FIZZ FROM THE LANGUEDOC

by Rose Murray Brown MW  Published in The Scotsman 1 August 2015

We all know about Languedoc’s still white, red and roses, but have you ever tried a Languedoc fizz? 

French dynamo Jean-Claude Mas of Domaine Paul Mas, creator of the hugely popular Arrogant Frog wines, now believes that the next big thing could be southern French fizz.

“I have long believed that there is a gap in the market for fizz at £15-£18”, says Mas.  “I want to show the British consumers that great bubbly is not all about Prosecco or Champagne.  Languedoc fizz can rival the best in the world or certainly from a value-for-money standpoint”, he says.

Of course, sparkling wine in Languedoc is not a new idea.  Limoux is considered by some to be the birthplace of fizz, with its famous Blanquette de Limoux first created in 1531 by the monks of Abbey of St-Hilaire using the ancient ‘methode murale’– before Champagne’s achieved its sparkle – although there is some dispute as to whether documents confirm that Limoux was producing fizz as early as this.

Mas has invested heavily in his new bubbly idea in Languedoc.  A mere £3 million has been lavished on new facilities at Chateau Martinolles in St-Hilaire in the heart of Limoux, a property he purchased in 2011.  Here the cool hillside vineyards near the Pyrenees are perfect for grapes with natural high acidity – essential for making quality fizz.  From here he has launched his range of very well-made and affordable sparkling wines under the Cote Mas and Prima Perla labels.

Interestingly, the Mas family are not newcomers to the Languedoc wine business.  The estate is named after Jean-Claude’s father, Paul, but it began originally in 1892 with 9 hectares, expanded in the 1950’s to 120 hectares in Montagnac – and now with the dynamic fourth generation Jean-Claude in charge he owns 320 hectares and buys in grapes from another 80 growers under contract.  He has a series of eight wine estates now stretching from Limoux in the west to Montpellier in the east.  Two years ago he also bought Domaine de la Ferrandiere where he plans to use the olives and truffles from the estate to sell truffle oil and tapenade.

So Jean Claude has expanded Domaine Paul Mas to a very sizeable operation – and that is how he can make his fizz affordable.  The majority of his fizz are made with the highest quality ‘traditional method’ – the same method as Champagne is made – with second fermentation in bottle with long lees ageing.  Jean Claude believes that at least 18 months ageing ensures it at its best.  The only fizz made using a different method is his rather enchanting Piquepoul Frisante (see below) which is made using the Charmat ‘tank’ method.

You might well recognize the name Paul Mas.   Not only do they make Arrogant Frog and Elegant Frog ranges, but as one of Languedoc’s most sizeable operations (selling to 45 different countries across five continents) they already make very affordable still wines often found their own name or under own label wines for several leading UK supermarkets.  For example, Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference Limoux Chardonnay is made by Domaine Paul Mas – as well as other popular still Languedoc varietal wines sold in Waitrose, Majestic Wine and Aldi.

The Languedoc fizz range I tried was very interesting and I think showed good potential.  I found the labelling a little confusing, but Mas is focusing on his ‘Cote Mas’ and his aptly named ‘Prima Perla’ range (made at Chateau Martinolles in Limoux) in the UK name.  This name reiterates the idea that Limoux was actually the first place that wine sparkled in France back in the C16.


SPARKLING WINE

Cote Mas Blanc de Blancs Frisante NV
(£9.45 Laytons Wine Merchants www.laytons.co.uk; Cheers Wine Merchants www.cheerswinemerchant.co.uk)
Grapes: Piquepoul & Chardonnay
Alcohol: 12%

You usually find the Piquepoul grape in still wines from Pinet, but it makes a good base for sparkling wine with its high natural acidity (it is also known as the lip stinger grape). Brisk citric zesty fizz made with the second fermentation in tank for four weeks to get more fruit and preserve the acidity of the Piquepoul grape.  The fun wine label reminds you of holidays in the sun.

Prima Perla Blanc de Blancs Blanquette de Limoux NV
(£12.45 www.theknottedvine.co.uk; Laytons Wine Merchants www.laytons.co.uk)
Grapes: 90% Mauzac with 5% Chardonnay & 5% Chenin Blanc
Alcohol: 12%

Surprisingly good ‘traditional method’ fizz made in the same way as Champagne, with the floral high acid Mauzac grape dominant.  The 6-8 months ageing on the lees leaves a fresh easy going vibrancy here.  Hints of cut-grass with a rich lemony core and creamy yeasty finish.
                           
Prima Perla Cremant de Limoux Rose NV
(£12.45 Olivers www.oliverswinewarehouse.co.uk)
Grapes: Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Mauzac & Pinot Noir
Alcohol: 12%

Cremant de Limoux was a new appellation created in 1989.  This is made using the traditional method (Champagne method) with second fermentation in bottle with 10 months lees ageing.  Big mouthfilling fizz with more buttery characters than you find in the Blanquette de Limoux style.  This has hints of yeast on the nose, rich bready palate with rich red fruits.


Chateau Martinolles Cremant de Limoux Rose
(£12.45 Laytons www.laytons.co.uk)
Grapes: 70% Chardonnay, 20% Chenin Blanc & 10% Pinot Noir
Alcohol: 12%

Peach honeysuckle with apricot hints and a rich creamy soft textured palate and good depth of red fruit flavours.


STILL WINE OF THE WEEK
Paul Mas Viognier/Sauignon Blanc
(£8.99 Waitrose)
Grapes: Viognier & Sauvignon Blanc
Alcohol: 12.5%   
        
One of Paul Mas’ best still wines – a very affordable well-made aperitif white.  Hints of grapefruit and tropical fruit with a rich creamy mouthfeel.


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