Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Sparkling wines of the Limoux AOC (Aube, Languedoc)

Sparkling wine production in France can be placed into four broad categories:
  1. Champagne -- King of the hill. Reserved for sparkling wines produced within the delimited area of the Champagne wine region.
  2. Crémant -- sparkling wine made using the méthode traditionelle. Wines in this category include Crémant de Loire, Crémant d'Alsace,  Crémant de Bourgogne, Crémant de Bordeaux, Crémant de Die, and the newly minted Crémant de Savoie. These wines have to adhere to the following restrictions:
    1. Harvested by hand within set production quotas
    2. Whole-bunch pressed
    3. Sulfur dioxide use limited
    4. > 9 months on lees
    5. About half the carbon of Champagne
    6. Submitted to a QC tasting panel for approval
  3. Méthode Ancestrale -- wines are generally bottled with residual sugar. Effervescence gained via refermentation (or continued fermentation) in the bottle.
  4. All others -- sparkling wines made in any of the available sparkling wine production methods to the exclusion of the Méthode Ancestrale.
Limoux AOC has the distinction of being one of only two AOCs (the others is Die) to produce a sparkling wine in each of the available categories (keeping in mind that Champagne production is impossible for producers outside of the region). Limoux AOC sparkling wine production encompasses Crémant de Limoux, Blanquette de Limoux, and Blanquette de Limoux Méthode Ancestrale (The term Blanquette stems from the Mauzac variety developing a white down on its leaves.). I have written previously of the terroir of the region and will discuss the wines in the remainder of this post.

Crémant de Limoux gained its AOC status in in 1990. The primary grapes are Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc which, together, should not exceed 90% of the blend. Chardonnay must be a minimum 40% of the blend while Chenin Blanc can range between 20% and 40%. The secondary grapes in the blend are Mauzac Blanc and Pinot Noir with the latter limited to a max of 20%. A total of 620 ha is devoted to the production of grapes for this wine. Crémant de Limoux offers up aromas of white flowers, citrus, and toast. This wine spends 12 months on the lees plus three months post-disgorgement in bottle prior to sale. Alcohol level post-dosage is at 13%. Annual production is 24,745 hl.

Blanquette de Limoux is produced from Mauzac (90%), Chenin Blanc, and Chardonnay varieties planted over an 1100-ha area on the tops of south-facing slopes. These wines are produced using the Champagne method and spend 9 months on lees and three months in bottle post-disgorgement. The 48,000 hl of wine produced attain alcohol levels of 13%. The wines are produced in Brut, demi-sec, doux, and sweet styles. Aromas are evocative of fruits, spring flowers, apple, and honey.

Méthode Ancestrale sparkling wine -- awarded AOC status in 1938 -- is produced from 100% Mauzac grapes whose partially fermented juice is bottled on a full moon in March. Fermentation concludes in the bottle, producing a wine that is higher in residual sugar, lower in alcohol, and less effervescent than its compatriots. Alcohol levels for this wine is around 7%. Aroma and flavors include apricot, acacia, hawthorne, peach, and apple. Production levels are 4000 hl annually.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Monday, September 8, 2014

Limoux AOC: Creation of a sparkling wine terroir

Absent the "skullduggery" of Friar Dom, Limoux would have been the world's bubbly of choice. Because, according to the region's boosters, sparkling wine production was developed therein 150 years before its introduction in Champagne. Furthermore, Dom Perignon had been hosted at the Monastery at St. Hilaire (in Limoux) where he learned the production method that he later introduced as his own. Bubbly production in Limoux today does not approach Champagne in volume or quality but the region is certified to produce three AOC sparkling wines: Cremant de Limoux, Blanquette de Limoux, and Blanquette Method Ancestrale.

Limoux is located in the Aude departement of Languedoc-Roussillon, 100 kilometers west of the Mediterranean Sea between the Chalabra and Lacamp plateaus to the west and east, respectively, and hard-up against the foothills of the Pyrénées-Orientales to its south.

