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.

Languedoc-Roussillon Chardonnay

The European Union reclassified wine grading in 2011 to streamline the wide-ranging, comparative designations. In France, this now breaks down as AOP Appellation d’Origine Protégée, a premier classification with a fairly strict set of requirements; IGP Indication Géographique Protégée, the intermediate category with more flexible guidelines and a greater diversity of permitted varieties, and lastly, Vin de France, the most generic designation; allowing for the practice of cuvée — the blending of wine batches sourced from different growing regions.

Languedoc-Roussillon is by far the biggest and most prolific IGP zone, whose 2,700 wine producers are tending to approx. 245,000 hectares of vineyard. It also provides the namesake of d’Oc into the classification, likely derived from Lange d’Oc, one of two still actively spoken Provençal languages whose historical and cultural roots lie in the formerly independent kingdom of Aquitaine. Present day boundaries stretch between the Spanish frontier to the west, the Loire to the north, the Rhône region of the Gard to the east, and the Mediterranean Sea.

domaine-lafage

Flourishing in a diverse set of global regions, Chardonnay can be finished in a broad range of styles. In Languedoc-Roussillon, apart from generally being a hot and dry zone that yields fully mature grapes, the easy-drinking Chardonnay style being produced is decidedly on the lighter and fresh side of the sliding scale. In the 45 years from the comprehensive overhaul that was begun in the early 1970’s, which saw the replacing of unremarkable vine stock with Noble Grape varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot, Chardonnay, and Viognier, there has also been a steady commitment to quality development while maintaining prices at competitive and attractive levels. Though it’s edging toward the upper tier of price-point for white wines in this humble corner of southern France, and relative to what one might expect for comparable quality wine in not-so-distant Burgundy — at $17.95, this bottling of Lafage Novellum Chardonnay 2014 is nonetheless fairly priced; outstanding value, and most importantly — delicious!

A 70% majority of this wine is aged in stainless steel, while the remainder sees the mild influence of wood; imparted during two months spent in second-use Oak barrels. What’s particularly novel in the multi-step finishing of ‘Novellum’ is that it also spends 3 months resting on the ‘lees’ (expired yeast) of a previously fermented batch of Viognier wine, which was filtered out and then transferred to the Chardonnay. It’s another one of the details that set this dynamic vinicultural partnership of Jean-Marc and Eliane Lafage apart from the more conservative, less-innovative, more-expensive wine-making crowd. Dictionaries say that Novellum is a latin adjective meaning: new, young, fresh, etc. I’ll add that it could also mean: will thrill your guests’ palettes alongside Thanksgiving food fare!

lafage-novellum

NOVELLUM CHARDONNAY 2014
VINTAGES – LCBO Product #390781 | 750 mL bottle
Price $ 17.95
13% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: D

Made in Midi, France
By: Lafage
Release Date: October 1, 2016

Tasting Note
This medium-bodied white wine is marked by tropical/stone fruit aromas and flavours wrapped around some refreshing acidity and mineral notes. Try serving with roasted goose and a squash risotto, herb-crusted turkey with rosemary/thyme, spiced apple and sausage filled chicken or Cornish hen and stove top sage stuffing.

Chardonnay Alert

In 2011, the European Union reclassified wine in an effort to streamline the too
wide-ranging, comparative designations. In France, this now breaks down as AOP Appellation d’Origine Protégée: the premier classification with a fairly strict set of requirements; IGP Indication Géographique Protégée: an intermediate category
with more 
flexible regulations and a greater diversity of permitted grape varieties,
and lastly, Vin de France: a more generic designation that allows cuvée (blending)
of wines sourced from different French regions.

Languedoc-Roussillon is by far the biggest and most prolific IGP region, whose
2,800 wine producers are drawing on approx. 200,000 hectares of vineyard.
It also provides the namesake of d’Oc into the classification, likely derived from
Lange d’Oc: one of two still actively spoken Provençal languages, whose historic
and cultural roots lie in the formerly independent kingdom of Aquitaine. Present
day boundaries stretch between the Spanish frontier to the west, the Loire to
the north, the Rhône region of the Gard to the east, and the Mediterranean Sea.

Slightly over 90% of all Pays d’Oc IGP bottling is varietal wine though the grape
varieties employed in the modern age bear little resemblance to those planted by
Greek traders in the 5th century. Nonetheless, these are widely acknowledged as France’s oldest vineyards, producing many of the country’s best value wines. As
for Chardonnay, the latter descriptor is certainly the case now, 45 years on from
the comprehensive overhaul that was undertaken in the early 1970’s, replacing
large areas of unremarkable vine stock with noble grape varieties such as Cab Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay and Viognier. Despite some rising and falling of commercial success, there’s been a steady commitment to quality-advancement
while maintaining competitive and attractive price-points.

Flourishing in a diverse set of global regions, Chardonnay can be finished in a
broad range of styles; influenced equally by climate and the variable traditions at
work in its source terroir. In Languedoc-Roussillon, apart from being a generally
hot and dry zone that yields fully mature grapes, the easy-drinking Chardonnay
style being produced here is decidedly on the lighter side of the sliding scale. As
for this week’s DéClassé featured wine: Villa Blanche Chardonnay from vintner
Calmel & Joseph – this is a delightful virtue. Their fruit is harvested in staggered
batches to maintain a balance of brightness and body, and since only about 30%
of the vintage is barrel-aged for three months, the oak presence is integrated.

This will unlikely be the richest or complex Chardonnay you’ve tasted, but it will
be an enjoyable, easy-going and satisfying partner for brunch or lighter, dinner
food-fare. Note that this perennial, regular listing favourite might be tucked into
the LCBO’s somewhat more exclusive Vintages section. That says a great deal
about this overachieving offering. Buy one, then if you’re inclined – half a case!

Villa Blanche

CALMEL & JOSEPH VILLA BLANCHE CHARDONNAY 2014
LCBO Product #375071 | 750 mL bottle
Price $ 13.95
13.5% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: XD

Made in: Roussillon, France
By: Calmel & Joseph
Release Date: September 5, 2015

Tasting Note
As expected from the region, this medium-bodied, light green-yellow wine has
pear and grapefruit aromas along with some delicate touches of vanilla and
butter flavour. A natural complement to oysters and mussels, you might also
try with Cassoulet: the signature dish of beans, sausage and confit of duck.