By Rose Murray Brown Published in The Scotsman 1 July 2017
With its spectacular snow-capped Pyrenees backdrop, fresher temperatures and green lushness from its wet climate, Limoux is one of my favourite appellations in the Languedoc.
Midway between Perpignan and Toulouse, you might think that Limoux’s southerly location south of Carcassonne would be too hot to make sleek whites and stylish sparkling wines. But in these wild hills, where Atlantic and Mediterranean climates converge, up at 750 metres in the Pyrenees foothills, the mountain air and limey soils give wines a thrillingly crisp minerality, in comparison to lower-lying Languedoc neighbours.
White Mauzac grape dominates here [old Mauzac vines pictured right] (named ‘Blanquette’ due to the white coating on leaves), but is slowly being outpaced by French classic varietals Chenin Blanc and Chardonnay used for still and sparkling wines.
This far south from Champagne, it might seem odd to find high quality fizz – but Limoux has an ability to retain natural acidity in its grapes - and the region prides itself as a serious contender for the world’s longest sparkling history.
It is rumoured that a Benedictine monk at Abbey of St-Hilaire first discovered sparkling wines here by accident in the 1530’s, after cold temperatures halted his first fermentation,150 years before Dom Perignon worked in Champagne.
Blanquette de Limoux is the traditional fizz here, based on Mauzac using the traditional/Champagne method. There is also a single ferment method ancestrale Mauzac, a slightly sweeter fizz sold in the region. Most popular with UK wine retailers is Cremant de Limoux, which tastes a little more like Champagne, made predominantly from Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc. Pricewise expect to pay @£12 (the cheapest at Lidl is £6.99; now sold out).
Personally I prefer Limoux’s still wines. Interestingly, this is France’s only white wine region with compulsory whole bunch pressing and barrel fermentation. The appellation rules have recently been changed abandoning the old mandatory 15% Mauzac required in Limoux Blanc, so now white grapes Chenin Blanc and old vine Chardonnay can now dominate 100% of the cuvee.
Still reds are a conundrum – the climate and limey soils suit Pinot Noir, but Bordeaux grapes are strangely favoured – such as Merlot, Malbec and the Cabernets. So while Limoux’s still Pinot Noir must still be sold as Vin de Pays, it is the first Languedoc appellation allowing 50% Merlot in its wine.
Limoux’s beauty and terroir has attracted outsiders. Today this region has a very interesting mix of new and old producers.
Two of the most prestigious newcomers are enterprising international couples. Dutch-born Jan & Caryl Panman (pictured right with their two children) worked in Chile, but chose to move to France buying the stunning 20 hectare Chateau Rives-Blanques near a nature reserve at Cepie in 2001; working with the original owner Eric Vialade, who is now teaching their son to make wine.
In 2003 the now celebrated British couple James & Catherine Kinglake bought Domaine Begude from Bertie Eden, the Languedoc organic pioneer. Focusing solely on organic still wines, assisted by winemaker Laurent Girault and Aussie consultant Richard Osborne, the Kinglakes make good value Pinot Noir red and rose.
Most prestigious of the old guard of Limoux is historic winery, Antech (pronounced An-tesh) now run by sixth generation, Michele & Francoise Antech, who are related to the first woman to run a vineyard in the Languedoc, Eugenie Limouzy. This old winery is known for favouring long ageing, so their fizz tends to have a deeper honeyed maturity.
Cremant de Limoux 2014 Ch Roche Lacour (12.5%; £11.99 Laithwaites) STAR BUY
No wonder this is Laithwaites best-selling fizz; a Chardonnay/Pinot Noir based cuvee with oak fermentation; biscuity notes, richness and texture. Not as good as Champagne, but better than many other Cremants I have tasted at this price.
Cremant de Limoux, Cuvee Royale Brut NV (12%; £11.99 Waitrose)
Not as rich or succulent as Roche Lacour, but acceptable with floral notes, citric undertones and fine mousse.
Cremant de Limoux Brut NV Antech (12%; £12.25 Berry Bros & Rudd www.bbr.com)
Another popular bottle. The Antechs blend 70% Chardonnay with 15% Chenin Blanc & Mauzac giving it citric and appley flavours with a honeyed spice undertone; long lees ageing has given this creamy textural depth.
Blanquette de Limoux 2015 Ch Rives-Blanques (12.5%; £16 www.tanners-wines.co.uk; www.thebottlebank.co.uk; www.greatwesternwines.co.uk)
This 100% Mauzac cuvee has a juicy zestiness with grassy, earthy notes and pear and white fruit undertones. It has no dosage, but might work well alongside a spicy curry.
Dedicace Chenin Blanc 2014 Ch Rives-Blanques (13%; £11.50 The Wine Society) STAR VALUE BUY
A superb example of Chenin Blanc. Zesty juicy creamy textured with refreshing crispness. Limoux has the only Chenin Blanc appellation in the south of France. The Panmans made the first 100% Chenin Blanc example in the area – proving that this grape is very much at home here. Great value too.
Cuvee de l’Odysee Chardonnay 2015 Ch Rives-Blanques (13.5%; £14.50 www.tanners-wines.co.uk; www.greatwesternwines.co.uk) STAR BUY
When I first met Jan and Caryl Panman two years at the Languedoc Outsiders tasting, this was the wine that impressed me most. It hails from their Le Pech vineyard at 380 metres; fermented and matured in French oak, this sleek nutty minerally Chardonnay is a serious match for Burgundy.
Pinot Noir 2015 Domaine Begude (12.5%; £10.99 Waitrose; www.stonevine.co.uk)
The Kinglakes produce Languedoc’s best value Pinot Noir, sold at an astonishingly low price for the quality. Crunchy red fruits with a delicacy and elegance – serve this to your Burgundian friends.
Join Rose’s South West France wine & charcuterie tasting on Thursday 6 July 7.30pm Edinburgh £42 www.rosemurraybrown.com