amarchinthevines

Learning about wine, vines and vignerons whilst living in the Languedoc


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Wine tasting should be simple

I have been thinking and reading quite a lot recently about wine tasting and why many people find wine, and its advocates, so off-putting. Most people who buy wine in the UK do so in supermarkets, choose from a wide variety from the shelves based on price, promotions and puff pieces. By the latter I mean the labels on the shelves quoting wine ‘experts’ on why this particular wine is terrific value for money. And sometimes those customers get a bargain and a good bottle of wine.

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Tasting with the excellent Fred Rivaton

Ask many of those people to buy from a merchant and they would be deterred by price and the language surrounding wine. Many people I talk to about wine like a particular style, feel comfortable about that and picking it from an anonymous supermarket shelf. They do not want to have to talk about yields, pruning style or fermentation temperatures because it is too technical and not what interests them. We the wine geeks are absorbed by such issues, most people are not. It bores people, it creates the image of the wine snob.

Readers in the UK will recall how one wine broadcaster made a name for herself by describing wine aromas and flavours by ever more outlandish descriptions. Whilst amusing did this in fact simply confirm the image of wine tasting as an elitist activity, worthy merely of satire?

Wine is a topic of endless fascination to me but I know I am in a minority. And a snob, I often find myself staring in horror at the bottles in those supermarket trollies. However, I do think that wine tasting is often made over complicated and found myself nodding in agreement repeatedly with this article by Jenn Rice on the Food And Wine  website.

The basic question is do I like the wine? Does its mixture of fruit, flavours, acidity, sweetness etc appeal to me and deliver what I want? No matter the price, no matter the reputation of the producer or vineyard area. I like the advice int he article to simply close the eyes and let the wine deliver its smell, taste and allow it to trigger the memory. I shall be returning to memory and story in the next article.

So, instead of worrying about producing lists of fruits, flowers or fungi, of texture, tint or taint just let the wine do its work in your mouth and then decide if you like it. Wine can be simple.

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Vincent, taken by a wine

 

 


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Coutelou, news on 2016, 2017 and 2018

En francais

Cartes des voeux 2015 and 2016

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Carte des Voeux 2017, election year

Every January Jeff Coutelou sends out to customers a Carte Des Voeux, a New Year’s card, in which he sends out information about the previous year’s events in Puimisson, thoughts about the vintage and general news. The card is always fronted by a striking, witty image and this year’s was no exception.

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2018

 

The main headlines from this year’s card concerning the wines were:

  • The difficulties of the 2017 vintage, the extremely hot weather and drought and how only a timely wind from the sea (brise marine) saved the harvest
  • The small harvest, though one of very good quality
  • Details of the likely cuvées which Jeff blended in November, these include regulars such as 7, Rue De La Pompe, Vin Des Amis, PM Rosé, Classe, Flambadou, Flower Power and the Blanc but also the Amphora wine from 2016 and …… La Vigne Haute! (Happy writer here)
  • New products, spirits and ‘tonics’. Gin, Fine and Grappa together with a Kina (a wine flavoured with plants) which is delicious.

Other news headlines:

  • The 2016 vintage as proof of how nature decides. The wines were slow to develop and, so, Jeff decided to sit on up to 75% of them rather than commercialise unready wines. (That said, the 2016 bottles which I have opened recently have been very good indeed, well worth waiting for. Good news for the customer with patience, less so for Jeff’s turnover).
  • Problems in the vineyards due to heavy rain in late 2016 meant that new plantings had to be postponed.The problems caused by vandalism in autumn 2017 have damaged the work and progress of biodiversity in the vineyards, eg hedges and trees burned.

Perhaps most startling of all the Domaine will, in future, no longer be named Mas Coutelou. The authorities informed Jeff that a domaine releasing wines as Vin De France rather than AOC or IGP is not permitted to use the term Mas. In Jeff’s case this seems daft as that is the family name of his mother and founders of the Domaine. No matter the logic and common sense, the wines will now simply be called Coutelou.

As for 2018.

The plantations foreseen for 2017 will, hopefully, take place this Spring, eg next to Ste Suzanne where traditional and older grape varieties will take their place amongst the dozens already planted across the domaine.

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The sodden vineyard which could not be planted in 2017

Jeff intends to bring back to life the parcels in the Saint Chinian area which belonged to his father. They will be tidied, replanted as necessary and improved with biodiversity as a core principle. In ten years we can look forward to a whole new range of Coutelou wines from this renowned region.


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Grapes and climate change

Jeff forwarded me an interesting article from Le Figaro this week. The subject was research published in the journal Nature, Climate, Change focusing on the effects of climate change on viticulture and the likely need for change.

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Some, such as Trump, deny such change of course but those of us in the real world can consider evidence. Vendanges in France now take place on average 2-3 weeks before they used to around 1970. The long history of wine writing means that we know that in Burgundy, for example, harvests are at their earliest in 700 years. Extreme weather in all seasons is more common, made worse by some agricultural practices such as soil impaction from machinery as well as the effects of herbicides which discourage rain from soaking into the soils.

