Situated about 20 minutes to the south-west of Carcassonne is the historical town of Limoux. It has a pretty setting in the western edge of the Corbieres hills, where the Aude valley becomes narrower and starts to rise towards the Pyrenees. Limoux is famous for having invented sparkling wine, at least 100 years before Champagne. It is thought that Dom Perignon himself learned the secret of the secondary fermentation in bottle (which is what gives the wine its ‘sparkle’) on a scholarly visit to his fellow monks at the abbey of St Hilaire just outside of Limoux, and took the technique back with him to Rheims.
The traditional grape variety in sparkling Blanquette de Limoux is Mauzac, a rare, but top quality grape with notes of musky sweet apple and spicy pear. Three different styles of sparkling wine are produced:
the wine is fermented in tank, fermentation stops naturally in the cold temperatures of winter and the wine is bottled when the old moon of March comes. Then the wine ‘wakes up’ again in the bottle as the temperature rises and the remaining sugar ferments, trapping the fizz in the bottle. The result is an off-dry, light-bodied wine which is low in alcohol and makes for a lovely sunny aperitif.
Methode Traditionelle (the way champagne is made):
the wines are fermented dry, then secondary fermentation is deliberately started in bottle through injection of ‘tirage’ (a mixture of sugar and yeast). The grapes can include Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc, which give a crisper drier style.
Cremant de Limoux:
as above but with less Mauzac, and more Chardonnay. It is less fizzy with a richer more fruity style.
The region is also becoming renowned for barrel-fermented still wines made from Burgundian grapes, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, benefiting from cooler hillside sites of the western Corbieres.
We recommend visiting the Sieur d’Arques Cooperative and trying their Toque et Clochers range. Each year towards the end of April the cooperative hosts a charity auction / street festival featuring specially made cuvees to raise funds to maintain the 42 church bell-towers (clochers) in the area. Also worth a taste is Domaine de Fourn at Pieusse.
To make a day of it you can include visits to the abbey at St Hilaire, Europe’s largest dinosaur museum at Esparaza (well worth a visit on its own), or explore the dramatic Cathar hilltop fortresses of Puilaurens, Peyrepeteuse and Queribus, as well as the conspiracy theorists’ favourite of Rennes-Le-Chateau.