February’s 29 days of Chardonnay
a collaborative project
Limoux: a reminder that I don’t know anything about wine history, chardonnay, sparkling wine, and the importance of micro-climates.
Authored by Jeff Vejr
There is so much to learn about wine. Every time you think you have a grasp on a vintage, a region, or a varietal, you drink a wine that blows up your “knowledge.” There are few ‘truths’ in wine and in my experience, the exceptions are what ‘rules’.
Who has heard of Limoux?
It happens to be the birthplace of sparkling wine (circa 1531), predating Champagne. Special thanks to the Benedictine monks of Saint-Hilaire.
It’s a small little AOC (est. 1938, revised 1993) nestled up in the hills in the NW corner of the Languedoc, just north of the Roussillon, and a bit southwest of the ancient town of Carcassonne. It is cradled by the eastern section of the Pyrénées Mountains, in a part of the Languedoc that looks more like Switzerland than the ‘Sud’.
Limoux is split up by four unique terroir districts; Autan (Autan), Haut-Vallée (High Valley), Méditerranéen (Mediterranean), and Océanique (Oceanic). Historically, it was famous for Mauzac (the main grape in their sparkling wines) but the region is gaining even more attention for their Chenin Blanc and Chardonnay. Most of the vineyards are planted up on the higher elevations of these Pyrénées foothills. These elevations, complex soils, and unique wind influences create an environment that supports slow and gradual maturation. Limoux is a geographical lesson in micro-climates. There are warm spots in cooler regions and cooler spots in warmer regions.
Back in 2007, I didn’t even know Limoux existed. I found myself in the Languedoc on a wine buying trip, traveling throughout the heat soaked regions of the Minervois and Corbeieres, tasting magnificent old vine Carignan, Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvedre wines. The area was covered in small shrubs, garrigue, paltane trees, limestone, rock, rock, and more rock. It was early April, but the sun was shining, the air was clear, the mistral low, the temperature was pleasant and the red wines were flowing like crazy.
My companions mentioned that we were going to spend the weekend in a town called Limoux to attend a party and drink a bunch of sparkling and white wines. Little did I know that I was going to be front and center at one of the premier chardonnay events in the world, in a part of Southern France that is more alpine than rocks and garrigue.
Somehow we got tickets (limited to 1000) to attend the Toques et Clochers (translation: chef’s & spires) charity event in Limoux. This two-day event, normally held on Palm Sunday weekend, was a celebration of their regional wines, gastronomy, local culture, and carnival. Carnival: dancing, masquerade, costumes, brass bands, and tons of revelry. This was a new way to celebrate Palm Sunday! It is also an event that raises money (via the auction) to renovate one of the village church spires each year.
On the morning of Palm Sunday, we were invited to sample 90-100 barrels of single vineyard chardonnay. These barrels were selected by each vigneron as one of the finest examples of wine from their vineyard. Merchants, restaurant owners, and collectors from around the world attend this tasting to find the barrel or barrels that they wish to bid on at the auction before the gala fete later in the evening. Rubbing elbows with famous chefs from Brussels, club owners from Moscow, wine merchants from Tokyo, and wine collectors from Germany clued me into to the seriousness of this event. While I and most Americans probably hadn’t heard of this event, the rest of the world had.
The wines from each of these regions, stunned me. In particular, the minerality, the weight, the honey and apple tones, acacia, and lemon zest notes that permeated throughout. The brightness from these wines was exquisite. Previous to this surprise, Chardonnays from the Languedoc always left me feeling ‘ho-hum’; but these wines flew in the face of everything that I thought I knew or heard about the white wines of the Languedoc.
“No great wine is made south of Bordeaux.”
“The limestone is better in Burgundy.”
“Those are peasant wines.”
“There’s Chardonnay in the Languedoc?”
There were moments during those two days when I could have sworn I was drinking white Burgundy. All that I had thought I knew about where great Chardonnay was grown and made was thrown out the window. The wines were insanely inexpensive versus their level of quality. It was a surreal weekend, one that taught me another simple wine lesson: that there are great wines everywhere, you just have to get out of your vineous comfort zone to find them.
In January 2012, I visited Limoux again, to discover more wines and learn more about the region. It has been nearly five years since I was there last. I can confidently state, that the chardonnays I tasted were beautiful, the sparkling wines are still an amazing value, but the surprise for me this time were two red wines that I hope to import someday soon. Hint: I might have thought I was in Chinon.
This year’s Toques et Clochers event will kick off in the town of Antugnac, where the town’s renovated church spire will be unveiled. For tickets to the Palm Sunday event, you can start here. If you want a great starting point on sparkling wine from Limoux, visit here; and if you want to try a Chardonnay from each of the four terroirs, buy this 4-pack. But, really, if you want to truly experience these Chardonnay’s, do yourself a favor and visit Limoux someday. You may have not ever heard of it, but you will never forget it.
Bio: Jeff Vejr is the founder of drinkSNOB.tv, Wine Remind™, and about a hundred or so other wine related businesses. He currently lives in Portland, Oregon, where he is reminded everyday that Portland is blessed with amazing wine, beer, coffee, spirits, tea, fresh air, and great food. Look out for the trailer for our new TV show, online retail store, and many more surprises…