The Still Wines of Limoux
- By Jacky Blisson MW
- 10 Jan 2021
- 5 MIN
- Level 201
The region of Limoux in southern France is best known for its vivacious sparkling wines. According to local lore, it was here that bottle-fermented sparkling wine was invented. Still white and red wines make up less than 10% of Limoux’s wine production, but their intriguing balance of ripe flavours and vibrant acidity make them worth seeking out.
The Terroir of Limoux
The AOP appellation of Limoux is located 25 km south of Carcassonne in the Languedoc wine growing region. It is surrounded by the Chalabrais plateau to the west, the Lecamp plateau to the east, and the Pyrénées Mountains. This sheltered position creates unique mesoclimates for the area, with more oceanic than maritime influences, combined with semi-continental climate patterns, which give wide temperature fluctuations and regular rainfall.
Limoux’s 1,800 ha of vineyards are divided into four areas, each with slight variations on the abovementioned climate types which affect the speed of ripening, and the grape varieties best suited to each site. Despite this terroir segmentation, soil composition is fairly similar throughout the appellation with mainly light, stony clay-limestone.
The vineyards of Limoux are among the highest altitude plantings in the Languedoc, at 200 to 500 m above sea level. These hillsides are predominantly south-facing, exposing the vines to abundant sunshine throughout the day. The combined influences of Limoux’s climate, vineyard orientation, and altitude ensure optimal ripening with excellent acid retention.
White Wine Grape Varieties
Mauzac is the main white grape variety planted in Limoux, used primarily for Méthode Ancestrale and Blanquette de Limoux sparkling wine styles. It is fairly neutral, with crisp acidity and apple flavours. In recent years, still wine-destined plantings of Mauzac have decreased in favour of Chardonnay, and to a lesser extent, Chenin Blanc.
White wines can be blends of all three grapes, with a required minimum of 15% Mauzac. They can also be monovarietal. In the latter case, Chardonnay is most popular. It is planted across the region and shows particularly good results in the cool, damp terroir of the Haute-Vallée. These higher altitude plantings on the Aude river, in the foothills of the Pyrénées, give a racy, mineral expression of the grape.
The creation of a local Chardonnay festival and barrel auction called “Toques et Clochers” back in 1991 also helped spur interest in the variety. Limoux Chardonnay is generally made in a Burgundian style: barrel-fermented, with malolactic conversion, and up to a year’s oak ageing with regular bâttonage. They are rich and honeyed, with ripe orchard fruit veering towards stone fruit in warmer vineyard sites. On the palate they are crisp and lively, with textural creaminess, and a lifted, dry finish.
Red Wine Grape Varieties
Still red wines account for just over 3% of wine production in Limoux. The dominant red grape variety is Merlot. All Limoux red wines are blends, composed of at least three different grape varieties. Merlot must make up at least 50% of the final wine. Grenache, Syrah, and/or Cot (aka Malbec) are required secondary grapes, with a legal minimum of 30% in blends. Carignan, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc are also permitted in small amounts.
The cooling influences of the Limoux appellation give lighter, fresher reds wines as compared to most other Languedoc growing areas, though they are still ripe-fruited, with sweet dark fruit flavours, and smooth tannins. Both unoaked, rapidly bottled commercial styles and more complex, oak-aged red wine styles are produced here.