Being a warm region for grape growing, still wines do particularly well, since the fruit ripens fully and reaches maturity in terms of flavour and ultimate quality. Due to this warmth of climate, it is thus surprising that high quality sparkling wine can be made here, since a cooler climate – such as in champagne and southern England – is normally required.
Happily, there is a microclimate in the area around the town of Limoux near Carcassonne, which is just that. It is evidently wetter and greener and benefits from influences from the Atlantic as much as those from the Mediterranean. Freshness also descends from the Pyrenees down the valley of the Aude river, thus creating an environment which is perfect for high quality sparkling wine production. This is the region of Crémant de Limoux and Blanquette de Limoux, both made by the same method as champagne, called ‘méthode traditionnelle’.
According to the producers of wine in Limoux, this was the birthplace of sparkling wine in France - hotly disputed by fizz producers in some other areas! Rumour has it that a local monk from Saint Hilaire discovered the method by accident in the mid-sixteenth century, when his wine started refermenting in the bottle after it had stopped in the winter months.
Blanquette is the name often given to the Mauzac local grape variety and is due to the whitish appearance of the leaves. Mauzac is often blended with Chenin and Chardonnay to give depth and balance and the wines are normally matured for at least two years on the lees during the second fermentation.
I have always been a great fan of all the crémant wines produced in different regions of France but used to consider Blanquette de Limoux at the ‘cheap and cheerful’ end of the range. However, my opinion was changed completely when I encountered Antech Reserve Millésimée Blanquette de Limoux Brut, being served as the house aperitif in a two-star Michelin restaurant in Carcassonne. This is a fine, delicate and subtle bottle of fizz, with aromas of spring flowers and orchard fruit. The palate has real depth of flavour, with notes of green apples, white peach and nectarine. Crisp, fruity, fresh and dry, it is a very characterful and appealing sparkler, made from 90% Mauzac.
Antech has been producing high end, fine sparkling wines for six generations, and sixth generation Francoise Antech-Gazeau has been running the cellar with passion and commitment since 1996. Having grown-up on the vineyard, she travelled the world to gain experience, now put into practice to great effect in the winery. Antech produces around one million bottles per year, always with uncompromising regard to quality. As it says on the bottle ‘a wine to accompany all your happy moments’. Find the 2017 vintage at The Wine Society, a steal at £10.95 per bottle.