Languedoc-Roussillon. Source:

The Aude wine region. Source:
Communes of Limoux winemaking. Source:

Limoux, though close to the Mediterranean -- and subject to its effects -- has three distinct "climatic terroirs," as reflected by the grapes grown therein. Areas to the east of Limoux experience a warm climate and annual rainfall of 650 mm/year. Sugar levels accumulate rapidly necessitating harvest-initiation here. Areas west of Limoux are affected by the Atlantic and experience the highest rainfall -- 780 mm/yr -- and a humid climate. Mediterranrean effects do penetrate to this region periodically. The Auton terroir is located in the heart of the appellation on the slopes surrounding Limoux. This terroir is sheltered from Atlantic and Mediterranean effects by the the surrounding Corbières and Chalabrais Mountains. The climate is warm and dry with cool nights and rainfall of 570 mm/year. This is the second area harvested. The fourth climate zone is referred to as the terroir of the Upper Valley. It is located up the river Aude in the foothills of the Pyrenees above 300 m elevation. The weather is wetter and cooler -- rainfall of 750 mm-- with a late spring and cool fall.

Landscape Formation
Because of its location, the Limoux region escaped the Mesozoic marine incursions experienced by Champagne, for example. As a result, the region has no deposits from that period included in its formulative strata. It is not until the Eocene that the seas intrude and deposits of that era mark the occurence.

Limoux Landscape Formation
Lower Eocene marine invasions that 
submerged region
Alternating layers of hard and soft deposits:
  • sandy limestone (Thanatian period)
  • red sandy clays (Spanacian)
  • hard foraminiferal limestone, blue Turritellae-bearing marls, and oyster-bearing sandstone banks (Llerdian)
Mid-Eocene Pyrenean uplift
Stage 1 deposits overlaid by Lutetian detritus stripped from newly formed peaks and washed downstream by rivers

Upper Eocene formation of Massif de Mouthoumet due to compression of land between the Pyrenees and Montagne 
Creation of east-west fault that divides current-day Limoux into two distinct landscapes:
  • southern half with hills ranging between 980 and 2600 feet and south-sloping strata
  • northern half with lower elevations (460 - 1300 feet) and north-sloping strata
Source: Jacques Fanet, Great Wine Terroirs.

From Landscape to Vineyard Sites
The vineyard soils above and below the Limoux fault are limestone-based but their derivation have been markedly dissimilar. In the south, for the most part, the Paleocene-Eocene formations have been eroded away, laying bare the bedrock in the form of a cuesta (a long. low ridge with a relatively steep face on one side and a long, gentle slope on the other -- Small basins have been dug out of the softer formations (red Spanacian marls in the Luc-sur-Aude; blue Turritellae-bearing marls in the Couiza-Coustaussa valley; and red Maestrichtian marls in Campagne-sur-Aude) and vineyards have been established thereupon (Fanet).

In the northern portion of the Limoux AOC, we also have a cuesta topography. The Lutetitian detritus was laid down in two layers separated by a layer of lacustrine limestone. Erosion of this mass formed a cuesta with alternating bands of sandstone and marly beds. According to Fanet, the "cradle of production lies to the west of Limoux in the molasse basin of Magrice and de Toureilles, an ideally suited location tucked between Massif de Mouthoumet to the south and the Lutetian lacustrine limestone to the north."

I will present the sparkling wines of Limoux AOC in my next post.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Northern Rhone Rocks: Soils of the sub-region

The Rhone Valley vineyard architecture has been shaped by tectonic, hydrologic, and wind forces applied to the evolving landscape over eons, as described in a prior post. The result has been two distinctly different vineyard settings: (i) vineyards on the edge of faults (Northern Rhone) and (ii) vineyards set in sedimentary basins (Southern Rhone). We address the Northern Rhone vineyards in this post based on the work of Jacques Fanet (Great Wine Terroirs).