As average temperatures rise seemingly year on year and water shortages occur more frequently in the Languedoc and other regions then viticulteurs face the problem that traditional grape varieties ripen earlier and earlier and struggle in drought conditions such as those shown in the map below indicating ’emergency’ zones in summer 2017.

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The researchers, such as Elizabeth Wolkovich from the Harvard University Centre for the Environment, suggest that testing different grape varieties will be necessary. At present many of the world’s leading wine producing countries are dominated by 12 ‘international varieties’ such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah, Riesling and Pinot Noir.* The list at the bottom of the page shows how much these vineyards are dominated by the international varieties.

France is more varied with 43.5% planted with these grapes (though 85% under the top 20 grapes). Altogether more than 300 grape varieties are planted around France. Organisations promoting rare and forgotten grapes, eg Wine Mosaic, are gaining traction and the researchers believe that by finding grapes with longer growing seasons and later ripening then regions badly affected by climate change might find ways to preserve their vineyards and traditions.

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I have reported many times how Jeff Coutelou has been planting many different cépages. He believes that not only do they provide variety in the vineyard and bottle but that the mix of different grapes in vineyards helps to prevent disease spreading. Castets, Piquepoul Noir, Terret Blanc, Morastel, and even an Inconnue (unknown) are grapes planted int he last few years and he is looking at others such as Picardan which is related to Clairette and Mauzac. Great wines such as Flower Power have resulted from these plantings, more will follow.

This is the way forward, experimenting to find grapes which make good quality wine and which can stand the climatic changes which we face.

 

* % area of vineyards under the 12 varieties

China – 93 (almost 75% Cabernet Sauvignon)

New Zealand 91.6

Australia 84.5

Chile 77.6

USA 70

 

 


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New Year, old favourites

Happy New Year to all of you who are good to enough to click on to my site, it is much appreciated. May 2018 bring you health and happiness.

The transition from one year to another is another excuse to open a good bottle or two and star of the show this time was, yes you guessed it, a Mas Coutelou wine. This time it was Copains 2013. This wine is based on grapes from my favourite vineyard, Rome, based on Cinsault grapes from those old twisted vines I love so much.

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Rome’s Cinsault vines

It is still youthful, bright fresh cherry fruits to the fore and a nice backbone of tannin. Further proof of how well Jeff’s wines will mature if resisted in their youth. A lovely red, worthy of the occasion.

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photo by amicalementvin

On New Year’s Day itself I opened an orange wine. 2017 had been the year which saw me converted to orange wines and also beginning to understand the value of using amphorae to age wines. The wine in question came from Casa Pardet in the Costers del Segre, Catalonia. This domaine produced one of the most stunning wines I have ever tasted, a Cabernet Sauvignon and is one whose wines I have sought out ever since. This wine was a Chardonnay 2014 and the fruit shone through as well as the characteristic tannins and dusty influence imparted from the amphora. Yet more proof of the skills of Mia and Pep Torres.

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Amazing label of Casa Pardet

So 2017 ended and 2018 began with top class wines. May the standard be maintained!


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Festive bottles

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Christmas Eve, a time to celebrate. It could have been Champagne but instead I opened one of my favourite wines, Flower Power, this time the 2016 in magnum. This is a field blend of many types of grape largely based around Aramon Noir and Gris but many more besides. This was very young, fresh and fruit filled. It was rounder two days afterwards, another sign that it needs more time. Regular 75cl bottles will mature quicker of course but no matter how long you wait the wine is worth it. Flower Power is a relatively new wine from a young vineyard, yet it is developing into a real star.

Christmas Day lunch is often a time when we share good bottles with my brother in law Iain. This year was no exception. Iain brought a Portuguese white based on Alvarinho (Albarino in Spain) to match the smoked salmon starter. Fresh, zesty but with a fruity roundness this was very good and a great match with the salmon, cutting through the smokiness and richness. Portugal is becoming a source of excellent table wines which are still undervalued.

Then, following the article I wrote for Frankie Cook’s website, it was time for my favourite Mas Coutelou wine La Vigne Haute 2013. Pure Syrah and everything I hoped for. Plummy, dark fruits, spice and with great length it matched perfectly with my vegetarian crumble and, I am told, with the turkey and ham. Brilliant wine.

For dessert I brought along a Jurancon from Domaine Montesquiou, La Grappe D’Or 2014. Pure Petit Manseng this is another exceptional wine from one of the very best white wine producers in  France. Sweet, of course, with baked apple, spice and a pure acidity to cut through the Christmas Pudding. Finished two days later it was still on top form, there are many years ahead for this wine. Happily I have some more.

A few days later we shared another meal and more great wines. I opened the 2015 barrel aged Macabeo from Mas Coutelou. The grapes were in excellent condition (as so many were in that exceptional vintage) so Jeff chose a special barrel. The result is something unusual for the domaine, not many oak aged wines emerge. Macabeo is the same grape as Viura in Spain, especially Rioja. And this wine reminds us of white Rioja. There is an unctuous, round pear flavour with a slight resin/oak influence. It is a food wine rich and long. Another which aged well opened over the next 24 hours.

