Three French regions, the Jura, high in northeastern France, Limoux in the Languedoc and Gaillac, in the southwest, each produce high quality Crémant wines. Crémant are sparkling wines made by a similar method to that used in Champagne. Sometimes the grape varieties used are similar to Champagne too, but interest in many of these wines is raised by the fact that local varieties are often used. I must say these are impressive wines generally, but the barrel-fermented Cuvée Exception 1996 from Antech goes down as an absolute eye-opener; a stunningly good, rich and complex fizz that belies its very modest price tag. The fizzing red Cabernet Franc from the Loire was also a fun, and deliciously unusual wine.
Domaine de Montgilet (Loire) Ardoisier Rouge Demi-Sec
What a delightfully different wine this is; 100% Cabernet Franc, deep red fizz, made by the Champagne method. The nose is deep and powerful, with wafting aromas of chocolaty, dark red fruits; loganberry and mulberry, with a little hint of jammy raspberry too. On the palate the mousse is generous and persistent, and there is a sweetness on the attack that is soon overtaken by lots of savoury, quite plummy flavours, with a base of cassis and raspberry fruit. Like a supercharged kir royale, this would be great fun for a summer garden party or, with chocolate dessert. Very good indeed. £9.30.
Frédéric Lornet (Jura) Crémant du Jura Rosé
This bronze-tinged wine is immediately appealing on the eye and nose. It is made from 100% Poulsard, an indigenous variety of the Jura, that is pale red-skinned, and makes natural rosé wines, even with extended skin contact. It is quite aromatic, with soft red fruits and a floral note, straw and just a hint of caramel in the background. On the palate the mousse is lively and the flavours very crisp; peach and soft red fruit flavours are snapped at rather aggressively by pithy acidity and some tannins. I found this just a touch astringent in the finish. Without another bottle to compare (to see if this was perhaps a little corky) I will put it down as moderate to good. £9.40.
Antech (Limoux) Blanquette de Limoux Cuvée Exception 1996
What a fine, fine wine this is. Like all Blanquette de Limoux, the major part of the blend is Mauzac, a native grape of Limoux and neighbouring Gaillac. It is joined here by a small proportion of Chardonnay, which is fermented in oak barrels before spending several years in the cellar prior to release. The nose offers up a wonderful melange of nutty, leesy, toasted brioche aromas with dried green apple and pear fruit. There’s a leafy, slightly nettly quality, but the broad, generous aromas are toffeed, fine and inviting. The rich, rolling mousse adds to the sense of fullness and toasty complexity, and this utterly delicious wine really does come across like a mini-Krug, with no sign of rusticity, and plenty of crisp, elegant length. Excellent and serious stuff. £11.50.