If you've had it up to here with the high prices of Champagne, you're not alone. But don't give up on bubbly just yet. There has never been more, quality sparkling wine in the market than there is today, so be adventurous and taste, taste, taste. With so much affordable, good stuff out there why pay inflated prices to those over-inflated egos in the land of Champagne?
But hold it! Before I go and completely rain on Champagne's parade, it's all because of Champagne's global success that sparklers from Italy, Spain, Australia and elsewhere have effervesced their way into popularity. And why shouldn't they? Bubbles are festive, fizzy and fun. And let's be honest, with its foil, wire cage and popping cork is there anything that personifies a celebratory mood more impressively than sparkling wine? I don't think so!
For the past 5 years, the sparkling wine category has exploded to where global production has now surpassed two billion bottles. Think about it. There are over 7 billion people in the world and each year 2 billion bottles of bubbly are produced. That's incredible. But more incredible might be the fact that all this crazy growth has had very little to do with Champagne.
I'm going to guess that many of you have helped push this bubble trend by slaking your thirst with Prosecco, Cava, or one of the many other affordable sparkling wines from a distant corner of the globe. But I'm here to introduce you to the original sparkling wine; an oldie, but goodie; the "real McCoy" - a sparkling wine that trumps all of the above when it comes to history and tradition. It's called Blanquette de Limoux and many historians consider it to be the first true Champagne ever produced in France.
Limoux is a town with about 10,000 people tucked up against the Pyrenees Mountains in southwestern France. Historians believe that the production of sparkling wine dates back to 1531 in this place - long before bubbles were even thought of in the Champagne area. Folklore has it that Dom Perignon was taught how to make sparkling wine by monks at the St. Hillaire abbey in Limoux. And later he took this wine making knowledge to Champagne. It makes for a good story but no one knows if this truly happened.
So what is Limoux? Honestly speaking, Blanquette de Limoux is Champagne. It is made in exactly the same way as Champagne - only the grapes are different. In Champagne, regulations only allow for three grapes to be used either singularly or in blends - Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Menuier. In Limoux, the signature grape is Mauzac, or Blanquette as the locals call it which must make up 90% of the blend with Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc allowed in the other 10%.
But aside from grape types, the wine making process for Champagne and Limoux remain constant. Per normal, the grapes are fermented and vinified but just prior to bottling, a small mixture of yeast, sugar and wine known as the liqueur de tirage is added to induce a second fermentation in the bottle. During this secondary fermentation, carbon dioxide is released and trapped in the bottle creating pressure and effervescence ultimately producing those delicious tiny bubbles we all love so much. After 9 months, the bottles are opened and disgorged (removal of the lees by freezing a small portion of wine in the neck of the bottle where this sediment has collected) before the final corking and wire basket are applied.
This process is technically known as Methode Champenoise but due to lobbying and politics by the fat cats in Champagne this term can only be used on labels of bubbly made from fruit grown in the Champagne region. Everywhere else it has to be referred to as the Traditional Method. Silly, don't you think?
So to honor the king of bubbles, Bloodhound Wines is now offering two beautifully made sparklers from Limoux. Crisp and full of apple and pear, these wines from Domaine Rosier bring a festive nature to any gathering. The Domaine Saint Nicolas is a traditional, Brut-style Blanquette spending 9 months on the lees before disgorgement. The Domaine Rosier Heritage spends 12 months on the lees and results in a softer style with an extra level of mousse that the St. Nicolas doesn't have. But hey, they are both incredibly refreshing with elegant bubbles and I dare you to find any food that doesn't go with them. And maybe best of all they're only 15 bucks. Eat your heart out Champagne.