Christmas Season Starts Anew: Virtual Handel’s Messiah

Christmas In New York

Christmas is upon us and this year more than ever one tries to remember the true meaning of Christmas not all the trappings that go with it. For me and for so many others, Christmas is also about traditions. That is all upended this year because of the pandemic. Reading the news is ever more frightening and the search for feelings of cheer can be tough but music always helps to console in these times. Every Christmas, I go to Carnegie Hall to see Handel’s Messiah performed by Kent Trittle and the groups he works with. Carnegie’s doors are shuttered and are said to open in April 2021. In the meantime, Trittle held an outdoor taping of the Messiah in his barn in October. The performance is available online at While not Carnegie, it did lift my spirits and get me in the mood for the holiday.

Another essential part of Christmas to me is sparkling wine. I am writing this week about all manner of Sparkling wines that have graced my table and that should be on your radar.

The first one is called Blanquette di Limoux Metodo Ancestale. These wines are made mostly from the Mauzac grape which can be blended with Chenin Blanc and Chardonnay in one of the appellations but must be made with 100% Mauzac for the méthode ancestrale. Mauzac locally is known as Blanquette. Mauzac is a late ripener and needs a long growing season to reach its full potential. It has nice acidity and makes for a lovely sparkler.

This photo is of the town of Saint-Hilaire, where Blanquette de Limoux wines were born. The soils are a mixture of clay and calcareous matter. Wines are made under four denominations or as they are called in France, Appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC). Blanquette de Limoux, Blanquette méthode ancestrale, Crémant de Limoux and Limoux. The Methode Ancestrale wines are made by pressing whole bunches but they cannot be dried to concentrate their sugars. The wines undergo a secondary fermentation in the bottle but there is no disgorgement of the collected sediment otherwise known as lees. These wines tend to be sweeter than standard Blanquette de Limoux and are often slightly cloudy.

Generally, the Languedoc’s climate is hot and windy. This particular area though is located near the Pyrénées and therefore is more a cool climate wine region than what one would expect in Southern France. This allows for the grapes to reach phenolic ripeness and retain good acidity with warm days and cooler nights. Limoux has both Mediterranean and Atlantic influences.

These wines have been made for centuries. While Pet-Nat is all the rage today, the monks of St.Hiliare were making it long before. In fact, Blanquette de Limoux is considered the world’s first sparkling wine. The monks of St. Hiliare created these wines in 1531. Here on are a number of wines available in the US.

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