Illustration by Sushrut Royyuru

Week 8: Fizz Friday’s toast to better times.

Source: Ben Owen

Tesco Finest 1531 Blanquette De Limoux
Most major stores, £9.50 as tested

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

From the very beginning, The Weekend Wine List has set out to find wines for all palates and pairings. It’s the very reason the last eight weeks have taken us from rich Argentine reds all the way to delicate whites from the French Alps.

The logic is simple. There will always be a good bottle or two to recommend; the hardest part is actually discovering what takes your fancy.

But regardless of whether you are a convert to the fiery spice of Spanish Riojas, or remain loyal to floral Albariños, the broad church that is the wine-drinking community can almost always agree on one piece of advice. Dinner party aperitif, caviar companion or social cue synonymous with celebrations: regardless of the occasion, never, ever say no to a glass of fizz.

When you really think about it, the unifying power of sparkling wine is miraculous. The satisfying weight of the thickened glass needed to bottle the lively liquid within; the deep, hoarse pop of the cork finally free from its pressure; the gentlest hiss of trapped bubbles, rising to the surface in a champagne flute of choice; the light, refreshing tingle on the lips that accompanies each sip… As an overall experience, no other offering quite compares.

Granted, almost anything mildly alcoholic and naturally carbonated will achieve the same ritualistic effect; plus, ten pounds nowadays does secure a respectable bottle of Prosecco or Cava. I for one can safely confirm after a pre-pandemic Freshers’ week that offerings from Freixenet are remarkably popular amongst Oxford University students. Whilst there is certainly nothing ‘wrong’ with these choices – I have enjoyed many a glass in my time – recommending a bottle with which most readers are already familiar seems to defeat the purpose of The Weekend Wine List.

Fortunately, the market for impressive sparkling wines at a reasonable price is booming here in Britain. And for an elegant, crisp, and satisfying bottle that can even work out cheaper than its better-known Italian rivals, look no further than Tesco’s Blanquette de Limoux.

Perhaps this pick’s biggest selling point is its remarkable backstory. When anyone thinks of French fizz, the internationally-renowned (and accordingly-priced) Champagne region instantly springs to mind. However, many wine historians now think that the famous drink from central France was beaten to the mark by growers elsewhere in the country.

Take a glance at the label which adorns Tesco’s Blanquette de Limoux, and you will see ‘1531’ printed proudly in reflective gold. This denotes the year in which some adventurous monks from an abbey outside the humble, south-westerly town of Limoux are believed to have produced the blend for the first time. If the sources are to be trusted, this would make the appellation not only the oldest form of fizz in France, but in the entire world.

Probably best to keep that fact to yourself the next time you’re served an expensive glass of Dom Perignon at a dinner party, though.

So the credentials are definitely there, but what about the taste? Whilst the Blanquette lacks the complex and full-bodied profile of Champagne on the palate, this is not necessarily a shortcoming. It is dangerously tempting to draw comparisons between bottles from the same ‘genre’, assuming they must all strive towards a single goal.

To put it bluntly, any attempt to find a ‘Champagne on a budget’ in this Blanquette misses the point.

For starters, the two sparkling wines are made from almost entirely different grapes. Whilst central France’s climate and soil are better suited to Chardonnay and Pinot Noir vines, the sun-drenched slopes of Limoux some six hundred kilometres to the south favour the local Mauzac. It’s the variety we saw previously in Weekend Two’s Gaillac Perle Evocation: the same dominant grape, which similarly affords the Blanquette subtle notes of white grapefruit and golden apple at the front of the mouth.

The smooth, clean character continues throughout the drink’s main body. As sweeter hints of strawberry melt into a relatively dry and refreshing finish, the bubbles – satisfactory, if not exactly anything to write home about – add a cheeky vibrancy which would pair perfectly with tapas starters and a good tableside chat.

I can imagine you would be pleasantly surprised should you ever find yourself being served a glass or two with fresh oysters at a posh restaurant where the waiters, all called Charles and all dressed in suits, help tuck you in beneath the table following a between-courses trip to the facilities.

All in all, then, the Blanquette is an exclusive bottle of fizz which has a rich history, holds its weight against offerings several times more expensive, and would not be out of place in Europe’s finest culinary establishments.

Good wine at a great price. There’s no better conclusion to series one of The Weekend Wine List.

Ben Owen

A contributor to The Oxford Blue since its inception, Ben’s pieces explore topics as diverse as travel, literature, politics, and wine. His translation work has also helped foreign journalists share their ideas in the English language.