Celebrate with Cremant

Domaine Collin Cremant de Limoux, a bubbly that won’t break the bank

So, I’m alive and well and the family ditto and I’m grateful for that, but, tbh, it’s been a while since I felt, you know, actually stoked. Like I think the last time I felt that little electric stab in the ribs that I interpret as “heart leaping for joy,” was round about July when the Instacart shopper guy texted “good TP in stock.”*

So, the other day when I finished a big project, a week ahead of deadline, too, I decided to administer a bit of course correction. No, I didn’t feel like breaking out the Champagne, didn’t even feel particularly joyous, but gosh darn it, it was a milestone and It Would Be Marked.

So I reached for a bottle of something that is just the ticket when you want to celebrate without making a huge song and dance about it, Cremant de Limoux. 

Cremant refers to French sparkling wine that is made in the same manner as Champagne but is not from that specific (and rather expensive) region. Limoux is in Southern France, nestled next to the Pyrenees and is famous for a type of bubbly called Blanquette de Limoux, made by monks at St. Hilaire Abbey in the 16th century. The story in Limoux is that Dom Perignon (the Champagne guy) visited and picked up a few ideas. Probs not true? But fun.

Blanquette de Limoux is made primarily from the local Mauzac grape and has a distinctive, apple cider-y tang. But in the ‘90s, producers started making the more modern Cremant, which includes international varieties such as Chardonnay. It’s a lovely, crisp and dry expression of sparkling wine and it’s a bargain to boot. Here’s a story I wrote about the region. 

I discovered my most recent Limoux gem at my local wine shop here in Berkeley—Domaine Collin, founded by Philippe Collin in the 1980s, The Domaine Collin cuvée tradition is $15 and it is classic, balanced and smooth. It’s made from Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc with a bit of Pinot Noir thrown in and it tastes light and fresh with notes of green (but not sour) apple and tangy, juicy lemon.

Just the thing for celebrating a job well done—or at least done—without feeling self-conscious about it.

*Reader, we did, indeed buy that TP and after the absolutely dire 2-ply nightmare we’d resorted to in the Great Panic it was pure heaven. A positive Taittinger of toilet tissue. 

Gruet Grand Rosé

Gruet Rose and sweet potato fries at Corkscrew Cafe. /Photo Michelle Locke
Gruet Rose and sweet potato fries at Corkscrew Cafe. /Photo Michelle Locke

It’s summer here in the San Francisco Bay area which means that I’m wearing, jeans, a shirt, a sweater, a jacket … and I’m still cold.

I’ve been assured by scholars at the University of California, Berkeley, that there’s no evidence Mark Twain actually said, “The coldest winter I ever spent was summer in San Francisco,” but whoever said it, brother, did he say a mouthful.

However, I had occasion to escape the clammy embraces of the San Francisco fog recently and popped down to Carmel to do a couple of interviews for a travel story. And while I was there it was sunny and warm, just like in regular America, in fact so balmy that I found myself at a delightful roadside cafe (Corkscrew Cafe, I highly recommend it) and in need of a cool, light, crisp and refreshing glass of bubbles.

I chose the Gruet 2007 Grand Rosé and was very pleased with it. Gruet is from New Mexico, which is not the first place you think of when you think of fine sparkling wines. It turns out the grapes are grown at high altitudes so even though they do get pretty toasty during the day, the nights are cool enough to give the grapes the big day-night temperature swings that they like.  The Gruet family is originally from France and the wine is made in the traditional (expensive) method so the price is not bargain basement, suggested retail of $32.99. However, it is extremely delicious. I’ve had sparklers that came at twice the price that didn’t taste as good. Gruet also has a range of non-vintage sparklers that are also made in the traditional method and are  a total bargain at around $15. I recommend you check them out.

Here’s the rundown.

Gruet 2007 Grand Rosé: Salmon-pink color with a pretty, floral aroma. The wine is 90 percent chardonnay, but the 10 percent pinot noir packs a big flavor punch, adding cherry, almonds and crisp apple to the mix. Suggested retail $32.99. Alcohol around 12 percent.




Champagne at a glance

I get no kick from champagne, sings the lovesick swain in Cole Porter’s jazzy song, but he’s probably in the minority on that. Most of us like the bubbles, and especially bubbles from Champagne, the French wine region that is synonymous with effervescent romance.

