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Things to do in the Languedoc:  Drinking Wine and Making Wines:  AOC Wines:  Blanquette & Cremant de Limoux

The area has a long history of wine making. Livy (Titus Livius, 59 BC - AD 17) traded in non-sparkling white wines from Limoux when the area lay in the first Roman Province.

In the late medieval period monks at the nearby Abbey of Saint-Hilaire invented, or discovered, sparkling white wine: this was Blanquette the first sparkling brut wine in the world, drunk well before it was introduced to the Champagne region.

The oldest surviving written records date from 1531. These were created by Benedictine monks at the Abbey of Saint-Hilaire, recording the production and distribution of the abbey's blanquette flasks. According to local tradition Dom Pérignon was a monk here before moving to the Champagne region and popularising the method of making sparkling ("petillant") wine

Blanquette has a light, fruity flavour, reminiscent of green apples and cider, with a pleasant bouquet and fine bubbles. As a general rule, the smaller the bubbles the better the sparking wine.

Limoux is situated on the D118 in the heart of Cathar country. 25 km south of Carcassonne, along the upper valley of the River Aude between the Chalabra plateau to the west and that of Lacamp to the east, stretching towards the foothills of the Pyrenees. Some of the cellars here are on an industrial scale.

The appellation covers an area that is geographically homogeneous. The southern slopes of the hills classified for the appellation vineyards present a light and stony combination of clay and limestone. The classified vineyards are all in the Aude département, in the general vicinity of Limoux. For Blanquette and Cremant, grape varieties are vinified separately before being assembled and bottled. Just before bottling, a tirage is added to the blend so that a second fermentation will take place in the bottle. Carbon dioxide produced during this second fermentation is trapped in the bottle and gives the wine its effervescence (exactly the same methode as that used in champagne). After nine months, the bottles are opened and sediment is filtered out before a final corking.

The geology on three sides of the appellation area limit maritime climatic influences and create a transitional climate between the Atlantic ocean and the Mediterranean Sea. The climate is dominated by the strong winds of the region, including the dry Atlantic vent Cers and the warm, vent Marin blowing from the Mediterranean. It is relatively sunny here all year round and annual rainfalls are consistent.

By the 19th century, Blanquette was enjoying worldwide popularity. One of its biggest fans was Thomas Jefferson , third President of the United States of America. At the time of his death, about 10% of the wine cellar at Monticello was filled with Blanquette de Limoux, the only sparkling wine kept there.

Today 542 producers (1 co-operative cellar & 24 private cellars) work 1800 hectares in production with an average yield of 40 hectolitres/hectare for the (majority) sparkling wines

Limoux possesses four different appellations, three sparkling white wines including Blanquette, and a one still encompassing both red and white wines. The appellation applies to wines made in the hills surrounding Limoux.


Blanquette de Limoux

The name "Blanquette" comes from the Mauzac grape, which develops a white down on the vine leaves - hence "blanc" or white. Blanquette de Limoux must contain at least 80 percent of its primary grape, Mauzac, (also called "Blanquette"). Other grapes included in the mix are Clairette, Chenin Blanc, and Chardonnay; the later is increasingly used to embellish the wine.

Blanquette is made using the "methode champenoise" undergoing a secondary fermentation in the bottle before final bottling at 9 months. The resulting wine is fresh and dry with a pleasant "yeasty" edge. It has a pale yellow robe, with flashes of green or yellow. Blanquette de Limoux is slowly cooled down to 6/7°C and produces brisk bubbles in strings.

In 1938, Blanquette de Limoux became the first AOC established in the Languedoc region. The drink itself is a traditional aperitif and dessert wine in the area. Blanquette de Limoux can contain three grape varieties:

Obtaining the delicate sparkle of the Limoux wines is achieved by following a complex process so-called "la Méthode Traditionnelle". When pressing the grapes, the first clear, pure juices are collected to form the tête de cuvée (vat heads). These basic wines are blended with vintages from different terroirs , a fundamental process through which each estate gives its wines their own personalities. After the first fermentation to obtain the basic wines from each grape variety blending is carried out and a sweet liqueur (liqueur de tirage or drawing liqueur) is then added to cause the second fermentation in the bottle. The wine starts to sparkle.

After 9 months of ageing, when the remaining crust is led towards the neck of the bottle by stirring, a daily operation done on a rack. The bottle neck is then frozen and the solid-ice crust expelled. A dose of liqueur "liqueur d'expédition" is added according to the style desired, brut or medium dry. The bottle is then closed with its final mushroom shaped cork.

