In the sparkling wine section of large wine shops, you’ll sometimes see a funny, rather squat bottle mixed in with the crémant and the Champagne. That would be Saint-Hilaire Blanquette de Limoux, the only Blanquette de Limoux I’ve ever seen on an American wine shelf. According to The Oxford Companion to Wine, Limoux locals claim it pre-dates Champagne, since bottle-fermented sparkling wines were in production at the Abbey of Saint-Hilaire as early as 1531.
The appellation of Limoux stretches into the foothills of the Pyrenees, just south of Carcassonne in southern France. Its altitude ensures a cool climate, giving Limoux perhaps more in common with the far northern Champagne region than its neighboring coastal appellations along the Mediterranean.
The appellation makes both still and sparkling wine, but its bubbly is far better known. Oddly, the region produces both Blanquette de Limoux and Crémant de Limoux, the latter a more refined, international-style sparkler made primarily from Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc, as opposed to the more “rustic” Mauzac which forms the base of Blanquette. The Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia notes that Limoux was supposed to have chosen one name or the other for the appellation back in 1994, but since the Crémant didn’t exactly catch fire as planned, both styles continue to be produced.
And what on earth is Mauzac? This white grape grows on only about 4,000 acres in Limoux and Gaillac, a wine region northeast of Toulouse. The Oxford Companion to Wine alerts us that late-ripening Mauzac tends to be harvested much earlier now than in the past, “preserving its naturally high acidity but sacrificing much of its particular flavour reminiscent of the skin of shrivelled apples…”
Our experience with the 2006 Saint-Hilaire Blanquette de Limoux would not cause me to disagree. Indeed, it lacked a bouquet of any kind, and it certainly didn’t taste of apples. The wine was very dry, with pleasantly small bubbles and a clean, simple, crisp flavor. Because it also had ample acids, it paired quite well the coconut milk/potato/carrot stew we made.
I wish I could say this inexpensive sparkling wine could compete with its younger sibling, Champagne, but this is definitely a case of beauty before age.
2006 Saint-Hilaire Blanquette de Limoux: Clean and crisp, with small bubbles and food-friendly acids. A simple sparkler, but not a bad value.