Crémant de Limoux

Founded toward the end of the 8th century, the Benedictine Abbaye de Saint-Hilaire still holds a starring role in the wine-making annals and lore of Southwest France. Along with an official document dating to 1531 wherein the abbey’s monks first describe the method of making mousseux (sparkling wine), there’s another intriguing and contentious tale that involves yet another wine-making monk, Dom Pérignon; while en route to the pilgrimage path of Santiago de Compostela in Spain. Purportedly, it was during a brief stopover at this abbey in Languedoc when he was introduced to the then-curious and little-known process. In having carefully detailed the original Limoux recipe, he would continue experimenting with it after returning to his home abbey in Reims. Propelled by this work, Dom Pérignon became an iconic, globally known figurehead, and his northern French city would eventually evolve into the unofficial capital of Champagne! Despite all the colourful conjecture, this story is likely a tall tale since any bottle-fermentation in the early 17th century, which produces bubbly gasses, was strictly avoided by vintners as it caused the imperfect glass bottles of the day to explode. A serious problem for longer-term storage of finished wine, the unwanted second fermentation was considered to be sloppy wine-making and derisively referred to as Vin du Diable (‘devil’s wine’). In time, the refinement of higher quality glass and employing the double closure of an enlarged cork secured with wire wraps made the standard vessels stable enough to contain the frothy mousseux. In 1975, ‘Champagne’ became a proprietary and crowning term for their regional style, with all other variants in France and Luxembourg becoming officially referred to as Crémant. i.e. Crémant de Bordeaux, Crémant du Jura, Crémant de Dis, Crémant de Bourgogne, Crémant de Savoie, Crémant de Loire, Crémant d’Alsace, and from the region nearby to the Abbey – Crémant de Limoux.

villelongue-daude

As for this week’s featured region, the vineyards in the foothills of the Pyrénées are planted at relatively higher altitudes, and where the windy intersect of the Vent Cer blowing in from the Atlantic, and the Vent Marin off the Mediterranean make for more balanced conditions than is typical in most of the surrounding Languedoc-Roussillon zones. Coupled with stony, nutrient-poor, clay soils, these factors combine as an ideal environment for cultivating ‘Blanquette’ (Mauzac Blanc); a white wine grape that’s been grown in the Limoux AOP for several centuries now. Somewhat chameleon, this variety develops as either green or pinkish-skinned clusters depending on the influence of each vineyard terroir. The ‘Blanquette’ nickname refers to a benign white powder that coats its leaves in spring, and provides the namesake for the local Crémant styles; the sweet, Blanquette de Limoux Méthode Ancestrale, and the dry, Blanquette de Limoux Brut.

In the Blanquette de Limoux appellation, wines are required to contain at least 90% Mauzac topped off with a small splash of either Chenin Blanc or Chardonnay grapes, For this DéClassé recommended, Cuvée Jean Philippe Blanquette de Limoux Brut 2014, the vintners of Domaine Rosier are drawing fruit from hillside vineyards that ring around the Romanesque village of Villelongue-d’Aude. Equally charming and inviting, this well-dressed bottling is offered at such an affordable price-point there’s no need to hold off for a special event. So, make many upcoming days memorable by picking up several bottles of this premium, extra dry, vintage sparkler — to add a delightful dose of spritz into your wintertime, white wine mix!

jean-phillippe-brut

CUVEE JEAN PHILIPPE BLANQUETTE DE LIMOUX BRUT 2014
VINTAGES – LCBO Product #467217 | 750 mL bottle
Price $ 14.95
12% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: XD

Made in Languedoc-Roussillon, France
By: Domaine Rosier
Release Date: January 7, 2017

Tasting Note
With a lemon-tinged hue, this very crisp Crémant has bright citrus fruit and green apple notes typical of the Mauzac grape, finishing with subtle hints of the toasty flavour notes that result from its traditional, secondary fermentation method of production. Avoid overchilling to preserve the wine’s more delicate layers and pair with triple crème Brie, warm canapés with Gruyère, savoury pastries, smoked salmon, and freshwater fish dishes with cream sauces.

Crémant Alert

Established in 1942, exports from the Clairette de Die AOC in the Rhône Valley
continue to be under-represented on North American store shelves. Largely
overshadowed by offerings from other French Crémant producing regions such
as the Loire Valley, Alsace and Bourgogne, this translates into very competitive
price-points for extremely well made bubbly – equally suitable to serve up as an
informal apéritif or to punctuate special events without breaking your budget.

