A bubbly bargain
Wishing all of you a Happy New Year, including our friends Down Under who've already given the world a head start on welcoming 2004. Let's keep today's holiday-season report short and sweet, with good news about an exceptionally fine bubbly bargain.
This wine, like the offbeat Blanquette Methode Ancestrale that I reported back in October, comes from the Limoux region, near the medieval town of Carcassonne in Southwestern France, where local wine makers proudly proclaim that they have been making sparkling wine by the traditional bottle-fermented method for a century longer than those copycats in Champagne.
Blanquette ("Blahn-kett") is a, er, blanket term for a group of white grape varieties that includes the regional grape Mauzac ("mo-zahk") in Limoux. Mauzac makes up the lion's share of most Limoux sparkling wines: It must be at least 90 percent of the blend in Blanquette de Limoux and 70 percent of the similar Crémant de Limoux, with the balance composed of Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc. (Thanks to pals and experts Robert Jones and Larry Moss for the detail.)
Making a long story short, Limoux differs from Champagne in its locale and its grape varieties. But it shares a very old wine-making tradition and may have actually invented the process.
Perhaps because everybody knows the name "Champagne" but hardly anybody knows the name "Limoux," it's dramatically under-priced. Today's featured Blanquette, Saint-Hilaire, is a remarkable bargain at $10. It's sold only in the U.S. under that brand name, but the producer - Aimery Sieur d'Arques - markets wines under its own name in other parts of the world.
WHAT'S YOUR NEW YEAR'S BUBBLY?
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Saint-Hilaire 2000 Blanquette de Limoux ($10)
Subtitled "Brut" (very dry) and "Blanc de Blancs" (white wine from white grapes), this sparkling wine is made by the traditional method from the Mauzac grape in Limoux in Southwestern France. Clear, pale-gold in color, it pours with a frothy mousse that falls back quickly, leaving a lazy but persistent fountain of bubbles in the glass. Apples and a whiff of rising bread dough combine in a fruity, yeasty aroma that carries over on the palate with a creamy, fizzy mouthfeel and an appley flavor that's barely sweet and very tart. Lemony acidity lingers in a long, clean finish. U.S. importer: Jack Poust & Company Inc., NYC. (Dec. 26, 2003)
FOOD MATCH: Good as an aperitif, good for toasting, and good with just about any food match but rare red meat. It went nicely with a simple bowl of homemade bean soup.
VALUE: Exceptional value, compares favorably with Champagnes at three times the price.
WHEN TO DRINK: Ready to drink, but should hold for several years under good storage conditions.
WEB LINK: The U.S. importer offers an informative page about this wine:
FIND THIS WINE ONLINE: Locate U.S. vendors for Saint-Hilaire on Wine-Searcher.com:
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Wednesday, Dec. 31, 2003