The harvest was in full swing, but we were lucky, Françoise Antech was very willing to take time out and give us a tasting. But first we did venture into the cellars and watched the arrival of some grapes. Chardonnay is picked first, then Pinot Noir, and then maybe a little Mauzac. Chenin comes next, followed by more Mauzac, with the very last Mauzac, the ripest, being kept for the Cuvée Ancestrale. They are thrilled with 2014. The grapes are magnificent with very good acidity. However, Françoise’s father, who is 80, apparently reckons that 2013 was his best year ever. We tasted some juice, some Chardonnay, which did indeed have good acidity, and some notes of bananas. A second vat seemed more delicate and elegant, with notes of apples and pears, and of course some fermentation aromas. Chenin was more lively, with very good acidity, and some citrus notes. The Mauzac had not yet started to ferment; the juice had ripe apply fruit.
Françoise explained that they work with 22 grape growers, but also have 70 hectares of vines of their own, which account for 40% of their needs, at St Hilaire, which her sister Michèle and brother-in-law run, following the precepts of Terra Vitis for lutte raisonnée. St Hilaire comes within the Mediterranean zone of Limoux, with an earlier harvest, and grapes that are generally riper with a lot of aroma. So to compliment thee, they buy mostly from the Haute Vallée de l’Aude, with its higher acidity and freshness, and also a little Oceanic. It is the blending that gives the variety and character of the Antech wines. with the ability to buy grapes adding balance to the wines.
Françoise is in charge of the commercial side of things. The two sisters are the 6th generation and it was their grandfather Edmond Antech who founded the company. And the succession is looking good. Michele has two daughters, and Françoise two boys. So far they have worked on the bottling wine, and are learning to taste.
Blanquette de Limoux, Brut Nature – 8.00€ (2012 vintage, but no vintage mentioned on the label) Our tasting began with Brut Nature. ‘You can really see the work of wine grower, without any dosage in the wine’, enthused Françoise. 90% Mauzac, with 5% each of Chardonnay and Chenin. The ‘dusty’ notes that are typical of Mauzac. Rounded and characterful. ‘Mauzac is our identity’. It gives good acidity when it is picked early. The wine has no dosage, and has spent eighteen months on the lees. It was quite juicy and crunchy, with notes of green apple and a slightly bitter finish, typical of Mauzac.
(2012) Crémant de Limoux rosé Brut Nature Emotion – 10.00€
Chardonnay, Chenin blanc and a little Pinot Noir. Very pale, delicate colour. Quite firm, dry and nutty with some body. Limoux does not need dosage.
(2012) Blanquette de Limoux Reserve Brut – 8.00€
Their classic Blanquette. 90% Mauzac. They do not add older wine to the blend, as in Champagne. They have tried, but it just doesn’t work, as the wines do not have enough acidity, and age better in bottle than in vat. Essentially this is the same wine as the Brut Nature, but with 9 gms/l dosage. There was a taste of crunchy apple, and some pear. The dosage makes the wine more rounded on the palate. Satisfyingly mouth filling. A jolly nice glass of bubbles.
(2012) Crémant de Limoux. La Grande Cuvée – 10.00€
Lots of Chenin (40%) in this, giving some citrus notes, along with 50% Chardonnay and a little (10%) Mauzac. Nicely creamy nose. Rounded and elegant , with fresh acidity and a touch of honey. 18-24 months on lees.
Crémant de Limoux, Eugenie – 10.00€
70% Chardonnay with 20% Chenin and 10% Mauzac. Eugenie was Françoise’s great great aunt. Both her brother and her fiancée were killed in 1914 and she was one of the first women in the Languedoc to work in the wine trade. She never married, and it was her sister, Françoise’s grandmother, who married Edmond Antech, who started the business. Edmond was a prisoner of war in Germany, in a wine village, so learnt his winemaking that way. Eugenie died at the age of 96. As for the wine, it was light and creamy with some attractive nutty depth, showing the evolution of the Chardonnay, into notes of brioche and pain grillé, which sounds better than plain toast!
These days they make about half and half Crémant and Blanquette, but originally they produced much more Blanquette. Blanquette characterises the terroir, while Crémant is more elegant. The first vintage of Crémant was 1988, and for rosé 2008.
2011 Heritage 1860 - 12,00€
The name of this cuvée refers to the date of the family papers of Eugenie. 60% Chardonnay, with 20% Chenin and 10% each of Mauzac and Pinot Noir. A selection of the best vats. Two and a half years of élevage. 7000 bottles. Light colour, with a delicate nose. Good body on the palate; quite rich and rounded, quite sturdy with more body than the preceding wines. It’s a food fizz; and you could envisage it being an enjoyable drink without the bubbles.
Crémant de Limoux rosé, Emotion – 10.00€
4% Pinot Noir, 10% Mauzac, 20% Chenin blanc and 66% Chardonnay. Very pale colour. Delicate fruit, fruits rouges, fine and elegant. For the 2012s the dosage was a consistent, 9 gms/l. For the 2013 wines, however, the dosage may be higher as the base wines have higher acidity. They decide at disgorging, with three experiments at 8gms/l, 10gms/l and 12 gms/l.
2013 L’Ancestrale, Doux et Fruité – 8.00€
100% Mauzac. The ripest grapes and the last to be picked, from plots selected for both their ripeness and acidity levels. The wine must not be heavy. It ferments to 5˚ and then they stop the fermentation and bottle the wine, without adding any sugar. The wine starts to ferment again in bottle, and reaches about 6˚. Then the wine is disgorged, but no dosage is added. There is no ageing sur lattes. It is quite complicated to make properly. .Light colour. A ripe honeyed nose, reminiscent of tarte tatin, an apple tart with caramel. Honey and acidity. Ripe apples. Fresh and youthful. It would be delicious with a galette des rois, the traditional French dessert that is eaten for Twelfth Night.
Antech also produce a Doux and Demi Sec, but we skipped those, and Françoise gave us a bottle of the final wine, to enjoy with friends later. Elixir. – 25€ This is the last cuvée that they have created. She explained that Limoux has always had a complex about the fact that it is not champagne. ‘But we shouldn’t have. The terroir is magnificent and we have a real identity, producing wines with fruit and freshness. We are our own worst enemies. We daren’t do something different’. So in 2010 they decided to do a cuvée autrement, differently, just 2000 bottles, and to do the absolute best they possibly could, irrespective of the cost. They selected plots, with a very small yield, from well exposed vines, with grapes with good acidity. The grapes were weighed and they took just the first 25 cls of the press. Normally 1.5 kilos gives you a litre of juice. The wine is a blend of Chardonnay, Chenin and Pinot Noir. They fermented it in a stainless steel vat, with carefully temperature control, and they also used a barrel procured a barrel from Château d’Yquem. It spends three years on lattes, on its lees and is bottled into a very smart black bottle, with an elegant presentation box. And they use the best, expensive corks and a smart muselage. They have made Elixir again in 2012 and 2013, and the Chardonnay and Chenin for 2014 have already selected.
And for the taste ; very good mousse with a fine bead; a delicate nose, very elegant. And on the palate some nuttiness, and depth with a fresh finish. If I were nit-picking, it is a teensy bit short on the finish. And of course it is also considerably more expensive than their classic Crémant. Is it worth three times the price? But then this is the first vintage, and it is work in progress with the next vintages to follow. Thank you Françoise for giving us the opportunity to enjoy the bottle. It was a great tasting.