I can’t really call it a resolution, though the thought did pop into my head around the New Year, it really was more of a mental note prompted by my enjoyment of sparkling wine over the holidays. The thought was to seriously explore sparkling wines this year by tasting and learning more about sparkling wine production.
So, you can imagine how happy I was when PullThatCork was contacted by McCue Communications about participating in an online tasting of sparkling wines made by Languedoc producer Domaines Paul Mas. The tasting promised “delicious French sparkling wine for under $20” and I have to say the tasting delivered just that.
Using the Brandlive platform, which combines live video and social media interaction, we were able to sip on the samples, watch and ask questions of Côté Mas winemaker Bastien Lalauze and Jamal Rayyis, Sud de France Educator. It was fun and educational.
Domaines Paul Mas is comprised of 7 wine estates located throughout Languedoc-Roussillon that produce a full range of red and white still wines in addition to sparkling wines from Limoux. Some of the wine estates are located in more coastal areas and others in the mountains such as Domaine de Martinolles, where these sparkling wines are produced.
The Domaine de Martinolles wine estate is located in Limoux at an elevation of 800’ to 900’ above sea level, at the foot of the Pyrenees Mountains. The elevation provides a cooler climate in what is otherwise a much warmer wine region than is usual for the production of sparkling wine. The elevation also means nighttime temperatures drop significantly.
In addition, vineyards are planted on north facing slopes composed of clay and limestone soils. This cooler exposure extend the ripening process so that flavors fully develop and acidity is maintained in the grapes.
Limoux, and the Saint Hilaire Abbe which is close by, has been home to sparkling wine production since at least 1531 when the first intentional production of sparkling wine was documented at the Abbe. That pre-dates production in Champagne.
The three sparkling wines in this tasting represent a range of styles giving us a chance to appreciate the difference and learn how each is made.
Côté Mas St. Hilarie Crémant de Limoux NV Brut — light yellow in the glass with many fine bubbles and just a bit of yellow apple and toast on the nose. Citrus flavors with hints of green apple and toast finish with clean acidity. The wine has a nice weight in the mouth thanks in part to all of the bubbles. The finish is long and crisp. The blend of 60% Chardonnay, 20% Chenin Blanc, 10% Pinot Noir and 10% Mauzac produces pleasing and complex flavors. ABV 12.5%.
Sip this wine as an aperitif and enjoy the fresh fruit flavor, or enjoy it with a meal. Pair it with something rich and fatty, a creamy pasta dish perhaps, it has enough acidity to cleanse your palate. To my taste, this wine is the most similar to Champagne.
This sparkling wine is made according to Méthode Traditionelle, that is essentially the same method used to produce Champagne. Fermentation of the still base wines take place in stainless steel. Liquer de tirage, a blend of sugar and yeast, is added to the base blend a few hours prior to bottling.
A second fermentation is triggered by the additional sugar and yeast and occurs in the bottle. The byproduct of the second formation, carbon dioxide, cannot escape the sealed bottle and therefore is forced into the wine. Voilà bubbles!
The bottles are aged one year on the lees, then disgorged. Liqueur de dosage is added to each bottle before being sealed for the final time. The wine is aged 12 more months before release.
Côté Mas St. Hilarie Crémant de Limoux Rosé NV Brut — the color is pale salmon with many fine bubbles. Blackberry and toasty aromas are followed by raspberry, toasty flavors and hints of citrus pith. This sparkler has lots of flavor and bubbles, and a nice weight in the mouth. The color is lovely. Drink it by itself or with most lighter fare. ABV 12%.
This sparkling Rosé is a blend of 70% Chardonnay, 20% Chenin Blanc and 10% Pinot Noir. The delicate salmon color of this wine comes from the Pinot Noir which spent time on the skins to produce a blush wine which is added to the white wines. The addition of red wine to white wine to produce rosé is not allowed in the production of Crémant.
The winemaking process for the Rosé is the same as for the Brut, Méthode Traditionelle, as is the aging. The blend of grapes is of course different, giving each a unique flavor. Crémant de Limoux AOP wines may be a blend of a minimum of 40% Chardonnay, minimum 40% Chenin Blanc, maximum 20% Mauzac and maximum 10% Pinot Noir. The winemaker may create the desired blend within these percentages. So interesting to compare the flavors of these two blends.
Côté Mas St. Hilarie Blanquette de Limoux NV Méthode Ancestrale — light yellow in the glass with lots of bubbles and profuse aromas of baked apples. Sweet flavors of brown butter and baked apples echo in the mouth along with a roundness, distinct sweetness and good acidity. This is like dessert in a glass. ABV 7.8%.
Possible food pairings suggested by Jamal: tart tatin or, if you’re adventuresome, pungent cheeses. It might be fun to experiment with that.
This Blanquette de Limoux is produced using a unique winemaking technique called Méthode Ancestrale, which accounts for the higher residual sugar. Fermentation begins in stainless steel and is halted at about 7% alcohol by chilling to 32º F and filtration to remove the yeast. The wine, which has about 100g/L of sugar at this point, is held until March when the second fermentation in the bottle is initiated with the addition of yeast. The second fermentation produces a finished wine with 7.8% alcohol and 80g/L of residual sugar. At this time disgorgement takes place and the bottles are sealed for the final time. The wine is released after 3 months of bottle aging.
Because wine produced using the Méthode Ancestrale involves less time on the lees and shorter bottle aging, it produces larger bubbles than Méthode Traditionelle. It represents a small proportion of total Blanquette de Limoux production.
Blanquette de Limoux may be produced in the Méthode Traditionelle as well, and tend to be drier and have smaller bubbles. If you have the opportunity to try both, do so. It is interesting to taste the different flavors produced from Mauzac using these these two winemaking techniques.
This wine is 100% Mauzac, a white grape variety indigenous to Limoux. It produces large berries with very thick skins and has a high level of acidity which is maintained through its relatively long maturation on the vine. By law, Blanquette de Limoux must contain at least 90% Mauzac with the additional 10% coming from only Chardonnay or Chenin Blanc.
The Blanquette de Limoux AOP is intended to preserve the use of the traditional variety Mauzac. It was feared by producers that with the introduction of non-indigenous varieties, such as Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc, the traditional Mauzac variety would fall out of use. Today the production of Crémant de Limoux is only slightly larger than Blanquette de Limoux.
All three of these wines offer fresh, lively flavors with excellent acidity. They are very easy to enjoy on their own. Choose a relatively dry style, or a sweeter style. Adding food is no problem, they are very versatile.
If you prefer to make a cocktail using these sparkling wines, go right ahead. Winemaker Bastien Lalauze is fine with that. His only advice is to use a quality wine to make a quality cocktail. And as he puts it “There is not only one good wine, and not only one way to drink a wine.” Great advice.
Look for these three Paul Mas French sparkling wines at retailers in the months to come. They will become widely distributed, and at under $20 are a great value.
Thank you to Domaines Paul Mas and McCue Communications for sponsoring the tasting. It was a fun and informative way to learn about and taste these delicious wines made in Limoux.