A blog devoted to exploring wines made from unusual grape varieties and/or grown in unfamiliar regions all over the world. All wines are purchased by me from shops in the Boston metro area or directly from wineries that I have visited. If a reviewed bottle is a free sample, that fact is acknowledged prior to the bottle's review. I do not receive any compensation from any of the wineries, wine shops or companies that I mention on the blog.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Mauzac - Blanquette de Limoux, France

Welcome, friends and neighbors, to Fringe Wine's 50th post!  In honor of reaching this milestone, I've decided to write about an interesting little wine I had recently from southwestern France.

Southwestern France has not, historically, been a hotbed for fine wine growing.  The Languedoc (on the Mediterranean coast near the Spanish border) was, and for the most part still is, the most significant contributor to the "wine lake" that exists in France, accounting for approximately one-third of all of the grapes produced in France.  Like La Mancha in Spain, though, the tide seems to be turning here as more producers are starting to focus on quality wine production and money from outside investors is starting to come in.  Some regions are definitely farther ahead of the curve than others, and one of those regions is Limoux.

Limoux has a very old wine-making tradition.  There are records that show that the Romans traded wines from Limoux during their occupation of the region thousands of years ago.  Local lore has it that the world's first sparkling wine was made in Limoux in 1531, predating Dom Pérignon by more than a century (we do all know that the Dom Pérignon invention of Champagne is a myth anyway, right?).  Much of the wine produced in Limoux today is still sparkling wine, as 3 of the 4 approved AOC categories are dedicated to sparkling wines.  There is the obligatory Crémant category that seems to pop up everywhere in France and which is made from mostly Chardonnay grapes with some Chenin Blanc vinified using the traditional Champagne method.  There is also the similarly made Blanquette de Limoux which requires that 90% of the blend be from the Mauzac grape with the other 10% being from Chardonnay or Chenin Blanc.  And then there's the Blanquette Méthode Ancestrale made from 100% Mauzac.

The méthode ancestrale is different and before we can really talk about how it's different, you need to know a little something about the Mauzac grape.  Mauzac is mostly grown in southwestern France (mostly in Gaillac and Limoux), though it is one of the allowed white grapes in Bordeaux.  The skin colors for the grapes range from green to black, and while there is a grape called Mauzac Noir, it is not related in any way to Mauzac proper.  The most important thing about it, though, is that it is a very late ripener.  What this means is that by the time that Mauzac has reached full ripeness in the vineyard, the temperature has already started to drop in the region.  It's important to remember that there is a temperature range within which fermentation is possible: too hot and the yeast cells die off; too cold, and they go to sleep and stop doing their work.  In the good old days, there wasn't any such thing as temperature control for fermentation vessels so winemakers had to hope for the weather to stay warm long enough so that the fermentation didn't stick.  Most grapes are harvested in late summer/early autumn which usually gives enough time before winter sets in for the fermentation to finish its job.  Mauzac, though, ripens much later, so by the time it gets to a point where the fermentation is happening, it's well into the autumn.  What would traditionally happen is that Mauzac would get stuck in its fermentation when it was about halfway through.  The weather would get so cold that the yeast would stop working.  The wine was then bottled with the sleeping yeast cells still inside.  When spring rolled around, the yeast would wake up and ferment a little more, creating bubbles in the bottle.  The wine doesn't ferment all the way dry (it gets up to around 7-8% alcohol), so there's still a bit of sweetness to it.  The wine also is not disgorged, so when the yeast cells have given their all and die, they stay in the bottle, which can give méthode ancestrale wines a cloudy appearance.

I was able to find a bottle of Blanquette Méthode Ancestrale from Toad Hollow Vineyards from my friends at Bin Ends for about $12.  Those of you who buy a lot of California wine may recognize the Toad Hollow brand and wonder just what is going on here.  Toad Hollow, located in northern California, has an agreement with Sieur d'Arques in Limoux and they sell wines made by this estate under the Toad Hollow label.  I only even picked up this wine because my wife was pointing out the hideous label on this particular bottle.  I had totally missed it, somehow, when combing the racks at Bin Ends, and when I saw what it was, I snatched it up right away.  It is not the most aesthetically pleasing thing I've ever seen in my life, but I'm not one to judge a wine by its label.  This bottling is also a little unusual in that it also has one of those rubber stoppers on a hinge that fits over the top of the bottle.  It is sealed under a traditional mushroom cork, but it does have the rubber stopper for saving some wine for later, I guess.

In the glass, the wine was a pale silvery lemon color and a little fizz.  I'm not sure how they did it, but this wine is clear and did not seem to have any debris or sediment floating around in it.  The nose had a generous and appetizing aroma with some nice green apple flavors along with a bit of stone fruit and flowers.  The wine was light bodied and semi-sweet with nice acidity.  It's definitely closer to a frizzante style than a full-blown sparkler.  There was candied green apple and sour apple flavors with something a little flowery about it.  The flavor characteristic I keep reading about this kind of wine is that they are kind of cidery, and I can see kind of see that. There's definitely a lot of apple flavors in this.  The closest comparison I can think to make is to Moscato d'Asti, though this lacks the intense aroma and flowery profile of Moscato.  It would be a great wine to serve with brunch or with a apple-centered dessert.  I personally had this bottle with some turkey chili and found that it went very well with that as well.  It's a simple wine, but that's not always such a bad thing. It's an interesting and unique star in the constellation of worldwide wine that's worth checking out if you can find a bottle.

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