by Ian Blackshaw
Blanquette de Limoux - (photo by Stephanie Watson)
My younger brother-in-law, the wine buff, and his wife have just celebrated their Ruby Wedding. He is not very keen on fizz, although he will take the odd glass of Champagne, if pressed, but his wife is and her favourite sparkling wine is Blanquette de Limoux from the Languedoc region of south west France, where they have spent many holidays, and this sparkler was much in evidence at their party.
Although, as readers of my wine articles will know, I prefer Champagne, which, as far as I am concerned, is the real thing, but I must say that France produces some exceptional sparklers, including Blanquette de Limoux. This is one of four AOCs of Limoux – three white and one red. Blanquette is not only the local name for the main grape variety used in these white wines, that is, Mauzac, but also means white. In fact, 15% of Mauzac must be used in the production of the wines, but also Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc may also be used. The Mauzac grape, of which there must 90% in the wine, gives Blanquette de Limoux its zesty taste and acidity, which a white wine – and particularly a sparkling one – needs. The wine also has a distinctive apple-peel flavour to it.
Abbaye Saint Hilaire - the birthplace of Blanquette de Limoux
Local wine historians believe that the world’s first sparkling wine was produced in the Languedoc region in 1531 by the Benedictine monks of Saint-Hilaire abbey. There are even claims that sparkling wine was around and traded in Roman times!
The Blanquette methode ancestrale produces a sweetish wine and is made without disgorgement – the process of releasing the yeast from the bottle which has been added to facilitate the second fermentation of the wine. This wine is produced in the same area as Blanquette de Limoux and, according the AOC rules, may only contain the Mauzac grape.
The third AOC sparkler from Limoux is the Crémant de Limoux, which is made according to the methode traditionnelle, which does involve disgorgement, and contains more Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc in the blend, which may not exceed 90%. The other 10% is made up of Mauzac and Pinot Noir. This wine is produced in more than 40 villages around the city of Limoux, which is located in the eastern foothills of the Pyrenees, south of the impressive fortified city of Carcassonne. It is a very satisfying aperitif or dessert wine, owing much its terroir.
Although, in my opinion, they are no substitute for Champagne, French sparkling wines should not be underestimated and this certainly goes for the Limoux sparklers and especially the Blanquette de Limoux, which is a fine example of them.