I learned a lot on my recent trip to Champagne; here’s a little slideshow I put together and below are some fizz facts I picked up along the way. Continue reading “Champagne at a glance”

Champions of Champagne


You know you’re a Bad Mother when you post a tweet about arriving in Champagne and Child 2 responds “so THAT’S where you are!” What can I say? Life’s been a wee bit rushed lately.

Indeed I am in Champagne, just in time for one of the earliest harvests on record. The trip was organized by the CIVC, a local commission that is actively engaged in trying to make sure that “champagne” is used only to designate the sparkling wine made from this region of France.

As you may know, this is an ongoing issue in the United States. In 2006, U.S. officials agreed not to allow new producers to use the name but grandfathered in existing brands. On the other side of the issue, makers of some of those brands point out they’ve been calling their wines champagne for decades.

One of the things that’s struck me most so far is that for an ancient region, Champagne is very forward-looking. Officials recently introduced a lighter bottle to reduce the product’s environmental impact. And today our group visited an experimental vineyard where researchers are studying ways to improve growing methods as well as looking at grape varieties beyond the official big three of chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier.

We had a chance to pick some of the grapes, but I am sorry to say I just took an observer role. My excuse is that I was overcome by a flashback to all the undone yard work awaiting me at home.

Hmmm, I wonder if Child 1 is doing anything …

A bientot.

Craving cava

Cava bottle rocket, Freixenet style /Michelle Locke

A lot of us view bubbles as bipartisan _ there’s French Champagne and then there’s all the rest. But a little exploration can open up whole new worlds of sparkling sensations from German Sekt to Italian Asti and Prosecco to Hungarian Pezsgo. OK, I haven’t actually tried that last but I could not resist the name.

Having just returned from my trip to Spain hosted by Freixenet I am all about the Cava, which is the Spanish term for sparkling wine.

You’ve probably already tried Freixenet’s most famous product, Cordon Negro Brut, which is the sparkler in the snazzy black bottle with gold labeling. This has been one of my go-tos for some time because it’s crisp, light, eminently festive and quite the bargain at around $10. So I was interested to discover that despite being made in vast quantities _ Freixenet is the largest maker of traditional method sparkling wine _ the wine is made with meticulous attention to detail. The grapes, Parellado, Macabeo and Xarel-lo (Sha-rello), classic cava varieties, are harvested by hand and transported to the winery in relatively small boxes that hold about 50 pounds. The grapes are pressed in gentle, pneumatic presses and the yeasts added to start fermentation are Freixenet’s own cultures.

The first fermentation takes place in stainless steel tanks and the second fermentation _ this is what puts the bubbles in bubbly _ takes place in the bottle, the same method used in Champagne as opposed to the cheaper Charmat method in which the second fermentation takes place in bulk tanks. Yeast is introduced, which eats the sugar and creates CO2, aka tiny bubbles, and when that process is over the bottles are upended and  “riddled” _ turned gently _ to move the yeast sediment to the neck of the bottle. This used to be done by hand, and still is for some Freixenet Group wines such as the Reserva Heredad produced by the Segura Viudas winery. But for the most part the process has been automated, saving time and money.  Once the yeast has been collected in the neck, the top of the bottle is frozen, the crown cap taken off and the pressure inside naturally blows out the sediment cap, a process known, reasonably enough, as disgorging. A proprietary “dosage” of some type of sweetener is added and the bottle is corked, all done quickly to keep the bubbles from escaping.

So much for the backstory. Here are some tasting notes:

Elyssia Gran Cuvee: A pleasant floral aroma with a touch of pineapple. Tastes fruity but crisp with a toasty note on the finish. Around $15.

Cordon Negro:  White peaches on the nose. Tastes like apples and pears with a little peach thrown in. Not too sweet, not too tart.Around $10.

Segura Viudas Brut Reserva: This wine is fairly stunning at around $9 and under. Light, fruity, some sweetness but still an elegant wine. Good as an aperitif or with seafood, salad or cheese.  This is the kind of bottle you want waiting for you in the fridge on Friday night.


Walls of cava at Segura Viudas /Michelle Locke