Most of the world credits the invention of sparkling wine to the Champagne region, and to Dom Perignon. The legend, and possible real story, is far more interesting. Wine historians believe that the world's first sparkling wine was produced in this region in 1531, by the monks at the abbey in Saint Hilaire.
Records show trade in non-sparkling white wines from Limoux as far back as the Roman occupation of the region.
Blanquette de Limoux is considered to be the first sparkling white wine produced in France, created long before the Champagne region became world renowned. The first textual mention of "blanquette", from the Occitan expression for "the small white", appeared in 1531 in papers written by Benedictine monks at an abbey in Saint-Hilaire. They detail the production and distribution of Saint-Hilaire's blanquette in cork-stoppered flasks. The region's location, north of the Cork Oak forest of Catalunya, gave Limoux producers easy access to the material needed to produce secondary fermentation in the flask, which produces the bubbles necessary for sparkling wine.
Limoux is a lovely small town with a big heart in the Languedoc. It is home to one of Europe's most popular Carnivals, a divine two-month-long ode to food, music and the French joie de vivre. The enchanting Aude River weaves through the small city.
While Blanquette is the area's claim to not-so-prominent fame, the local vintners produce wonderful chardonnays, syrahs and "Crémant de Limoux," a blend of chardonnay and chenin grapes.
The Blanquette is the real allure, though. I actually prefer it to its more popular Champagne cousin. It has an understated, dry and mellow personality befitting its Southern France setting and, perhaps, the under-rated appreciation. While it is hard to find in U.S. wine shops, I've found an online site where you can buy it now!
It is in the heart of France's Cathar Country, just a few minutes from the medieval walled city of Carcassonne. It is one of the loveliest areas of France for a drive, as you pass vineyards and symetrical rows of trees reaching atop the roads. Stop at wineries for tastings. Indulge in cassoulet, a delicious Languedocian stew of white beans and meat.
Sit in one of the local cafés, sipping a Blanquette whilst watching the world pass by. Visit the Friday market to sample local produce and specialties.