Lighter, fresher wines from cooler, greener France

Vines at Domaine de Martinolles, in Saint-Hilaire. Photograph: Domaines Paul Mas

Vines at Domaine de Martinolles, in Saint-Hilaire. Photograph: Domaines Paul Mas

First published in The Irish Times on Saturday, 12th August, 2017.

The delightful green valleys of southwest France, with their spectacular backdrop of the Pyrenees, are among my favourite parts of that country. Nestling in the Aude valley is the pleasant town of Limoux. It is actually part of Languedoc, a 20-minute drive from the citadel of Carcassonne, yet it seems a world apart. Higher, cooler and greener, the Limoux region produces wines that are lighter and fresher.

Limoux was originally known for its sparkling wine, which it claims is the oldest, predating champagne. Three styles are produced. Blanquette de Limoux, 90 per cent of which is made up of the local Mauzac grape, is a traditional, very distinctive sparkling wine. Blanquette Méthode Ancestrale is cidery, unfiltered, sweetish and lightly fizzy – an acquired taste but pleasant on a warm day. Crémant de Limoux has up to 80 per cent Chardonnay, plus Pinot Noir and Chenin Blanc.

Plantings of Chenin Blanc and Chardonnay have grown in recent years. White Limoux can include Mauzac, but many are 100% Chardonnay. The wine must be fermented in oak barrels. You have probably been drinking the Chardonnay without realising it. For years the bigger producers sourced grapes here to freshen their Vins de Pays d’Oc. Some, such as Gérard Bertrand and Domaines Paul Mas, have invested in properties there – Domaine de l’Aigle, and Château de Martinolles and Domaine Astruc, respectively. Production is still dominated by two local co-operatives, which produce large quantities of well-made, occasionally exciting wines. You will find all of these on the shelves of our supermarkets.

There are seven appellations in Limoux, and seven permitted red-grape varieties. Strangely, the authorities couldn’t find space for Pinot Noir, the rapidly emerging real star of the region. Already the Pinots from Domaine Begude, Domaine d’Antugnac and Domaine de l’Aigle are cracking value for money. I can only see them getting better. For the moment they all must go under the broad IGP Pays d’Oc designation. Chardonnay from here can be spectacularly good, with something of the richness and depth of a good white Burgundy but without the price tag.

The real interest in Limoux is provided by a small group of outsiders. I am a fan of Domaine Begude (stocked by O’Briens, along with those of Domaine de l’Aigle), run by the Englishman James Kinglake and his wife, Catherine. The Chardonnay-based wines are excellent, along with some great Pinot Noir, Grüner Veltliner and Gewürztraminer.

Just over the hill, the Anglo-Dutch Panman family run Château Rives Blanques, an estate that produces a range of very well-made still and sparkling wines. Domaine d’Antugnac, run by two families from Burgundy, offers very good Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and other wines. My favourite (Swiss-owned) sparkling-wine producer, J Laurens, is, sadly, not currently available in Ireland, as far as I know.

Bottles of the Week

Pinot Noir 2015, Domaine d’Antugnac, IGP Haute Vallée de l’Aude 13%, €16.15
Light, very engaging wine with slightly earthy red-cherry fruits. Drink cool with white meats and charcuterie. From Wines Direct in Mullingar and at Arnotts department store in Dublin

Chardonnay 2016, Terroir 1130, Domaine de Begude, IGP Haute Vallée de l’Aude 13%, €17.95
Superb racy, succulent fresh pears with a solid backbone of acidity. It will change your mind about Chardonnay. From O’Briens

Limoux 2015, Château Rives-Blanques Odyssée 13%, €24.50
Fragrant with delicious textured peach fruits held together by a cleansing citrus acidity. Great wine. From Thomas’s, Foxrock, D18; Whelehans Wines, Loughlinstown, D18

This Week’s Bargain

Limoux 2015 Château Martinolles 13.5%, €15
Medium bodied, with generous creamy pears and custard. Perfect with salmon or lighter chicken dishes. From Molloys Liquor Stores

Posted in: Irish Times

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