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The Worlds Oldest Sparkling Wine

The Worlds Oldest Sparkling Wine

Cristal Guiet

In the records kept by Titus Livius the Roman historian he mentions wine being used for trade during the time that the Romans occupied the South of France.  

The creation of the world’s oldest sparkling wine started in 1531 in the Abbaye de Sainte-Hilaire that is located in the town of Limoux in the Aude region of Languedoc.  It is believed that the first sparkling wine was made by the Benedictine monks that lived in the Abbaye.  When the monks discovered the secret of the second fermentation of the wine, they were excited and proud of this discovery and happily shared this new winemaking technique with the other Abbaye’s throughout France.  It is their discovery of the technique of how to make sparkling wine that led to the eventual creation of Champagne following the visit to Limoux in the 17th century of Dom Pérignon where he spent time learning how to make sparkling wine.

The detailed papers written in 1531 by the Monks of Sainte-Hilaire described the process that was used to produce the sparkling wine as well as mapping out the area of production as well as the distribution of the wine in cork stoppered flasks which were also the vessel that was used to carry out the secondary fermentation that created the bubbles that are necessary for the production of sparkling wine.

Sparkling Limoux wine is produced under three different Appellations d’Origine Contrôlée – Blanquette de Limoux (received AOC certification in 1938), Blanquette Méthode Ancestrale (which is the oldest AOC in the region receiving its certification in 1936), and Crémant de Limoux a relative newcomer which only received AOC certification in 1990.

Mauzac, the main grape that is used for Blanquette de Limoux, has an amazing acidity which makes it perfect for the creation of a sparkling wine, sadly in the rest of the world the use of Mauzac is in decline.  However in Limoux it remains a very important variety and recognizing the importance of this grape, the sparkling winemakers of the area continue to use it as the main variety in the Blanquette in order to preserve its existence.  Small amounts of Chenin Blanc and Chardonnay can also be used in the making of Blanquette, although this is recent development.

There are three types of Limoux Sparkling Wines:

Blanquette de Limoux 

Blanquette means small white in the regional dialect of Occitan and can contain the three grape varieties:  The Mauzac grape (minimum of 90% of the blend) alongside the complimentary varieties of Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc.  The use of Mauzac is compulsory and must make up 90% of the blend and is considered as a necessity to ensure the traditional style of the wine as well as preserving the existence of Mauzac grape which as mentioned before is in decline.  The grape varieties are vinified separately before being combined during the blending process after which tirage is carried out just before the wine is bottled, the wine is then required to age on lattes in the bottle for nine months before the disgorgement and the final corking. 

Blanquette Méthode Ancestrale

This is the original sparkling wine that was created in 1531.  It is characterized by as a sweetish sparkling wine that is still made in the old fashioned way and does not undergo disgorgement, it produced in the same area as Blanquette de Limoux, with a minimum usage of modern technology resulting in a sparkling wine is characteristically very low in alcohol of 7% or lower ABV.  The wine still has the lees in the final product (dead yeasts) and is cloudy in appearance as it does not undergo disgorgement.  The bottling of the wine usually follows the astrological calendar and occurs on a day that is important in this cycle.  The wine has a light sparkling fizziness to it.

Crémant de Limoux

Crémant is a term that is used to describe non-Champagne sparkling wine and the AOC was created in 1990.  The producers of Blanquette were given the opportunity to decide if they wanted to create a wine that would have a more international flavor as well as allowing them to be more creative in the style of the sparkling wine that they were able to produce in the region which resulted in the creation of Crémant de Limoux which they would be able to sell under and AOC designation.  The original plan was to phase out the production of Blanquette, and only produce one sparkling wine under the Limoux designation however the deadline passed and the two AOC’s continue to be produced alongside each other.  The main difference between the production of Crémant de Limoux and Blanquette de Limoux is the amount of Mauzac that is required to meet the AOC requirements.  In Crémant de Limoux, Chenin Blanc and Chardonnay are the main varieties in the blend, though they must not exceed 90% of the blend. Mauzac is a complementary grape, the use of Pinot Noir is also authorized.

The blend for Crémant de Limoux AOC is as follows:

Chenin Blanc 20-40%

Chardonnay 40-70%

Mauzac 0-20%

Pinot Noir 0-10%

The wine must be aged for a minimum of 15 months in bottles on lattes and on lees prior to the disgorgement.  The production of Crémant de Limoux is allowed in forty different villages surrounding the village of Limoux.  

Next time that you are deciding which sparkling wine to drink, crack open a bottle of Blanquette de Limoux Méthode Ancestrale and lift a glass to the inventors of sparkling wine.  Santé!

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