With the optimum sunshine in addition to a balanced rainfall, we have here in the heart of Cathar country, 7,800 hectares of vines spread over 41 villages around Limoux (25km south of Carcassonne) produce the wonderful local delicious gem “Blanquette de Limoux”, with its sparkling effervescence. Watching bubbles in my glass, always has a mesmerizing effect on me, the tingling sensation the fine bubbles cause and the fact that Blanquette is the ideal pairing for so many dishes, makes it my favourite drink for the festivities.
The vines are always planted at the top of southern-facing slopes, giving the best exposure. The soil here is shallow and sparse, full of chalk and stone and grapes are picked manually, only in sections ready to harvest.
The word “blanquette” pops up in French dishes too, think “Blanquette de veau” (veal stew) or cream sauces and actually means “white one”. Most people use it as an aperitif, but it actually goes with any meal where you’d serve a white wine and is absolutely ideal with cheese.
The “methode champenoise” refers to a secondary fermentation in the bottle, before final bottling at 9 months. There is a massive difference between a dry “Blanquette de Limoux brut”, a “Crémant de Limoux” or the sweet traditional “Blanquette method ancestrale”. The word “Crémant” originates from 1975, where the French decided to label bubbly wines outside the Champagne area, as “creamy”.
The “Brut” is made predominantly with only white grape varieties of the “Mauzac” grape; the “Crémant” with the “Chardonnay” and “Chenin” grape and a touch of “Mauzac” and “Pinot Noir”. Whereas the “Ancestrale” only uses the “Mauzac” grape but has to be harvested with a full moon and needs to be bottled in March, hence a lot sweeter, due to the sugar in that grape fuelling the fermentation.
It’s all about the bubbles isn’t it, or should I say CO2 molecules, as they naturally want to escape from a solution and coalesce, forming bubbles in order to do so. The larger the surface, the quicker bubbles will dissipate. That brings us to which glass you should serve it in: flutes will preserve the fizz better, but most sommeliers will tell you to use simple white wine glasses to enjoy your sparkling wine to the best.
Bubbles, though, will go straight to your head! Did you know that 20 per cent of alcohol drunk, is absorbed by the stomach, the remainder by the intestines. The carbon dioxide in the bubbles however, speeds the flow and absorption into the intestines! Living in the region, roads heavily controlled by loads of gendarmes this time of year, locals know it leads to higher blood alcohol and brain levels. You’ll get faster drunk and watch out for the massive hangover!
What with that opened bottle full of fizz, but not drunk entirely… forget the silver spoon to preserve your bubbles, go for a raisin instead! Drop a raisin in the bottle, as it has loads of ridges, the remaining carbon dioxide will adhere to its ridges and yeah, then release itself back into the Blanquette as bubbles!
Blanquette still flourishes in this region, whereas in other countries the sparkling Cava, coming from Catalonia in Northern Spain, gained ground. And only the French can describe Blanquette in a way nobody else can:
Une belle robe jaune pâle habille cette blanquette au nez complèxe ou se mèlent la senteur florale typique du mauzac et une touche d’agrumes. En bouche, équilibre et longueur se conjuguent agréablement. Guide Hachette
Translate that into English and come on, it just doesn’t sound the same: “A fine pale gold robe dresses a blanquette with a complex nose, combining the typical Mauzac floral aromas with a touch of citrus. In the mouth, balance and length, meet agreeably.”
Even if you don’t understand French, this you tube clip shows you the region, the vineyards, the production and even Limoux’s local carnival:
For those eager to visit our region, I recommend two other drinks to try:
- Hypocras: a fashionable appetizer, a medieval herbal wine and digestive stimulant, prepared according to the recipe of Taillevent Guillaume Tirel, master chef of the famous King Charles VII, François Rabelais and various books, dating from the thirteenth century to the XVI th, based of white wine, local spices and honey. Special but delicious, served cold as aperitif in a small glass, only to be found on the market of Mirepoix or in the tourists’ shops of Montségur Castle here in our region.
- Carthagène: a bright and golden aperitif or dessert wine, consumed cold. A year of oak aging imparts a huge, deep aroma. My neighbours make their own, it’s after all a Languedoc speciality. Taste before you buy, we buy ours on the market of Espéraza and it is the best ever, even more divine with blue cheese or something chocolate. We once were offered a bottle as present and it tasted like medicine, so watch out!
My drinks for the festivities are indeed well chosen! Every guest who arrives here, is always welcomed with a “Blanquette” bottle, it’s part of our welcoming tradition here, ever since the day we arrived in this beautiful region in the South of France.
Living in the region of the world’s first bubble, as the French claim it, your “bubble maniac”