The World’s Oldest Sparkling Wine
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.