P1090410Where did champagne come from? Not from Champagne or Dom Pérignon! The first sparkling wine can be traced to the 1500s in the area around Limoux, just south of Carcassonne. It was first mentioned in a document from 1544 (the town of Limoux was ordering some!), but it was in 1531 that monks from the nearby Saint-Hilaire abbey figured out how to make sparkling wine on purpose–previously it had just been by accident and not considered a good thing, either. Dom Pérignon wasn’t even born until 1638, nearly 100 years later.

My friends who recently visited are fans of champagne, and I just had to give them a tasting of blanquette de Limoux–in fact, it was the first stop on their first full day here. We went to Sieur d’Arques in Limoux, the biggest house and sponsor of the Toques et Clochers fundraising festival I wrote about here. Sieur d’Arques was a real person, the lord of the region in the 1500s. IMG_2147We tasted the range of Premiere Bulle wines–named for being the “first bubble”–sticking to the brut, or dry, offerings rather than the sweeter ones. The traditional blanquette brut has three kinds of grapes: at least 90% Mauzac, plus Chardonnay and/or Chenin blanc. The grapes are pressed and fermented separately before being mixed and bottled. The magic is in the mix–only those grapes are allowed, and the winemaker can choose whether to add 10% Chardonnay or 10% Chenin blanc to the Mauzac, or a little of each, in some ratio that adds up to 10%. A second fermentation happens in the bottles, over nine to 18 months.

The bottles are stored on their sides until it’s time to put them into riddling racks, almost upside-down, so the sediments move to the neck of the bottles. They are turned–rémuage–then the sediment is disgorged and the bottles are topped up.IMG_2146The méthode ancestrale uses 100% Mauzac grapes. The first fermentation is in vats, then the wine is bottled at the waning moon in March for a second fermentation of only two months, to reach only 6 degrees of alcohol. I’m not a fan of ancestrale, because I find it too sweet.

Then there’s crémant, which is made from a majority of Chardonnay, mixed with another grape–Chenin, Mauzac or Pinot noir (which produces rosé). Crémant has to age for at least 12 months, and Sieur d’Arques ages its crémants for 18-30 months.

IMG_2145
Love the sconces.

Sieur d’Arques isn’t the only maker of blanquette de Limoux. Other large producers include Antech, Aguila, Guinot and Anne de Joyeuse. Here’s a complete list.

Blanquette de Limoux is considerably less expensive than champagne, which, coming from near Paris, became fashionable among the royal court in the 1600s and has enjoyed superior public relations ever since. In the 1600s it would have been a very long, rough journey from Limoux to Paris. Consider this your insider tip for the good stuff whose price hasn’t been jacked up by branding.IMG_2226We did have some champagne, as well, from Chanoine Frères, which is the second-oldest champagne house. It was so fancy it came with a little jacket to keep it cool. It was good, but the blanquette was just as delicious.

Have you had blanquette de Limoux or crémant de Limoux? Or are you sticking with champagne?

 

23 thoughts on “Birthplace of Bubbly

  1. I’ve had various crémants from different locales…not always easy to say which is better. Definitely a good crémant is better than a so-so Champagne. My frustration is knowing whether a bottle is worth putting extra money into for how it will taste! Limoux is reputed for being a bit on the sweeter side, right?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I don’t find the bruts sweet at all. But if you get “ancestrale” that will indeed be sweet.
      The benefit of blanquette or crémant is that, as you say, it is better than champagnes that cost much more.

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  2. Blanquette de Limoux and Clairette de Die (another very interesting bubbly) are 2 wines that have never met their worth, either in France or international.
    And yes, they are way cheaper and as good as many low priced champagne.
    Many people in France do not know about them, not speaking about the younger generations!
    I do prefer Blanquette de Limoux to some mediocre champagne and would strongly encourage your readers, and tourists, to try and enjoy them, instead of or along with champagne.
    Thanks to you to speak about it, this is a great reminder.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Psychologists have done tastings where volunteers were told the prices of the wines; the more expensive wines routinely got rated better. Other blind tests showed that cheap and expensive wines rated the same. Champagne has excelled at marketing. Some of that has been reinvested in creating an excellent product. The Limoux AOC has also invested in the product but lacks the marketing. It isn’t to say champagne is bad, but to say Limoux is overlooked.
      Studies: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/neuronarrative/201709/how-your-brain-makes-you-think-expensive-wine-tastes-better
      https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-decision-tree/201207/cheap-and-expensive-wine-taste-the-same-in-blind-taste-tests

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve tasted blanquette a couple of times and liked it, but now with this additional background information will look more closely. Far too much champagne is really only mediocre and marketed just on the name; I was put off the whole idea of it some time ago.
    The price-snobbery around wines is very weird. I’ve had people tell me that their expensive bottle of whatever is the best, when it tastes not nearly up to some of the fairly ordinary wines you can buy in France.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Voilà–people have a hard time separating quality from price. Personal tastes vary–one may like sweet, another dry; one may like fruity, another earthy. There is something for everyone, which is why I didn’t get into the tasting notes. What I experience might not be what another person does. But this region has taken huge measures to improve quality over the past 50 years, but that’s nothing in the face of centuries of branding.

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      1. Someone did once, long years ago, give me a bottle of Dom Perignon, and after that any other champagne, or even Champagne, came across as inferior. So mostly I ignore the stuff. But not the blanquette.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. You certainly organised a great holiday for your friends. We like Domaine Robert/La Fourn in Limoux which we usually picked up at the olive oil shop at Bize-Minervois. We will have to find a new outlet now that we are in the Lot-et-Garonne.

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  5. And then there is Crémant de Loire and sparkling Vouvray or Montlouis…If you are buying supermarket champagne you would be much better off buying one of the French produced alternative sparkling wines. There are some interesting natural sparkling wines appearing here in the Loire Valley now too — being sold as vin de France because they don’t fit the AOC regulations.

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  6. Crémant de Bordeaux is lovely, and not well known since Bordeaux tends to be thought of wrongly as just being about whopping tannic reds. I have fond memories of Clairette de Die, having been introduced to it by French friends during my university year out in France back in 1980. Gosh that’s a long time ago! We visited their local artisan producer on a tiny farm in the mountains near Die, for one of their periodic load-the-car-with-cases trips. It is beginning to appear here in the UK in the European supermarket chains. In a way I wish it wasn’t – perhaps it’s good for the producers but I hate to see the ‘supermarket-isation’ of everything.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I know what you mean about supermarket-ization. On the one hand, it’s hard for small producers to export, but when they do, it’s great for them when important buyers include them, as a way to offer something special. On the other hand, too often it’s the easy route–the big producers link up with the big corporate buyers.

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