amarchinthevines

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


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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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Mas Coutelou in the UK

 

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After an absence of two to three years I am delighted to say that Mas Coutelou wines are available once more in the UK. I won’t go over the reasons for the absence but instead celebrate their return.

Leon Stolarski will be the main source of the wines for UK customers from his online store. There is a real cross section of the range with whites, reds and, a true treasure, the Vieux Grenache. This is the page where you will find the wines. I am delighted to have been the connection between Jeff and Leon and I have already placed an order to restock some wines in my collection and add some that have been recently bottled like the excellent Flambadou 2016.

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Leon tasting in Puimisson in June

I know that Jeff was also keen to send wines to Noble Rot wine bar in London as one of the owners, Mark Andrew, was the man who first imported his wines into the UK when he worked with his former company. Noble Rot garners rave reviews for its food and wine list as well as its wine magazine. I really must make a visit soon.

So, no excuses. It’s time for the UK to embrace Mas Coutelou.


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Explosive

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In September I gave a talk to The Tuesday Club in Pézenas about the 2017 vendanges. Jeff bottled some Cinsault and Cabernet Sauvignon for me, the latter still fermenting. When I opened a bottle at the talk it overflowed because of the CO2 being produced. Well, on Saturday I opened the other bottle and I did say it might produce a lot of foam so I opened it over the sink. In fact all but about 5cm of the bottle flew out of the bottle and went everywhere. The power of fermentation! Thank you to Linda and Iain for helping to clean up. I can say that the wine which survived was very good!!

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On a cleaner note. I don’t often buy wine from the high street these days. However, I read a report about a Georgian white vinified in amphorae or qvevri as they are called in Georgia. As orange wines have been one of my highlights of 2017 I decided to buy a bottle. Well, it was really good. Made from the Rkatsiteli grape it had a lovely long flavour of pear and apple with nice tannins and real character. Hats off to Marks & Spencer, I went back and bought some more bottles.

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Reading

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I may be away from the action of the Coutelou vineyards but my fascination with wine, and particularly natural wine, continues to grow. I have recently read two things which I thought were worth sharing on here.

Firstly from Bibendum came this piece of information about the UK.

bibendum report

This growth of interest in natural wines is, of course, very pleasing to me, a long time advocate of the style. Not all these wines are natural but the interest in this sector shows a shift in demand and, also, realisation from merchants that the demand is there.

Caveat emptor! Not all wines labelled as ‘natural’ are that, a consequence of the lack of regulation. In particular beware high street retailers with wines from big companies. Artisans who practice natural methods in the vineyard and cellar are what matter to me. To identify such producers you could do worse than look at the website ‘vinsnaturels’ which is in French and English. The app Raisin is another useful way to locate producers and retailers.

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The most interesting article I have read though was from The Wine Enthusiast, written by Anne Krebiehl MW. In it she describes what we are learning about soils and the life which is in there. The rhizosphere is the soil immediately surrounding the vine roots and research is revealing the microbial and fungal life in there. This is something which Jeff has described to me over the years and it is fascinating to look at soils with small white fungal fibres which form a network around the vines, supporting them with nutrition and chemicals whilst benefiting themselves from the vines in a symbiotic relationship. Encouraging life in the soils is, therefore, hugely important; reducing their compaction from tractors etc as much as possible, composting them, avoiding chemicals where possible.

Mycorrhizae in Rome vineyard

There is much research still to be done and we are in the early days of understanding how the soils influence the vine and, consequently, the wine. However, early research supports the careful management of soils and vines by vignerons such as Jeff Coutelou. Respect the environment, encourage life. As he said after the recent damage done to his vineyards the best response is to plant. Trees, bushes, flowers, any plants. Encourage ecosystems and they will repay our guardianship.


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In Laudem

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In typically moderate and generous fashion Jeff Coutelou’s response to the vandalism on his vineyard was to remind us of his philosophy for viticulture.

He reminded us that generations of vignerons, as with agriculture in general, were persuaded that mass production aided by mechanisation, chemical fertilisers was the way forward. Grubbing up hedgerows and trees to create space for more vines would boost production and income. Irrigation by water from the Rhone was just the latest of these modernisations.

The consequences have shown how those generations were misled. Compacted soils with little or no life in them, falling numbers of birds and insects, diseases spread through waves of monoculture, vines hooked on fertilisers to keep production high.

