One of the most famous love stories of the wine world is how perfectly bubbles fit into romantic celebrations. Valentine’s Day certainly attracts new and committed bubbly fans to pop a cork. “Over the past year, we have seen a rise in Champagne sales, as consumers trade up within the wine and specifically sparkling wine category,” reported Liz Paquette, the head of consumer insights for Drizly about bubbly sales during Valentine’s Day 2021.
Champagne is well known, and for good reason, but it certainly isn’t the only style of sparkling wine. And though many people believe that Dom Perignon discovered the technique for making bubbly bottles, this is a misconception. The true origins of French sparkling wine lie to the south of the Champagne region in the Languedoc, in the cellars of the Abbey of St. Hilaire. Writings from the mid 16th century suggest that this was the site where bubbles were first discovered, created by a second fermentation in the bottle that is now known as the ancestral method. In other words, the old way.
And winemaking in the Languedoc has a long and ancestral history dating back more than 2,500. According to wine educator Claire Henry, “what’s great about the Languedoc is that everything is possible.” Fostered here is a region that provides a great deal of diversity, often at affordable prices, made by a variety of producers with a growing attention to environmental responsibility. Limoux carves out a micro-category within this larger frame, promising sparkling wines that fit the Languedoc ethos on a smaller, more precisely bubbly scale.
The Abbey of St. Hilaire is open to visitors (I was welcomed as a media guest in the summer of 2022) and the docents there explain that the discovery of bubbles was an accidental advantage that has since fostered several thriving sparkling wine appellations in Limoux, which are outlined below. The cellar is an fascinating gravity fed operation, with holes carved out of the stone ceiling through which the local farmers would deposit their harvest. It is said that cold weather likely paused fermentation of that original bottle of bubbles, retaining some of the sugar that would, when warmer temperatures resumed, prompt that second fermentation. There is a barrel sitting on the legendary spot where this happened, according to the official tour. An ideal photo op for wine enthusiasts and history nuts who want to show some love for sparkling wine.
Bubbly Limoux Wines To Try
It’s an interesting story, steeped in history and set in a beautiful swath of France. But it’s more than just a fabulous tale. There is around 1,500 hectares producing the three styles of Limoux sparkling wine. (For comparison, Champagne vineyards cover 34,300 hectares.) And for fans of still wine, Limoux has an appellation for red and white wines without bubbles. This category also represents a good value as well as a sincere tie to heritage. A hunt on WineSearcher.com at the time of writing this article, revealed a few gems ready to be had. Here are a few examples that I can personally recommend, each priced around $20.
Gerard Bertrand Crémant de Limoux Brut – $19 average price
Antech Crémant de Limoux ‘Emotion’ Rosé – $18 average price
Chateau Rives-Blanques Limoux Cuvée L’Odysee Chardonnay – $20 average price
Paul Mas ‘Côté Mas’ Crémant de Limoux Brut Rosé – $17 average price
Domaine Delmas Blanquette de Limoux Cuvee Tradition – $17 average price
Limoux Sparkling Wine Appellations Today
Blanquette de Limoux Méthode Ancestrale: Made when fermentation is stopped early and a second fermentation prompted by sugar in the bottle creates bubbles. Includes 100% hand-harvested Mauzac.
Blanquette de Limoux: Made in the traditional method, as put to use in Champagne, with a second fermentation prompted by the addition of liqueur de tirage. Must contain a minimum of 90% Mauzac and up to 10% Chardonnay and/or Chenin Blanc. Must be hand harvested.
Crémant de Limoux: Made in the traditional method, as put to use in Champagne, with a second fermentation prompted by the addition of liqueur de tirage. Must contain no more than 90% Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc, and 40% Pinot Noir and Mauzac (of which Mauzac can be only 20%). Must be hand harvested.