2012 at 6:03 pmPermalinkReply

    Hi Bill,

    technically speaking, crémant being the last resort for otherwise useless grapes is not correct. Since 2 years, there is an obligatory preliminary registration of vineyard parcels destined for crémant production, with the aim of avoiding just that, the “appellation poubelle’ syndrome. This system is far from flawless, but the intent is there to ensure a minimum quality standard for the product.

  2. Caroline Lestimé2nd April 2012 at 1:54 pmPermalinkReply

    Hello Bill,
    I am agree with Roelof Ligtmans, the Cremant de Bourgogne is not an ( or not any more) “appellation poubelle” and even if some big companies are making huge volume of this appellation, rules have been established to improve the quality and the serious of its elaboration.
    Less than one hundred years ago, winegrowers were making done their sparkling wine from their own grapes. My father told me that my grand-father gave Bâtard-Montachet grapes to make it!
    For celebrations the burgundians drank Cremant or Mousseux made in Burgundy.
    That’s why 5 years ago, I decided to produce some Cremant from a terroir located on small rising and chalky slopes in Hautes Côtes de Beaune, adjoining the west part of Saint-Aubin.
    I Keep only the first juices to make this Blanc de Noir Cuvée. Apart from that the process of wine-making is typical of the so-called “Méthode Traditionnelle”. The bottles are kept laying down for at least 18 month but could be longer as dégorgeage is done on order.
    I start to sell some 2008 last July.
    Our yields are very small: 35hl/ha in 2008 + 2009 and 22hl/ha in 2010. My aim is to try to have an elegant and fine effevescence. It is not a zero dosage but it is a low dosage.

    As for red Chassagne-Montrachet I defend Crémant de Bourgogne with passion because it is a part on my cultural heritage.
    With my sparkling wishes,

    Caroline Lestimé
    Domaine Jean-Noël Gagnard

  3. billn2nd April 2012 at 7:18 pmPermalinkReply

    Hi to Roelof and Caroline
    Did you think I was being a little provocative? 🙂

    technically speaking, crémant being the last resort for otherwise useless grapes is not correct.

    So what is Roelof? 😉

    Although (please note!) I never used (before in print!) the term appellation poubelle, it is clear to me that the perception of many, many winemakers in the Côtes, probably a majority, remains exactly as I noted – sparkling wine, to them, is made with grapes that are no good for making still wine. That can be for as simple a reason as insufficient potential alcohol % – though you might clearly ask ‘why harvest so early!(?) That the ‘appellation poubelle‘ name even existed, and that the rules were altered two years ago (Roelof), adequately demonstrates that this was a problem – changing rules for anything wine-related is hard work so clearly there was a need.

    Let’s now fast-forward to today! As I stated, anyone who goes for zero (or low, Caroline!) dosage, can only do so if they have good quality raw materials (better than the average Champagne(?)) with the intent to make good wine, hence, we are automatically distancing ourselves from the ‘concept poubelle‘ i.e. something I wouldn’t want to drink, let-alone waste my time writing about. So these wines are good for everyone – no?

    Before either of you replied to this post I was already quizzing the producer, not from the perspective of quality as I’m sure the notes demonstrate that these bottles stood up well to my personal benchmark at home (this season’s anyway!) I liked the wines for sure but was less sure about the value proposition; it was a simple question I posed to them ‘who would buy Cremant in place of Champagne for a similar quality and price?‘ I expected they would have their own well-calculated marketing justification, but based on their exceedingly refreshing response (reproduced below), it seems I’m just used to having a day-job with too many marketeers! 🙂

    Looking forward to tasting your Cremant Caroline!
    Best to both

    I am not sure there is a real marketing target, we just did this for the fun of making good wines ! (crazy non ?!)

    The target is “connaisseurs” who will drop by, as the cuvees are extremely small i.e. in my opinion, only the people who are aware of what we do and of Burgundy! (a narrow market!!!)

    In my opinion that is part of building the image of Louis Bouillot, including the work we have been doing on the brand for years…
    Not expecting to build a market yet!
    Louis Bouillot contact

    Note these Grandes Terroirs cuvées account for only about 10,000 bottles out of a total annual production of close to 2 million!

  4. Roelof Ligtmans2nd April 2012 at 8:45 pmPermalinkReply

    Hi Bill,

    thanks for your reply. It seems like it matters which “Côte” you are on. As far as I am aware, growers in the Côte Chalonnaise take producing Crémant rather more seriously than their colleagues further north apparently do. Maybe that has something to do with the fact that it is an important part of the production of Rully, as well as some other villages. Personally, I’ve seen grapes arriving from various domaines at Rully-based crémant-producer Vitteaut-Alberti both in 2010 and 2011, and they were very nice indeed.

    And as for your question: I’m sure you’re right that some low-quality fruit still finds its way into a crémant cuve somewhere. There is little alternative, but there is one: one of the companies you mention, Kriter, does not actually make Crémant de Bourgogne, but the lower classified “Vin mousseux de qualité”. They do manage to create a beverage that finds its way to the (super)market. Not the kind of stuff that forum members regularly discuss, though.

    I think the development of small-scale luxury cuvées of Crémant (Louis Picamelot in Rully does several) is a good thing, that stimulates competition and indicates the potential for quality. But is there a real market out there? Remains to be seen.

  5. Geoff Sandquist3rd April 2012 at 11:14 amPermalinkReply

    I enjoy your site and its depth of info. From a crémant perspective, I only hope you are starting with a mass producer of crémant in order to refine towards some of the great small ones. I have been a big fan of Vitteaut-Alberti for a more than a decade, and last week was very impressed by a crémant from Henri Boillot.
    I was told recently that the Boisset brand was producing 3.5 million bottles per year. So you were drinking from 0.003% of their production (or 0.005% given 2 million btls). There is no doubt in my mind that well made Crémant de Bourgogne can crush many Champagnes, for this is the home of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, n’est-ce pas ?
    I do wonder about your comparison of a NV Champagne with the vintage crémants, as the NV would have been able to improve itself with the introduction of older wine. An apples to apples may have been more appropriate, in more ways than one, as Benoit only makes 40K bottles per annum. If his wine wasn’t clearly the most enjoyed I would have been very surprised.

    • billn3rd April 2012 at 9:25 pmPermalinkReply

      Hi Geoff
      Not much to say except that the champagne costs the same as the more expensive cremants, and more important was zero dosage. Given that it was already my Champagne du Maison, it still seems to me the perfect benchmark for what I like to drink – NV or Vintage are of no additional importance to me.
      I don’t expect to widen my scope to cover more cremant – it was just a nice thing for a Spring weekend – anyway, I have hardly scratched the surface of the Cote d’Or in these last ten years 😉

  6. Caroline Lestimé4th April 2012 at 12:41 pmPermalinkReply

    Hello Bill,
    I like your article about Crémant de Bourgogne and I wish you will investigate more in the future on this subject.
    Wine writers, bloggers, wine journalists are not very interested in this subject and I can understand why; people are simply more curious about what happens on the Côte de Nuits or de Beaune!
    And I think it is sad because you have growers – as Maison Picamelot in Rully – who are doing a great work to elaborate special Cuvées which are remarquable.
    Keep beeing curious and sometimes a little provocative … :-))

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