In 1987 when Jean-Claude Coutelou made the leap to organic viticulture there were only 200ha of organic vines in the Hérault. Now there are 20,000ha. A tide has turned but it is not easy for everyone to accept that mistakes were made. Those who have returned to traditional methods, planting hedges, bushes, flowers and trees for diversity are, ironically, viewed with suspicion. The birds, bats and insects which shelter there help to fight disease. Thirty years of organic practice make for soils rich with life. And yet some don’t get it.

It is a privilege to stand in Rome vineyard in Spring, listening to the birdsong, bees and cicadas, watching the butterflies and bats, enjoying the colours of the flowers. Knowing that this rich diversity helps the vines makes it even more special. It is the right path aesthetically, morally but, crucially, for the wines too. Nature wins and benefits us as all.

So, Jeff is right. I stand with him.

 

 


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Shocking news

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When Jeff contacted me on Saturday he passed on shocking news. On Wednesday, whilst he was in Paris someone deliberately set fire to a hedgerow and olive plantation in Segrairals vineyard. The man (Jeff does know who it was) used petrol to burn them down. This was arson, pure and simple, an evil act.

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Just the previous month there had been another incident, this time accidental. A neighbour was burning waste and it spread onto Peilhan vineyard destroying young trees and some vines.

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Once is bad enough but two incidents is almost unbearable. That the second was an act of malice makes it even worse. When someone is trying to develop the environment with new planting one would imagine they would be encouraged. Instead Jeff has met with acts of vandalism and now arson. Fortunately he is a strong man and will fight on but he deserves our support.


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Tasting the 2017s

Vigne Haute

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Last weekend I should have been in the Languedoc with Jeff and attending a wine tasting at Latour De France. Sadly, a 48 hour bug put a stop to that.

Instead I reflected on a tasting we did at Jeff’s on October 3rd of all the 2017 wines in cuve. Regular readers will recall that they vintage is of high quality but low quantity. Quantities will be in short supply of what will be seriously good wines. There was a tinge of sadness about that as we tasted through the range.

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These were my notes on the evening.

  • Maccabeu / Grenache Gris – still some residual sugar. Fresh nose, Fruity, pears. Slight sweetness which will disappear. Clean and lovely.
  • Sauvignon Blanc – fresh apple, bright and zesty. A true Sauvignon character, refreshing.
  • Carignan Blanc – lovely, full, clean, direct – fresh and fruity. Very good.
  • Rosé – very pale, flowery aroma, fresh and clean, exactly what you’d want from a rosé.
  • Syrah (Ste Suzanne) – whole bunch, red fruit, round tannins, good finish, full, very good.
  • Cinsault – lovely, fresh and juicy red fruit, cherry, 13,5% but tastes lighter. Good.
  • Syrah (Segrairals) – amazing passion fruit nose which carries into taste. Fresh, citrus and lovely red fruit, a real star.
  • Syrah (La Garrigue) – La Vigne Haute (fingers crossed). Terrific, direct full tannnins, splendid fruit, full, long – stunner.
  • Flower Power – Maccabeu, Syrah (St Suz), Grenache (St Suz), Grenache Gris, Cinsault, Terret Noir and Flower Power – Despite the different assemblage this has the character of previous Flower Power – fruity, silky tannin and very appealing. Lovely.
  • Grenache – blend of Ste Suzanne / La Garrigue – 2015 St Suz provided 80hl, this year the 2 vineyards made 60hl. Lovely, fresh cherry flavours with a spicy finish.
  • Mourvėdre – crunchy, spicy good tannins and dark fruits. Very true to the grape. Good.
  • Carignan – top of the class. Lovely fresh red and black fruits, excellent balance of freshness and complexity. Star yet again.
  • Merlot – lovely fruit nose, fresh, touch of wildness which should settle. Nice.
  • Cabernet Sauvignon – still some sugar, plenty of fruit, easy to drink with classic blackcurrant notes.

We went on to drink a couple of the 2016 wines which were still in cuve, a very floral and spicy Syrah and an assemblage of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre which had good fruits with a soft tannin finish.

Reflections on the evening? The quality of 2017 is clear it is up there with the 2015s, just such a shame that fewer people will get to drink them. The whites are very good but the reds shine especially the future La Vigne Haute and Flambadou. The wines had all fermented beautifully causing few worries. A vintage to cherish, can’t wait until it is in bottle.