One of the most famous love stories in the wine world is how sparkling wines pair perfectly with romantic celebrations. Valentine’s Day is sure to attract new and dedicated bubbly fans to pop a cork. “Over the past year, we’ve seen an increase in champagne sales as consumers move up within the wine and particularly the sparkling wine category,” said Liz Paquette, director of consumer insights at Drizly, of the bubbling sales during Valentine’s Day 2021.
Champagne is well known, and with good reason, but it’s certainly not the only type of sparkling wine. And although many people believe that Dom Perignon discovered the technique for making fizzy bottles, this is a misconception. The true origins of French sparkling wine lie in the south of Champagne in the Languedoc, in the cellars of the Abbey of St. Hilaire. Writings from the mid-16th century suggest that this was the site where bubbles produced by a second fermentation in the bottle, now known as the ancient method, were first discovered. In other words, the old way.
And winemaking in the Languedoc has a long and ancient history, dating back more than 2,500 years. According to wine educator Claire Henry, “The great thing about the Languedoc is that anything is possible.” It promotes a region that offers great variety, often at affordable prices, produced by a variety of producers with a growing focus on environmental responsibility. Limoux carves out a micro category within this larger framework, promising sparkling wines that fit the Languedoc ethos on a smaller, more specifically bubbly, scale.
St Hilaire’s Abbey is open to visitors (I was welcomed as a media guest in the summer of 2022) and the docents there explain that the discovery of bubbles was an accidental benefit that has since encouraged several thriving sparkling wine appellations in Limoux. which are outlined below. The Cellar is an intriguing gravity-driven operation, with holes carved in the stone ceiling through which local farmers deposited their harvest. It is said that cold weather likely disrupted the fermentation of this original bubbled bottle and held back some of the sugars that when warmer temperatures resumed would trigger this second fermentation. According to the official tour, there is a barrel at the legendary spot where this happened. An ideal photo opportunity for wine lovers and history buffs who want to show their love for sparkling wine.
Sparkling Limoux wines to taste
It’s an interesting story, rich in history and set in a beautiful part of France. But it’s more than just a fabulous story. The three types of Limoux sparkling wine are produced on around 1,500 hectares. (By comparison, Champagne’s vineyards cover 34,300 hectares.) And for still wine lovers, Limoux has an appellation for red and white wines without bubbles. This category also represents value for money as well as a genuine connection to heritage. A search on WineSearcher.com at the time of writing this article turned up a few gems. Here are a few examples that I personally recommend, costing around $20 each.
Gerard Bertrand Crémant de Limoux Brut – $19 average price
Antech Crémant de Limoux “Emotion” Rosé – $18 average price
Chateau Rives-Blanques Limoux Cuvée L’Odysee Chardonnay – $20 average price
Paul Mas ‘Côté Mas’ Crémant de Limoux Brut Rosé – $17 average price
Domaine Delmas Blanquette de Limoux Cuvee Tradition – $17 average price
Limoux sparkling wine appellations today
Blanquette de Limoux Method Ancestrale: Produced when fermentation is stopped prematurely and a second fermentation triggered by sugar in the bottle creates bubbles. Contains 100% hand-harvested Mauzac.
Blanquette de Limoux: Produced according to the traditional method used in Champagne, with a second fermentation triggered by the addition of Liqueur de Tirage. Must contain at least 90% Mauzac and up to 10% Chardonnay and/or Chenin Blanc. Must be harvested by hand.
Cremant de Limoux: Produced according to the traditional method used in Champagne, with a second fermentation triggered by the addition of Liqueur de Tirage. Must contain no more than 90% Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc and 40% Pinot Noir and Mauzac (of which only 20% may be Mauzac). Must be harvested by hand.