The aftershock associated with the Alpine folding (started in the Upper Cretaceous and reached a crescendo in the Miocene) caused an uplift in the eastern edge of the Massif Central with implications for Burgundy, Beaujolais and the Rhone Valley. In the Rhone Valley, the uplift was non-uniform. Rather, it occurred in fault-delimited tranches that front on the river's northern course. One such fault is responsible for the river's rightward jog at Vienne prior to returning to its "normal" southerly course in the area of Condrieu.

Bordering the river for its entire northern course, and varying in its width, is a band of alluvial soil which has been continuously brought downriver from the Alps. Most of the riverbank towns in the Northern Rhone are built on beds of this alluvia.

With the exception of the Croze-Hermitage and Hermitage AOCs, all of the Northern Rhone appellations are located on the right-hand-side of the river, clinging precariously to the steep metamorphic or granitic slopes of the Massif Central.

The Côte-Rotie is the first appellation encountered on the river's southward trek and its 60º, terraced slopes are dark brown, weathered as they are from Mica bedrock. The soils in the south of the appellation are thin, lighter in color, and weathered from Gneiss bedrock. The southwest jog of the Rhône between Vienne and Condrieu provides excellent southeastern exposure for vines. Syrah thrives here.

Beginning at Condrieu AOC, the right bank is granitic rock capped by loess. These granitic scarps give way to metamorphic rocks in the Saint-Joseph appellation opposite the confluence of the Dolon River. The north-south flow of the river in this zone provides an easterly exposure on the cliff face, undesirable for grape-growing in this region. Instead, a series of northeast-to-southwest valleys provide south, southeast, and east exposures and are exploited for vineyard plantings.

The Saint-Joseph appellation is granitic to the north, gives way to metamorphic rock just north of the St. Vallier cut, and then reverts to granite opposite Tain-l'Hermitage.

From Vienne to Saint-Vallier, the left bank of the river still reflects the multi-level terraces formed as the river recut its banks in the migration to its current course. In the places where best preserved, a total of four terrace levels are on display. Beginning at Saint-Vallier, the Rhone cut its way through the metamorphic rocks and basement granite, providing right-bank-style soils on the left bank between Saint-Vallier and Tain-l'Hermitage. The Hermitage appellation encompasees the granite of the Hill of Hermitage plus some of the upper-terrace strata. The Crozes-Hermitage appellation is inclusive of the Hermitage soils as well as the Miocene and lower-terrace soils. Terrace soils are primarily clay-limestone from the Tertiary period.

For the remainder of the river's Northern Valley course, the left bank displays lower terrace strata and one outcropping of upper-terrace strata overlaying Miocene deposits in the upper reaches of the Isere tributary. The river continues to hug the right bank along the Massif through the remainder of the Saint-Joseph appellation.

Cornas AOC is also a granitic appellation but is shelterted from the north winds by a Jurassic limestone outcrop called Les Arlettes. The river and the granitic scarp begin to diverge in the vicinity of Les Arlettes with the Massif trending southwest and the river to the southeast. The space thus created is occupied by lower-terrace strata.

Saint-Péray AOC is the southernmost of the Northern Rhone appellations. The Massif Central intrudes into the appellation in its northwest quadrant and combines with a similarly oriented Jurassic limestone outcrop -- Crussol -- to hem in a band of Miocene-Pliocene strata. The Saint-Péray soil is a complex mix of limestone, clay-limestone, and granite which owes its composition to a number of donors ( (i) granite from the Primary Period contributes a hint of silica; (ii) Jurassic limestones from the Secondary Era; (iii) marine deposits from the Tertiary Period are the source of today's clay-limestone soils; (iv) a veneer of loess from the Quaternary Period and Major Glaciations; and (v) alluvial deposits carried down from the Alps by the Rhône River. The vineyards themselves extend for 75 ha on the gentle lower terrace slopes at the foot of the Crussol Hill with south and southeast exposures. Marsanne and Roussanne are the allowed grape varieties in the appellation.

As the Massif Central rapidly exits stage right, space is created wherein Vocontian Trough and sedimentary basin geology dominate. This is the realm of the Southern Rhone. Its geology will be revealed in a subsequent post.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme