Helfrich Crémant D’Alsace NV, France
Cost: $19-21
W hat is the absolute essential to have on hand for holiday parties, dinners and gatherings with friends? Sparkling wine, of course.
Whenever I have friends over for a meal or to taste some wine, I always start with a sparkling wine. It cleanses the palate, loosens people up a bit and keeps the palate fresh for the wines to follow.
Some people think sparkling wine brings to mind pleasant experiences: luxury, celebration, love, success and romance. I can’t disagree. More sparkling wine is sold from Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day than at any other time of year, but I think it is a great drink any time.
Sparklers make every gathering more festive, and they pair well with all kinds of food. You are likely to see a lot of them in the next few weeks, so you might look for one you haven’t had before. Sparkling wine is made all over the world, but a Crémant from France is a great choice.
The Helfrich Crémant D’Alsace is perfect for some holiday experimenting. Helfrich wines are not well known in the United States, so you might have to look for this in a restaurant, but it is available to local wine shops.
Helfridge Crement D'Alsace
Helfrich Crement D’Alsace
This dry sparkling wine is a beautiful pale straw yellow color with plenty of tiny bubbles. Many sparklers don’t have much aroma, but this one has a subtle lemon and green apple hint.
It has a great, fresh mouthfeel with pear, green apple and an elegant mineral taste. The mild acidity brings a crisp finish that lingers just a bit. This is a pleasing, fun wine.
The Helfrich is made from 100 percent Pinot Blanc grapes, though Crémant may be made from many different grapes. It is made in the same method as Champagne, but because the grapes are grown in a different region, the wine cannot be called Champagne.
Most Crémant D’Alsace is made from Pinot Blanc, though it may also be made from Pinot Gris, Riesling, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Champagne is made only from Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.
Crémant also can be made in six other appellations in France: Crémant de Bordeaux, Crémant de Bourgogne, Crémant de Die, Crémant du Jura, Crémant de Limoux and Crémant de Loire.
The grapes for the Helfrich are harvested by hand and undergo fermentation under controlled temperatures. The wine is aged on fine lees for three months and bottled for the second alcoholic fermentation call “prise de mousse.” This “foam grip” is the process that turns still wine into sparkling wine.
With Helfrich this takes about 24 months of aging on the lees. Riddling, disgorging and dosage complete the process, just as with Champagne.
I know the economy is improving, but most of us still don’t want to spend $50-100 for Champagne on a regular basis when we can get something just about as good for $20. There are many alternatives, but Crémant D’Alsace is the perfect fit.
I have loved Crémant D’Alsace since I first came across it 30 years ago on my first wine trip, a three-week romp across France and Germany. We found Crémant for the equivalent of $5 for three bottles. Weakening of the dollar and inflation have raised the price, but it is still an incredible bargain.
About 300 miles east of Paris, the Alsace area itself is interesting. It has moved back and forth from France to Germany as one of the spoils of war. So it has both French and German influences in its food and wine. As early as 900 AD there were 160 villages in Alsace making wine.
Helfrich’s vineyards are located at the foot of the Vosges Mountains, running north to south in a narrow strip along the eastern side of the mountains. This protects the region from rainfall and forces the vine roots to go deep into the soil looking for nutrients.
There also is a mosaic of different soils, adding to the complexity of the final blend.
Because the Alsace is so far north, behind only Champagne in France, most of the grapes grown there are white, and most of the wine is dry. There’s just not enough sun or heat to ripen red grapes.
Winery: Alsace has been the site of vineyards since Roman times. Caesar called them the best of all Gaul. The Helfrich tradition doesn’t go back that far, but they are traditional producers.
The family opened its winery in 1934, and it continues to be family-owned, with the sixth generation now working there.
The family takes a hands-off approach in the winery, letting the character of the grapes and the terroir carry their wines. They try to produce wines with beautiful aromatics, delicate palate, crisp acidity and clean finish.
They produce a wide variety of wines, including a superb Grande Cru Riesling from a single vineyard, Riesling, Pinot Gris and Gewütztraminer. The wines come in two tiers. The Noble Varieties line (about $15) uses grapes from the Couronne d’Or (Golden Crown) an association of local vineyards and winemakers that runs through the middle of Alsace. The Grand Cru wines come from the Steinklotz vineyard at the northern end of the valley near Strasbourg.
Helfrich Cremant paired well with steamed shrimp.
Helfrich Cremant paired well with steamed shrimp.
Goes with: This fresh sparkler was the perfect wine for steamed shrimp. My wife Teri and I popped the cork and toasted our good fortune as we steamed the shrimp we had bought during an earlier trip to Edisto Beach, S.C.
We added a baked potato, English peas and a tossed salad. The Cremant made it a pre-holiday celebration.
The Helfrich Crémant is perfect as an aperitif, but it also pairs well with all kinds of food, from seafood to beef and from appetizer to dessert. It is even good with spicy food.

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