The bubbles produced on the Krier Frères estate in Remich, deservedly enjoy their fine reputation. One of the reasons behind their success is the patience of both the owner, Marc Krier, and his cellar master, Arno Bauer. For them, a bottle of crémant cannot possibly be put on the market if it hasn’t spent at least 18 months on the lees, twice the statutory minimum period. And for certain vintages, this may be much, much longer!
Crémant is the Moselle’s stroke of genius. When the appellation was introduced in 1991, it alone managed to give Luxembourg’s wine industry a huge boost. Very quickly, Luxembourgers took on board that these bubbles had to be produced in compliance with very strict regulations, comparable to those in Champagne. This is the price to be paid for the finest Moselle bubbles achieving such pinnacles.
Among those who pioneered this new appellation 28 years ago was Caves Krier Frères, located right in the centre of Remich. The estate was founded in 1914, despite this year being a particularly turbulent one for the area. “I don’t have any historical explanation,” Marc admits. “What I do know is that our family had already been working in the wine industry for ages. No doubt the cellar was set up officially when my great-grandfather handed the business over to his ten children.”
Nowadays, Marc and his sister Michèle represent the fourth generation. They work five hectares of vines, to which are added grapes from around fifteen hectares run by winegrowers who have been contracted, “sometimes for several generations”. The family vines are not kept aside for a particular type of production; they may be used for sparkling wines and crémants, but also for still wines. “It’s Arno (Bauer) who decides, depending on the vintage.”
Time spent on the lees: “this stage is fundamental”
But let’s get back to the bubbles. Today it’s because of these bubbles that the Krier estate is renowned and they account for about 40% of the wine it produces. “Already in 1989, we had everything set up to make top-of-the-range sparkling wines using the ‘méthode traditionnelle‘, i.e. the methods originally developed in Champagne, and so very close to what the future crémants would be like,” Marc explains. Reduced yields, a second fermentation in individual bottles: already with their first Cuvée Saint Cunibert they had set the bar very high.
One thing that particularly characterises this approach is the length of time the wines spend on their lees. “For us, this stage is fundamental”, Marc points out. During tirage (the bottling stage), the cellar master adds a small dose of liqueur de tirage (a liquid solution of yeast, wine and sugar) which triggers second fermentation, creating the bubbles. Inside the bottles, which are stored in racks in a dark room kept at a constant temperature, the yeasts multiply and eat the sugars. Once their work is done, they die and decompose, a process called autolysis. With this breakdown, aromatic compounds are released which enrich the wine, giving it more structure. At the same time, the large bubbles that were a little crude at the outset gradually become increasingly fine, so that the crémant ends up with far greater finesse.
When the new Crémant de Luxembourg appellation was introduced two years later in 1991, given the estate’s expertise it was logical that it worked in compliance with what the Appellation stipulates. “We were one of the first five estates to produce crémant under its new name,” Marc recalls. So that our customers could identify it, the name of “Cuvée Saint Cunibert”, our top-end sparkling wine produced since the 1980s was transferred over to the crémant. Customers reacted very positively: “Even though at the time we were better known for our traditional grands premiers crus, the crémant very quickly enjoyed great popularity which kept growing year on year.”
Cuvée Suprême, a 10-year-old crémant
Nowadays, Krier crémants remain at least 18 months on their lees, twice as long as the appellation requires. “However, we often keep them even longer on their lees,” Marc adds. “For example, the Cuvée Saint Cunibert currently on sale comes from our 2015 harvest.” So this crémant could lay claim to the vintage Crémant Millésimé appellation which is for wines that have spent at least 36 months on lees. “This isn’t our policy, Cuvée Saint Cunibert will carry on being a non-vintage brut wine,” Marc insists. “What’s more, based on these criteria, our Saint Cunibert sparkling wine [produced from 1980 to 1991] already met these requirements.”
For anyone who loves cellar-aged crémants, there are also two other bottles to try. First of all, there’s Cuvée Millésimée, produced only when the quality of the grapes harvested makes it possible. Currently on the market is the powerful 2014 vintage.
There is also a wholly extraordinary bottle to try, produced only in small quantities: Cuvée Suprême, created with wines from … 2009! “This crémant is quite different from our traditional range, it’s really rather unusual,” Marc states. This Cuvée came about when the estate was celebrating its centenary in 2014, and the winegrower and his cellar master Arno Bauer brought out a 2008 Cuvée Millésimée. “It was a great success; a certain number of our connoisseur customers really liked it. So we decided to re-launch it,” Marc says. Made half with Chardonnay, but also Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris and a little Riesling, Cuvée Suprême is astonishingly fresh despite having what is a venerable age for a Luxembourg crémant. It should be drunk for its own sake, and to be fully appreciated it needs to be sipped slowly so that all its subtleties can be revealed.