Mainly found in the Gaillac and Limoux regions of southwest France, north of the Pyrenees, Mauzac’s use is in general decline, but there are still some winemakers committed to bringing out the best of this historically important grape variety. As of 2000, there were 3,200 hectares of Mauzac vines in France.
Mauzac is most often used in blends, for wines such as Gaillac Blanc, but it can be also be used to make rare varietal white, orange, sweet and, famously, sparkling wines, due to its high acidity. It has a signature aroma of dried apples but comes in a variety of hues, sweetness levels and fizziness. The grapes vary in colour from green to black.
It is perhaps best known for Blanquette de Limoux, of which it makes up 90 per cent of the blend, alongside Chardonnay or Chenin Blanc. It is also the only variety allowed for Gaillac’s Methode Ancestrale wines. The variety is one of three, alongside Len de I'el and Muscadelle, used to make whites in Gaillac. The grape is of particular historical significance due to its part in the accidental discovery of sparkling wines more than a century before Champagne. In the early 16th century, monks at the Abbey of St-Hilaire in Limoux found that fermentation drew to a halt during the cold autumn months as the yeast became inactive. The monks bottled the sweet, semi-fermented juice anyway, only to discover that the yeasts reawakened and began a second fermentation in the bottle using the residual sugars to create carbon dioxide. As a bonus, the tricky business (for 16th century monks) of storing sparkling wine was helped by easy access to oak-cork from nearby northern Spain, which was far better than the wood normally used to seal bottles.
The grape is suited to warm climates because it reaches maturity only late in the season. The grape today is traditionally picked late in the year, well into the autumn, due to its late budding and ripening. Some producers will harvest earlier, producing a crisp wine of higher acidity but weaker flavour and aroma. It also needs adequate water, which is why it can’t be grown in Mediterranean conditions. It is most successful in calcareous soils containing limestone and clay.