Its pert nose is reminiscent of Spring fruit and flowers, green apples and honey. The poorer quality wine tastes remarkably similar to good cider. Blanquette is best drunk within 2 years of purchase, it provides an accompaniment for all the courses of a meal. The "Brut" goes well with local specialities as does the "demi-sec" (semi-sweet) with puddings, including the rich flavour of chocolate.

Production of Blanquette de Limoux: 50,000 hl

One enterprising producer has created a dinosaur Blanquette capitalising on the unique palaeological discoveries a little way up the River Aude at Espéraza (above left).

The famous winter carnival at Limoux (called fecos - see right) traditionally ends with La Nuit de Blanquette.

 

Blanquette de Limoux Methode Ancestrale AC

An alternate process exists for Blanquette in which only Mauzac grapes are used, the fermentation is entirely natural, and the bottling occurs on a full moon in March.

The wine is bottled while it still contains yeast and unfermented sugars. As the sugar ferments the bubbles develop in the bottle. This tends to be a sweeter wine with relatively low alcohol. It typically contains less than 7% alcohol.

On the nose the wine Blanquette Méthode Ancestrale is claimed to have a bouquet of apricot, acacia, hawthorn, peach flowers or apple.

Production of Blanquette méthode ancestrale: 4000 hl

 

The Crémant de Limoux AC

The blend is predominantly Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc. They produce more familiar and rounded flavours with a good mousse. The wine is matured on its lees for 12 months before final bottling, again using the Champagne method.

The basic method is "la Méthode Traditionnelle" the same as for Blanquette When pressing the grapes, the first clear, pure juices are collected to form the tête de cuvée (vintage heads). These basic wines are then blended with vintages from different terroirs, a fundamental process through which each estate gives its wines their own personalities. After the first fermentation to obtain the basic wines from each grape variety blending is carried out and a sweet liqueur (liqueur de tirage or drawing liqueur) is then added to cause the second fermentation in the bottle. The wine starts to sparkle.

After 9 months of ageing, when the remaining crust is led towards the neck of the bottle by stirring, a daily operation done on a rack. The bottle neck is then frozen and the solid-ice crust expelled. A dose of liqueur "liqueur d'expédition" is added according to the style desired, brut or medium dry. The bottle is then closed with its final mushroom shaped cork.

Its pert nose is reminiscent of Spring fruit and flowers, green apples and honey. The poorer quality wine tastes remarkably similar to good cider.

The wine is made up with a maximum of 60% traditional Mauzac grapes, and a minimum of 30% Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc (neither of which must exceed 20%) which enhance its bouquet, freshness and delicacy. This assemblage (blending) gives Crémant de Limoux all its nuances and personality.

The Crémant de Limoux is left to age longer than the Blanquette de Limoux during at least 12 months. After another 2-month rest, the bottles are ready for labelling and can be shipped all over the world.

Crémant de Limoux can be recognised by a pale robe with golden reflections, very fine bubbles, and elegant effervescence. It is a "Brut" that can be identified by its nose of white flowers together with subtle hints of citrus fruit and toasted bread.

It is best drunk within 2 years of purchase at 6 or 7°C, usually as an apéritif with pieces of salty toast, or with fish and white meat.

Production of Crémant de Limoux:30 000 hl

 

Still wines of Limoux AC

The White Limoux is made from Chardonnay, Mauzac (15% minimum) or Chenin Blanc. They are aged in oak barrels (fûts de chêne). Limoux still white wines possess a refined note of vanilla with a sustaining fresh structure.

Red Limoux are composed of at least 50% Merlot; at least 30% of Côt (Malbec), Syrah and Grenach and a maximum of 10% Carignan. They can already also have up to 20 % of Cabernet-Franc and Cabernet-Sauvignon.

With this mix of grapes allowed it is possible to produce some good interesting wines,

Production of Limoux still wines: white: 5000 hl; red: 2800 hl

 

 

Click here to go to the main Limoux page
Click here for more photographs of Limoux
Click here for more on Blanquette de Limoux and Cremant de Limoux
Click here for more on the Toque et Clocher at Limoux
Click here for more photographs of the Toque et Clocher at Limoux
Click here for more photographs of the Languedoc and the Midi

 

For an English language web site dedicated to the Blanquette de Limoux - with on online shop, visit www.blanquette.co.uk

 

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