Limoux is an appellation located in the Languedoc known mostly for its sparkling wine. However, the Limoux AOC system now also includes red wine. The stylistically diverse, reasonably priced sparkling wines are considered the Languedoc's best, and are proof of its versatility as a wine region.
Produced by an ancient method that may have been invented as early as 1531, the sparkling wines were the first of their kind in the world, and this region remains impressive for having achieved this historical milestone. Although there are now some regular Champagne-style wines, the original style, known as "Blanquette de Limoux", remains popular.
Limoux has a history as rich as its wines. Before sparkling wine was discovered, Limoux made generally plain white wines from Chardonnay or other common grapes. However, sometime around 1531, textual mentions of "Blanquette de Limoux" were found, and thus it is assumed that at least since the 16th century, sparkling wine was produced in Limoux. It should be noted that this was over 200 years before Champagne came to prominence. Limoux soon became well-known for their sparkling wines, and until Champagne's rise in the mid-19th century, these were among the only examples of bubbly to be had.
During the 20th century the Limoux AOCs were created, and in 2005 the red wines of Limoux were allowed under Limoux AOC. Made mostly from Merlot, these wines are less powerful than the sparkling wines but also can excel. Although Champagne has overtaken Limoux in terms of sparkling wine sales, for many Limoux fans the original remains unreplaceable.
Climate and Viticulture
The windy foothills of the Languedoc appellation don't exactly look perfect for wine production, but the rocky soil in the Limoux area is rich with schist and limestone, and for some reason the weather is slightly cooler than that of the rest of the Languedoc. The warm and cool winds of the Mediterranean and Atlantic, respectively, have their differing influences on Limoux wine.
The main grape of the Limoux region is a grape rarely found anywhere else, called Mauzac. Although Mauzac is usually a minority grape in other places, in the sparkling wines of Limoux it is required to make up a majority of the final wine. Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc are becoming more popular in the sparkling examples and are making good varietal still wines.
For the red wines of the Limoux AOC, Merlot must make up at least half the blend, and is usually more. Other allowed grapes include Carignan, Grenache, Malbec, and Syrah. The Cabernets are also allowed, but are together limited to 20% of the blend.
The sparkling wines of Limoux are deemed to be generally reliable, but availability is a larger problem. Here are two producers whose wines can be found regularly outside France and can be trusted for quality as well.
- Domaine J. Laurens: Probably making the most practical and affordable Crémant de Limoux, Laurens makes a Brut and a Blanc de Blancs, each of which cost less than $15.
- Sieur d'Arques: This co-op makes most of the wine in Limoux. In addition to regular sparkling styles, which are always reliable and affordable, they also make a high-quality Chardonnay called Cuvée San Marquis. The unique flavors of this wine make it worth seeking out.
The Limoux region consists of four distinct appellations.
- Blanquette de Limoux: Made up of at least 90% Mauzac with Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc also allowed, the Blanquette de Limoux AOC wines generally are apply, slightly sweet, with very subtle floral aromas that emerge as time goes on. They are made from the old non-Champagne method of making sparkling wine.
- Blanquette méthode ancestrale: Made from the ancient method without disgorgement, these completely unusual wines are cloudy and sweet, with very little alcohol, and taste like nothing else in the world. Rarely seen in America, these wines are considered unpleasant by many, but offer a taste of what sparkling wine was like in olden days.
- Crémant de Limoux: The most common Limoux appellation, this consists of "faux" Champagne-style sparkling wine. Mauzac is much less commonly used here than in the Blanquette examples. There are 40-odd villages that make Crémant de Limoux. Although its wines fail to provide the originality of the Blanquette wines, Crémant de Limoux is nonetheless an appellation with a good reputation in the world market.
- Limoux: Both colors of still wine are made here. Recently, smart producers have realized that the appellation might be conducive to red wine production, but right now good reds under this label are only in their infancy. White wines are generally varietal Chardonnay or Chenin Blanc, and some can be quite rich and flavorful.