Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Languedoc Roussillon – Blanquette de Limoux

Blanquette de Limoux are sparkling wines from the Pyrenean foothills, just south of the town of Carcassonne. This wine pre-dates the making of Champagne by about 150 years – in 1531 the monks at the Abbey of St. Hilaire near Limoux recorded the process when they noticed their wine went into a second fermentation. Local folk lore says that Dom Pérignon was a monk here before moving to the Champagne region and took the secret with him. However the wine may have even earlier roots - the Roman historian Titus Livius was lauding "wines of light" from Limoux two thousand years ago.

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.

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% of its primary grape, Mauzac, (also called "Blanquette"). Other grapes included in the blend are Clairette, Chenin Blanc, and Chardonnay; the later is increasingly used to embellish the wine.

The region's vineyards are higher and cooler than any other Languedoc Roussillon appellation, and further from the influence of the Mediterranean Sea. Within the region there are distinctly different climatic zones, according to factors such as altitude, soil types, and the influence of the Atlantic or Mediterranean. This variation leads Limoux and the surrounding area to produce a style of wines entirely distinct from other Languedoc appellations, even those very nearby. The Chardonnay vines planted here are particularly valued, as they are some of the oldest in southern France.

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 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.

In keeping with ancient traditions, wines are still made under the appellation Blanquette de Limoux Methode Ancestrale, which produces slightly sweeter, lower alcohol sparkling wines which are cloudy in appearance because they are left with their lees even after the secondary fermentation.

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