Those Tiny Little Bubbles
By Matthew Wexler
Forget trying to figure out how the pyramids of Egypt were built—one of the world’s greatest mysteries is the origin of sparkling wine, which many believe began in Languedoc-Roussillon. Add the region to your wine lover’s bucket list to unearth an effervescent past unique to the south of France.
Dom Pérignon is often credited for méthode champenoise, the now legendary second fermentation that occurs in the bottle. Almost 150 years before Pérignon’s arrival at the Abbey at Hautvillers (1531), the monks of Saint-Hillaire wrote of Blanquette de Limoux—what was then a flasked sparkling wine. It’s possible that Pérignon visited the abbey on a pilgrimage, picked up this established technique, and applied and perfected it in the Champagne region. We’ll never know for sure, but Languedoc-Roussillon continues to embrace the tradition of sparkling wine.
The three categories of sparkling wine from Languedoc carry their own cache at a price more friendly on to the pocketbook. The modern Blanquette de Limoux contains a minimum of 90 percent Mauzac (a variety indigenous to southwest France), with recent vintages exhibiting a robust, yeasty quality and beautiful hay color. Crémant de Limoux, a brut or medium dry sparkling wine that is distinct because of the region’s cool appellation, relies on Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc and is meant to be drunk within two years of bottling. Blanquette de Limoux Methode Ancestrale uses a fermentation process where the sediment from the secondary fermentation is left in the bottle, creating a sweeter sparkling wine, slightly cloudy and with floral notes and stone fruit on the palette.
The most authentic way to experience these wines is to plan a trip to Languedoc-Roussillon, where you will see a sparkle in the eye as well as the bottle. Discovering a lush countryside dotted with dedicated winemakers, tasting rooms and local culture, you’ll wonder why Dom Pérignon ever left.
Picks that Pop
- Antech Blanquette de Limoux, Réserve Brut—From aA family estate for more than six generations, this sparkling wine showcases floral aromas with a golden hue and finishes with delicate bubbles. www.antech-limoux.fr
- Gilles Louvet Esprit du Sud—Offering Part an organic portfolio offered since 1993, this Blanquette de Limoux showcases notes of honey and menthol. www.vignobles-gilleslouvet.com
- Gerard Bertrand Crémant de Limoux—Once captain of the Stade Français rugby team, Bertrand now owns seven estates and was awarded European Winery of the Year (2011) by Wine Enthusiast. His take on Crémant offers a toasty hazelnut effervescence and mineral finish. www.gerard-bertrand.com
Go. See. Do.
- Originally built as a convent to accommodate the Church of Saint Martial nuns, the Couvent d’Hérépian has been restored as a charming inn and features a subterranean wine vault and “honesty bar” where you can taste local vintages at your own pace. www.garrigae-resorts.com
- Create your own wine experience with Master of Wine Matthew Stubbs at Vinécole, the Centre for wine education in Languedoc-Roussillon. Choose a two-hour workshop or, guided wine weekend, or get even more serious with a WSET (Wine & Spirit Education Trust) professional course. www.vinecole.com
- Take a break from the bottle and revel in the Limoux Carnival, which has been part of the city’s history since the 16sixteenth century and runs weekends from January through March in the place de la République
A point about Perrier
First utilized by the famed military commander Hannibal as a place to rejuvenate his troops, Perrier—the most famous sparkling water in the world—comes from Vergèze in Languedoc-Roussillon, a site first utilized by the famed military commander Hannibal as a place to rejuvenate his troops. The property received its name in 1898 when Louis-Eugène Perrier purchased the estate and set about developing a sealed glass bottle that could hold this natural spring water that contains three times its volume in gas. Today, Perrier is in 150 countries, but you can have a family-friendly experience directly at the source with a visit to the Perrier Spring and Museum.