In southern France there is everything. There are small metro areas complete with tall buildings and trolley systems. There are charming micro villages brimming with multigenerational gardens and stonework framing pastel painted homes that bind neighborhoods together. There are castles and fortified hilltop settlements that take you through the centuries and the people that lived here and the battles that were settled here. And there is evidence through street or family names or types of vines planted that the national borders here were settled quite recently.
And there is wine. Lots of it. The Languedoc-Roussillon area bordered by the Mediterranean Sea and the Pyrenees mountains that separate France from Spain produces more wine by volume than any other region in France or any other wine region in the world. There are more than 30 AOC (French certified) subregions, each with specific rules of grape types allowed, cultivation methods and volume of grapes per acre permitted. There are at least 35 more subregions that are currently in the process of legitimizing their areas of production and moving toward AOC- recognized status, which they will likely achieve within the next two decades.
Grape growers here must be envious of growers in areas like Burgundy. In Burgundy if you want to produce a white wine, you plant Chardonnay and if you want a red, you plant Pinot Noir. In the Languedoc-Roussillon region, there are at least 30 varietals allowed, some dominant in an area’s production and some allowed as the equivalent of a taste garnish or accent in a wine. Some grapes like Carignan and Grenache contribute a grapey fresh fruitiness, while others like Mourvèdre contribute a dusty quality that gives mouthfeel and a lingering finish. Each producer has a complete palate of flavors and textures from which to “paint” his desired wine.
And then there is Limoux on the river Aude near the fortified medieval town of Carcassonne. In Limoux there is limited grape varietals grown but significant volume with a world of history. There is written evidence that the world’s first bubbly was created there dating from the mid- 1500s. Legend has it the Dom Perignon travelled there to investigate and took some ideas back to the Champagne region, where he experimented and perfected the Méthode Champenoise, or Méthode Traditionelle, a production technique for most of the well-made bubblies of the world. Limoux makes a small selection of still red and white wines that are delicious. Its Chardonnay is medium-bodied and loaded with classic Chardonnay flavor and elegance. And Limoux’s Pinot Noir is thought by some to be the best of the region. But Limoux is known for its bubblies.
In Limoux there are three types of bubblies produced. The first two, Cremant and Blanquette, are made in the classic traditional method used in the Champagne region. The Cremant is drier and made with Chardonnay and Chenin, with some producers adding a touch of Pinot Noir and/or Mauzac. The Blanquette is made principally from Mauzac with up to 10-percent Chardonnay and/or Chenin allowed. Mauzac is a grape specific to the south and southwest of France and contributes green apple flavors with fresh fruitiness and a strong acidity.
Limoux also makes a bubbly called Méthode Ancestrale, the one Dom Perignon reportedly took an interest in. The Méthode Ancestrale is made of 100 percent of the region’s indigenous varietal, Mauzac. It is fermented in the bottle, with the fermentation stopped by killing the yeasts with cold temperatures. This happens well before all or most of the sugars are transformed into alcohol, which creates a low-alcohol, sweet wine loaded with fresh fruit flavors. It’s not easy to find in the United States, but it’s not expensive and is the perfect bottle of wine for an afternoon on the water, as an aperitif or to serve with certain desserts. I am a big fan of pleasant surprises in a bottle. Limoux’s Méthode Ancestrale throws off a pleasant surprise of fruit, bubbles, balanced sweetness and history that won’t put you to sleep.
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