Bulle de Blanquette – France’s Oldest Sparkling Wine

by Chris Devonshire-Ellis

May 8th, 2009

Today (May 8th) is my birthday, so what better subject to provide to recognize that than a bottle of French wine? No ordinary wine either – I discovered it at the ridiculous price of USD8 in a local store in Beijing, which pleased me no end, and noticed the “Depuis 1531” slogan on it. Since 1531? Wow. Interest piqued and taste buds at the ready, I both opened the bottle – it’s certainly a productive cork that zooms out – and imbibed. Pears, mainly, but creamy and naturally sparkling. Definitely worth eight bucks. It turns out that Bulle de Blanquette has been made in the region of Limoux in Central France since 1531, with the Monks of St. Hilaire being responsible. They invented the process, some 150 years before Champagne was recorded. It’s also interesting to note that Dom Perignon, an esteemed Monk himself, stayed in the region before leaving to travel to Epernay and begin making methode champenoise there. It was the St. Hilaire Monks who first tied corks to the bottles to prevent the bubbles exploding, and they still follow tradition and bottle at the time of the full moon in March ready for the warmer weather to start the secondary fermentation that produces les bulles (the bubbles). All the grapes for Blanquette have to be harvested by hand into small boxes to prevent bruising, and the regulations also limit the yield to ensure a quality product. Growers who can produce and market Blanquette are limited to a set area of 41 villages around the 2000 year old town of Limoux.
Many producers follow an organic code for growing the Blanquette grape which is also known as Mauzac.

In more recent years the Chenin and Chardonnay grapes have been introduced enabling the production of the blended Blanquette de Limoux and the Crémant de
Limoux. If you see any around – well snap it up – it’s a very decent drop and at prices like that just can’t really be beaten either for value or, indeed, for history.
Salut !