Iain brought along a very special wine. RWT is another pure Syrah or Shiraz in this case (another example of grapes with multiple names!). It is one of Penfolds top wines, made from specially selected grapes. This bottle was 1999 and was a full, rich wine with plenty of dark fruits, a subtle oak influence and great length, In truth, it would age for many years to come but it was great now. A special bottle. Note the sticker on the bottle. Iain bought this for £9 a few years ago, bottles of more recent vintages sell at around £100! Australian wines, especially those from Penfolds, emerged on the market at very reasonable prices, these days they are very much wines for special occasions.

Finally, another treat. I opened a bottle of Vieux Grenache from Jeff. This is, of course, from the solera cellar, built on wines from up to 150 years old, topped up every year with Grenache, and Muscat in some barrels. Nutty, dry, raisiny – very resonant of top notch sherry. Amazing length, evocative of the place and of the Coutelou family. And a fantastic match for the bread and butter pudding.

 


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My wines of 2017

Sparkling

I was fortunate to taste many excellent sparkling wines this year. Excellent PetNats such as Éxilé from Domaine Jousset in the Loire, Jeff’s Bibonade rosé and the excellent Restons Nature from Kumpf et Meyer in Alsace. However, I have to admit that champagne always comes out as my favourite sparkling wine. From Boulard, Pascal, Jacquesson and others I was able to appreciate some lovely wines.

Top of my class this year though was Jacques Lassaigne, who I was very happy to meet at Chai Christine Cannac in Bédarieux. His vintage 2008 was sheer delight, a top class champagne with freshness, complexity and sheer pleasure.

White

So many good white wines this year. The unexpectedly good Georgian amphora wine from Marks and Spencer was a late favourite. Alexandre Bain’s excellent Pouilly Fumés are always a joy, especially Pierre Précieuse 2015, proving that Sauvignon Blanc can be a wine of true quality. Okanagan Crush Pad from Canada was another source of excellent Sauvignon Blanc, Free Form 2015 which had nine months of skin contact. Austria provided many highlights, the wines of the Rennersistas, Koppitsch, Gut Oggau, Meinklang and the brilliant Andreas Tscheppe.

Alsace, however, was the star of the year. I visited the region in May and had the great pleasure to spend time with the inspirational Patrick Meyer and the rising star Julien Albertus. The quality of wines, typicity of grape, freshness and pleasure provided were remarkable. Patrick’s wines astonished me, even many days after opening they were precise, fresh and stunning.

Special mention to the orange wine from Languedoc producers Régis and Christine Pichon of Domaine Ribiera, Orange sur les Canilles a wine which more than any other persuaded me of the benefit of skin contact wines.

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Red

From the Languedoc Maxime Magnon’s Métisse 2016 readily springs to mind along with some older vintages of Barral’s Faugères. Olivier Cohen and Mas D’Alezon were other Languedoc producers whose wines I enjoyed.

Italy’s I Mandorli and Azienda Vitivinicola Selve made an impact at RAW in London. I enjoyed the Pinot Noirs from the aforementioned Patrick Meyer and Julien Albertus. This was a year when white wine provided most of the memorable moments however. Highlight of reds will be described in the next post.

Sweet and fortified

A lovely Banyuls Cuvée Méditeranée 2005 from Piétri-Géraud was a highlight but the most memorable was the 1959 Muscat De Frontignan which Jeff opened for me on my birthday. Not often you get to drink a wine from your birth year, especially as the years slip by! It was sticky, sweet and very rich, a real taste of history.

 


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My Christmas wine

 

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I was recently honoured to be asked to contribute to the blog of well known Irish wine expert Frankie Cook in a series of posts about wines people would choose for Christmas. Naturally I chose a Mas Coutelou and, in particular, my favourite wine of all from Jeff.

Here is the article but I recommend a visit to Frankie’s website and reading articles from other contributors too, there is a rich variety of wine selected from all around the world as well as lots of other good reading.

“Christmas is about family and friends, sharing and reflection on the year which is fading. My choice of wine reflects these. I have lived most of the last 3 years in the Languedoc and spent much of the time helping at and writing about Mas Coutelou. Jean-Francois (Jeff) Coutelou makes a series of excellent natural wines but for this special occasion I shall choose La Vigne Haute 2013.

The wine is pure Syrah, it is labelled as a Vin De France because Jeff chooses to avoid the rules of appellation status which would, for example, mean that a single grape wine would not be allowed. Syrah is one of the main five Languedoc red grapes along with Grenache, Carignan, Cinsault and Mourvèdre. The grapes which make La Vigne Haute are grown in a vineyard called La Garrigue planted on two sides of a ridge, Grenache facing the southerly sun and Syrah, more sheltered and cool, facing north.

2013 was the last vintage of La Vigne Haute, if the grapes and quality are not high enough they will be used in other wines. (Happily, 2017 will see a new vintage!). The 2013 offers warmth, long flavours of red fruits and soft tannins, great with Christmas food. Made by my friend, shared with family and a reminder of so many happy days in Puimisson.”

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