Looking for bubbles, sparkles and fizz? Don’t call it Champagne, this is Blanquette de Limoux, from Languedoc. Time to pop the cork!
Earlier this year I wrote a piece for Palate Press about the Languedoc Outsiders, a group of winemakers from all imaginable backgrounds and locations who landed in Languedoc order to make. While researching the story, I received a note from one of the Outsider members, Caryl Panman -co-founder along with her husband Jan- of Château Rives-Blanques located near the commune of Cépie. Rives-Blanques has experienced good fortune, partly due to their creativity, tenacity and ability to suss out the natural opportunities provided by their corner of the Languedoc.
Caryl is English, Jan is Dutch. They have a global background, having lived in two handfuls of countries before settling on their vineyards in France a decade ago. There they cultivate seven hectares of gobelet-trained Mauzac vines. Gobelet indicates that no wires or trellis are used, and the result is a short, gnarly stump of a vine; otherwise called head trained. Mauzac could be called an outsider grape. At home and ancient in the south of France, the varietal doesn’t enjoy a bulky following. The team at Rives-Blanques positions it well, in both the bubbly Blanquette as well as a still Mauzac. The still Occitania Mauzac, Caryl tells me, was nearly abandoned in early years because it was so unusual. But friends then customers asked for it until it grew to be a popular bottle. This month it received a nice dose of attention from Jancis Robinson when she named it the wine of the week:
Ch Rives-Blanques, Occitania Mauzac 2015 Limoux: … Limoux also sanctions 100% varietal still Mauzac, a wine style pioneered by Jan and Caryl Panman at Ch Rives Blanques, although they have now been joined by one or two others. This is not surprising because their Occitania Mauzac is a very distinctive wine indeed, one that has been paid the compliment of being regularly served in KLM’s first-class cabin even though it is far from being a luxury product, as you can see from the prices above. (editor note: under $15 a bottle, which Robinson calls “ludicrously under-priced.”)
When Robinson mentions that Limoux also sanctions Mauzac in still (not bubbly) form, she’s referring to the fact that in the bubbly version is the earliest, and better-known method. Caryl and I corresponded about their Blanquette de Limoux, the sparkling wine made of 100% Mauzac. Her note revealed some interesting details:
We also make Blanquette de Limoux from the mauzac grape, which was Thomas Jefferson’s favourite fizz. When he died, about 10% of his wine cellar at Monticello was comprised of Blanquette de Limoux (and no champagne).
I also forgot to mention in my last note that Blanquette de Limoux is the oldest sparkling wine in the world, but I imagine you know that. Attached is a document carbon-dated to the mid 16th century, which is the first written reference to a sparkling wine in the world. (We actually copied the calligraphy of the words Blanquette de Limoux (6th line down) and put it on our label.) Obviously, we make Blanquette with modern methods now – but we still use the same grape that the Benedictines used a century before Champagne was invented.
This got my attention. First of all, I’m a bit of a TJ fanatic. I find Mr. Jefferson fascinating beyond my imagination, even though he was had high flaws and missteps, or perhaps because of his flaws and missteps… his influence, to me, is inexhaustible. I’ve visited Monticello several times and toured his now empty cellars and dining room with dumb-waiter for direct delivery, from cellar to table, of his extensive collection of wine. In the book Thomas Jefferson on Wine By John R. Hailman, entries of Blanquette de Limoux are referred to as “venerable” and “older than Champagne”.
The team at Château Rives-Blanque nurtures this sort of inspired influence. They welcome visitors (call ahead) in small groups for tours, talks and tastings. They have a loyal set of harvesters and pull in nearly all of their grapes by hand. KLM says they make “a truly world-class wine”. La Revue du Vin de France named them in their selection of best 2015 wines. Famous wine writers and journalists have submitted their praise for the way Rives-Blanques makes their flavorful and special portfolio of wines. But perhaps the most telling statement comes from their own impressions of what makes a great wine:
“We used to say we owned the most beautiful vineyard in the world. Now we say, the most beautiful vineyard in the world owns itself. We are merely its guardians.” ~Château Rives Blanques
Limoux and Languedoc
Limoux AOP du Languedoc offers the following (translation is my own):
The fortuitous discovery of the bubbles in the white wine was by a Benedictine monk, which was continued by the Limoux winemakers with consummate skill for centuries.
A pale yellow, bright with the brilliance of green or yellow reflections …
Her pert nose evokes fruits and spring flowers, green apple and honey.
Serve preferably within two years following its acquisition, to accompany any meal, especially the local dishes in its “raw” version alongside desserts in its “semi-dry” release.
After publication of the Outsiders story, my thoughts returned again and again to Limoux. I felt excited by the Blanquette. An AOP sparkling white wine from the south of France is somewhat rare…Limoux stands out as a refreshing and dynamic bubbly in an area known for still rosés and reds. Limoux covers 7800 hectares, 41 communes and evokes 4 terroirs. Land was the first area to gain AOP status in Languedoc in 1938. Limoux and Blanquette de Limoux are only a small segment of a big region, painted over a variety of terrains and cultures.
There is lots to learn about Languedoc and its 18 AOPs covering 40,000 hectares. An introduction, with more to come here on L’occasion, according to Languedoc Wines:
The Languedoc vineyard essentially cuts across three French counties [départements], from the Aude to the Gard, passing through the Hérault, extending even to the Western Pyrenees with the new local AOC Languedoc Wine region.
This entire geographical zone, hosting 18 Controlled-Origin Labels, comprises a total of 40,000 hectares [≈ 100,000 acres]. Needless to say that this vast area stages a wide variety of land types, each one having its own soil, climate and vines, creating various combinations, each one revealing a unique wine. Many a contrast exists between the harshness of the Pyrenean and Massif Central foothills and the gentleness of the Mediterranean shores.
The sea brings sandy, limey or even clayey soils. Where crests and vales emerge, the soil takes on a shale or calcareous clay aspect with vast pebble terraces. The climate here is generally Mediterranean, though the further from the coast, the more we find oceanic characteristics. The Languedoc vineyard reflects such diverse influences.
For more on the Languedoc Outsiders, please visit their website and my original article on Palate Press. For a list of producers in the Limoux AOP, visit Les AOP de Limoux on their informative website.
Monthly Wine Writing Challenge #MWWC27
Thanks to Jeff at The Drunken Cyclist for running the show on the Monthly Wine Writing Challenge. The challenge collects a group of inspired wine writers on single (but interpretive) theme. It’s a win-by-votes contest and the victor chooses the theme for the next month. The September theme is Bubbles; thanks to Jim of JVB Uncorked for the inspiration. This piece is my bubbly entry. Cheers!