As of the 20th century, the production recipe for sparklers from Clairette de Die
has evolved to include three white-skinned grapes varieties built predominantly
on a base of the region’s star Clairette, with Aligoté: a so-called ‘poor cousin’ of
Chardonnay and Muscat à Petits Grains: one the world’s oldest grape varieties,
rounding out the blend. Finished in the ‘méthode traditionelle’, this process is
defined by a secondary fermentation in the bottle that’s kick-started by adding a
dose of ‘liqueur de tirage’: a blend of wine, sugar and yeast. The gas-producing
step generates an abundance of Carbon Dioxide, infusing Crémant style wines
with its characteristically fine, frothy mousse. Rich flavour notes, particularly the
nutty or toasty ones most associated with traditional Champagnes, result from
the young wine being exposed to the expired yeast in the bottle (sur-lie) for at
least 9 months. Moreover, this wine typically doesn’t rely on the use of grapes
of a specific vintage year, rather it often incorporates several years of harvest
to better-ensure the unique consistency expected from each individual producer.

The Cave Poulet et Fils winery represents 4 generations of winemakers who’ve
passed on family traditions now guided by Emmanuel Poulet. 20 hectares of
vineyard property are situated next to the Parc Naturel Régional Du Vercors in
the southern, sheltering shadow of the Vercors Massif, a series of mountainous
limestone plateaus rising up between 2 tributary rivers that spill into the Rhône.
Here, vine stock thrives in the fertile, calcium-rich soils that have accumulated
as erosion deposit, typical in the valleys of this rugged and picturesque region.

You’re unlikely to find a more satisfying bottling of bubbly in this price category
and other judges agree, having awarded it a Gold Medal at the Concours des
Crémants de France et Luxembourg, 2013.

Cremant de Die

POULET ET FILS BRUT CREMANT DE DIE
VINTAGES – LCBO Product #392555 | 750 mL bottle
Price $ 17.95
11.5% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: D

Made in: Rhône, France
By: Earl Cave Poulet Et Fils
Release Date: Nov. 7, 2015

Tasting Note
Has light floral aromas with field berry accents followed by the expected flavour
tang of citrus and apple, hints of peach, apricot. Try serving at brunch with smoked
salmon, with starters such as asparagus or along with stronger cheeses.

Vouvray Alert

Overlooking both the river and expansive hillsides of its meandering valley, 130
or so hectares of Château Moncontour make up one of the oldest estates in
the Touraine, a sub-region of the Loire – also known as ‘the garden of France’.
The current building dates back to the Renaissance period, having been built by
King Charles VII. Among many noteworthy tales, including being ravaged by an
unfortunate fire during the revolutionary period, the sculpted, ivy-covered, white
fairytale turrets of the château and its adjacent bramble-lined riverbanks were
prized by 19th century, local French writer: Honoré de Balzac, who featured it in
some of his writings while perhaps savouring the bounty of its vineyards!

Like most Crémants, this week’s very effervescent bottling has been produced in
a double fermentation method known as “méthode Champenoise” – in the late
1980’s though, the term was made proprietary to only wines originating from
within the Champagne region to the north-east. This was justified in order to
guard the distinct typicity of the region but doesn’t necessarily suggest greater
quality. Moreover, highly variable pricing for bona-fide Champagnes tends to be
among the most arbitrary of all wine styles – frequently more informed by what
the market is willing to pay rather than how much effort has been invested by
the vintner. Having said all that, note that this week’s DéClassé recommended
varietal offering from the Vouvray AOC is made with 100% Chenin Blanc
grapes and produced in an equivalent manner known as ‘méthode traditionnelle’.

Moncontour’s current custodial vintners are the Feray Family, who since 1994
have been drawing on numerous small plots dotted throughout the villages of
Vouvray for their Chenin Blanc fruit. Influenced by the limestone and clay soils
found here, this variety has a distinct mineral component along with a naturally
high level of acidity – making it an ideal base for sparkling versions of Vouvray
that are also known as ‘pétillant’. Having spent at least 22 months ageing in
the bottle before disgorgement, final corking and release, this is so modestly
priced that you will chide yourself endlessly for not having bought more before
having to wait again until next August or perhaps even a touch longer!

Chateau Moncontour

CHÂTEAU MONCONTOUR TÊTE DE CUVÉE BRUT VOUVRAY
VINTAGES – LCBO Product #207936 | 750 mL bottle
Price $ 17.95
12% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: D

Made in: Loire, France
By: Château Moncontour
Release Date: August 16, 2014

Tasting Note
Straw yellow colour, apricot aromas, a nutty note and lively, refined mousse
make this a refreshing counterpoint for warm weather and ‘al fresco’ meals.
Try as an apéritif or with lighter fare such as fresh salads, goat cheese, pâté
and seasoned crisps or moderately spicy Asian appetizers.