Drink in the rosy glow of this sunshine wine
The August Bank Holiday is definitely a glass-half-full sort of weekend. Look at it as the height of summer, not the end of it.
To celebrate, choose the kind of wine you can raise to the sunlight in a grateful toast to the best summer we've had in years, and more of the same, please, for a wee while longer.
A suitable choice would be something pink and fizzy. The principal appeal of most rosé wines is their colour, and this is always best appreciated out of doors. The sparkle is the cream on the cake.
Or the crémant, as they might say in France. Crémant is a genus of sparkling wines made in France, but outside the Champagne region. There are crémants from Burgundy and the Loire Valley, from Alsace and from the far southwest.
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The word crémant means "creaming" and refers to the vigour of the mousse, or sparkle, in the wines. It's a rich, intense kind of bubbliness, but just a little less vigorous than the sparkle of champagne.
The nearest in style to the champagne benchmark are the crémants of Burgundy. The two regions are neighbours, and cultivate the same grape varieties, in particular the white chardonnay and the black pinot noir.
In Burgundy, it's the pinot that makes the pink fizz, sometimes with a small proportion of gamay, the Beaujolais grape.
The method is to leave the crushed black grapes on their skins for just long enough to impart the pink colour to the juice. It's then run off to complete its first fermentation.
Just as with champagne, when the still wine is bottled it is treated with the yeast and sugar that will trigger the second fermentation. Each bottle is sealed with a metal cap and put into storage.
After the trapped fermentation is complete – it's the carbon dioxide generated in the process that creates the bubbles – and the wine has had time to mature on its lees (the detritus from yeast activity) the bottled are progressively turned and upended in racks to move the lees to the neck, backed up against the cap.
Finally, the neck of each bottle is frozen so the lees are captured in an ice plug. The cap is removed and the pressure in the bottle forces the ice out. The bottle is topped up with more wine and a little sugar, to balance the acidity rather than to sweeten the wine, before the cork is driven in and secured.
The process, known as the "champagne method" until the notoriously defensive champagne producers' trade association persuaded the French government to disallow the term for use in any region other than their own, is lengthy, complicated, and expensive.
Now called the "traditional method" outside Champagne, it has remained largely unaltered for two centuries, and is certainly one of the wine world's most inventive accomplishments.
The cost of the process goes some way to explaining the high price of most champagnes. But other sparkling wines made by the same means can be significantly cheaper. Expect to pay about half for a good crémant what you would pay for reputable champagne.
My current pick of the pink fizzes is Simmonet-Febvre Crémant de Bourgogne Brut Rosé at £12.49 from Wine Rack. Made by a leading producer of Chablis wines, it has a delicate shell-pink colour, a busy, tiny-bubble mousse and a bright, fresh aroma in which you get more than a hint of alpine strawberry, a clear marker of wine from pinot noir grapes.
The overall effect is of an elegant and crisply dry wine. And dare I say it, this one compares very well indeed with just about any rosé champagne.
In a different style is Blason Crémant de Bourgogne Brut Rosé at £12.99 from Waitrose. This big-selling brand has a bold magenta colour, vigorous fizz and an emphatic raspberry aroma. It's a proper mouthfiller of a wine, dry but generously fruity and satisfying.
Over in the Loire Valley, sparkling-wine production is centred on the town of Saumur.
The black grape that makes the region's distinctive red wines, the cabernet franc, plays the pinot part in the sparkling rosés and makes for crisp, redcurranty flavours with a refreshing quality that makes a good match for all sorts of foods, especially shellfish and white meats.
Saint-Cyr-en-Bourg Crémant de Loire Brut Rosé at £12.50 from Loire specialists Yapp Bros of Mere is a fine example of this style, coral pink with lively sparkle – "mousseux" as they say in the Loire – and nicely defined crunchy red-fruit freshness.
Among the grandest sparkling-wine producers in the Loire is Langlois-Château.
Its Crémant de Loire Rosé Brut (£13.45 online from farehamwinecellar.co.uk) is a cracker, with the beautiful colour the French like to call "oeil de perdrix" or partridge eye, a delicate raspberry perfume and the tell-tale brisk red-fruit freshness of the cabernet franc grape.
I know it's invidious to compare the charms of wines such as these with their champagne cousins.
But I cannot resist suggesting that Langlois-Château's rosé might represent better value than, say, Bollinger Champagne Brut Rosé (Waitrose £46.29). The two wines, I will concede, are different in style, but as far as quality goes, I wouldn't want to be the judge.
Were I to say I preferred the Langlois, I don't suppose the people at Bollinger would mind that much. Bollinger has long been the owner of Langlois-Château. They know a good thing when they see it.