Stand up the Real Champagne

Written by on January 20, 2015 in Blog with 1 Comment

Who doesn’t love the pomp and ceremony of opening a bottle of Champagne and often there is a darn good reason to open it. Its expensive price deems it to be a drink for special occasions and the more expensive the more special the occasion it may well be – but,  does it taste any better ? Or are you just buying into the branding and marketing of this luxurious product. I have always been a bit sceptical and (some might say, mean!) but frankly I think it can be overpriced and £300 for a bottle of Cristal? I would rather have the money thanks!

That said I do feel special when I hear that pop of the cork and see the fine bubbles sparkling away and taste that unique flavor that makes it stand out from other wines.  And I have often enjoyed a lovely Cava or Prosecco and thought well this isn’t a bad second (and much cheaper choice). Then I moved to the Aude in the Languedoc and someone introduced me to the Blanquette de Limoux and, well,  I was hooked.

Why? Well it looks the same – there are many varieties but frankly it tastes pretty similar to many champagnes I have enjoyed but MUCH MORE IMPORTANTLY – Its more than half of the price – You can get a Cremant (more on that later) de Limoux for as little as 4 Euros in Lidls but I find that if you choose the ones between 6 to 12 Euros (the general recommended prices) you won’t be disappointed.

I visited the Sieur D’Arques in Limoux to discover the provenance of this nectar and of course partake in a degustation. We were met by a friendly tour guide who showed us around the domain and told us the history.


sieur d'arques

Are you sitting comfortably (with a glass in your hand I hope?)

Blanquette de Limoux is considered to be the first sparkling white wine produced in France created long before the Champagne region became world renowned. It has been documented that it was first discovered almost by accident in 1531 by some Benedicitine Monks whilst fermenting a white wine at the Abbey in Saint-Hilaire.  It was produced in cork stoppered flasks ( the Cork Oak forest south of Limoux  enabled the producers the materials they needed ) To this day they follow an age old tradition and bottle at the time of the full moon in March ready for the warmer weather to start the secondary fermentation that produces les bulles (the bubbles) the fabulous sparkle within the bottles

Local lore suggests that Dom Perignon who was visiting the Abbey at the time took this ‘invention’ to the Champagne region although this wasn’t another 100 years later.

All the grapes for Blanquette have to be harvested by hand into small boxes to prevent bruising, and the regulations also limit the yield to ensure a quality product. Growers who can produce and market Blanquette are limited to a set area of 41 villages around the 2000 year old town of Limoux. The original Blanquette Ancestrale was produced from the Mauzac grape.

In more recent years to produce the Crément and the Blanquette de Limoux Traditional,  the Chenin grape was introduced from the Loire region and the Chardonnay grape from the Burgundy region. The Mauzac gives the wine its body and aroma and the Chenin and the Chardonnay add to this by reinforcing the bouquet, freshness and finesse.


The Sieur d’Arques were the Noblemen who made the first order of this special juice and is now the name of the Co operative that is the largest producer of Blanquette in the area


Every year at the end of March, each village that produces the grapes that make the Blanquette submit 4 barrels – two of which will be auctioned off to high bidders who consist mainly of large organisations, Michelin star chefs and restaurants . This event was started in 1989 and is called the Toches et Cloches.

After the auction there is a lavish gastronomic feast produced by a different Michelin chef each year for 1000 guests.  Tables are hosted principally by the wine and restaurant business.

Each year a different village or town is chosen as a venue to celebrate the previous year’s wines.  Sieur d’Arques restores the church steeple of the chosen village and as a celebration and thanks the village hosts the greatest wine and food party of the year.   On arrival punters buy, for a small fee, 5 tickets and are given a commemorative Toques et Clocheurs glass. What with pan fried foie gras and apple tart, Gascon beef barbequed steak sandwich, the omnipresent Toulouse sausage and usually a sucking pig stick roasting can be found.   Buskers perform at particular spots .

It sounds like a party that I most certainly don’t want to miss!



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