amarchinthevines

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


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The good, the very good and the ugly

Some recent wines. I was on a roll of good wine after good wine since the start of the year but that came to a stop on Saturday. The wine responsible for that was a Georgian amber wine from Pheasant’s Tears. I have had the good fortune to drink a number of similar Georgian wines from the Rkatsiteli grape and many were excellent. Sadly, this wine was full of volatile acidity. VA is caused by bacteria which create acetic acid (the acid which gives vinegar its taste). The bacteria could be produced during fermentation or by contamination by unclean equipment.

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Sometimes a little VA adds something interesting to the flavour of the wine, Chateau Musar in Lebanon is famous for having  a little. It depends on individual preference whether you like it. I quite like it myself. However, this was way too tainted to be drinkable. Unfortunate.

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As for the good wines. Unsurprisingly one was a Coutelou wine, Classe 2013, Grenache, Syrah and a little Carignan Jeff informed me. Still a lively purple colour with delicious red fruit flavours with soft tannins to support and add complexity. Classe ages so well, it is hard to resist when young but this showed the benefits of letting the wine knit together over a number of years.

From Sicily the Vino Rosso 2016 from Vino Di Anna was a fine example of how good the wines from this island are. I was fortunate to visit and taste many wines there a few years ago and met Anna Martens at a tasting a couple of years ago. This red made from 90% Nerello Mascalese and 10% Nerello Cappuccio had fresh, cherry flavours the clean acidity helping the red fruits. Lovely.

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South African wines, on the other hand, are more of a mystery to me. Testalonga is the domaine of Craig and Carla Hawkins in the Swartland. Chin Up 2018 is pure Cinsault, one of my favourite grapes. This was very light in colour, almost a rosé or clairet. Yet Chin Up had power and plenty of light, juicy fruit. This was a genuine pleasure to drink and I am looking forward to trying more of the Testalonga wines.

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Finally a port, Quinta Da Noval 2003. There was a lovely balance in this wine, the alcohol had blended perfectly with the Touriga Nacional grapes, there was no alcohol aftertaste that often happens with lesser ports. Apparently the vines are at high altitude and there was a lightness and freshness to this wine, full fruit which was long, long lasting. A reminder of how good port can be.

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Wines of 2018

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I described my wine related highlights of 2018 in the last article. Not surprisingly some of my favourite wines of the year are related to those highlights, orange wine and Australian wine.

Let me start with orange wine, the focus of the excellent ‘Amber Revolution’ by Simon J Woolf. I could include Jeff Coutelou’s OW 2016 which we drank regularly through the vendanges. However, I have limited myself to just one of Jeff’s wines as part of this case. That is made from Muscat and my favourite orange wine which I drank in 2018 was made from Viognier, not often my favourite grape. It does reinforce a theory that some of the best orange wines are made from aromatic, characterful grapes which add to the sensation of texture created by skin contact. So, the first bottle into my case is by Australian producer Kalleske, Plenarius Viognier 2017. I described it in Brisbane where I came across it as having “aromas of, well, oranges. Lavender too. It was delicious with tangy zesty fruit and lovely texture”. Seven days skin contact only for the biodynamically grown grapes, enough to add tannins without overpowering the fruit. Lovely.

Red wines next.

I drank Patrick Rols’ Les Anciens 2016 late in the year and it jumped straight into this case. I loved the iron filings like aroma and deep red fruit flavours of this wine made from Merlot and the Cabernets, Sauvignon and Franc. To make wine that good from some of my least favourite grapes, real talent and healthy grapes!

That lunch!

My Coutelou wine comes next. There were so many highlights, including 1998 Cabernet and Syrah still brimming with life. However, everyone knows my favourite wine, the one I would choose above any other is La Vigne Haute 2010. The 2017 is a beauty and the 2018 promises to be special too. However, Jeff opened the 2010 one July day over lunch with our friend Steeve. The years add a complexity and depth to the fruit and acidity to make a dream wine. Just stunning.

In New Zealand I was a little disappointed with some of the vaunted Pinot Noirs of Otago but some of the Syrahs were excellent, often from Gimblett Gravels on the North Island. However my favourites were from Hans Herzog in Marlborough, another biodynamic producer next to the Wairau River. I liked everything I tasted there whites and reds such as the Pinot Noir, Tempranillo but my favourite was the outstanding Herzog Nebbiolo 2013. Concentrated fruit flavours including peach and apricot surprisingly, light and fresh. Memorable. (shown in the photos above where Petra poured it)

My final red is Little Things, Joy’s Wild Fruits Field Blend 2017. This was one of the wines in made by James Madden in his first vintage, unbelievable that it could be so good so soon. I described it like this when I was there, “The vineyard is next to the sea at Fleurieu Peninsula and most of the grapes are technically white, eg Pinot Gris, Savagnin, Chardonnay, but they are picked with the Pinot Noir, Merlot and Cabernet from the same vineyard, pressed together and left on skins for more than a week. This is heady wine; bright, light and mighty good. Fresh and zesty from the whites, fruity and spicy from the reds.” I am going to choose this as my wine of the year, the single wine I enjoyed most of all.

Another field blend, another Basket Range wine. Basket Range Vineyard Blend 2016 is made by the Broderick brothers Sholto and Louis. Made from Petit Verdot, Merlot and the Georgian grape Saperavi, fermented and made together. Bright fruits, spice and appealing tannins this was a wine of pleasure but with added complexity too.

White wines provided most of my 2018 highlights, here are the final picks.

Little Things again, no apologies. I am sure some will accuse me of bias but these are genuine picks based on quality. Little Things Sweet Child Of Mine 2017 which I described as “Chardonnay is from 28 year old vines, whole bunch pressed, tank fermented and then aged in old barrels. It is a delight. There is a creamy note but a clean acidity runs through with lemon and spice notes.” Basket Range Chardonnay was a true highlight of my trip Down Under, other fine examples came from James Erskine of Jauma and Alex Schulkin of The Other Right. Interestingly their wines were from the same vineyard as another of my picks.

Gentle Folk Scary White 2017. Named after the vineyard Scary Gulley this blends the Chardonnay with Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc with lovely acidity, a creamy fruit profile and a sense of the area – friendly and classy. Gareth Belton is a very talented producer, excellent Pinot Noir too. One of a very talented bunch of winemakers in Basket Range.

Yet another Australian Chardonnay makes the list. Luke Lambert Chardonnay 2016 is made in the Yarra Valley near Melbourne where I drank it. There is a lovely apple and pear fruit, a touch of citrus and great length. Not Burgundy but similar in profile yet clearly Australian in its ripeness. All class.

Talking of Burgundy. Domaine Valette Macon Chaintré Vieilles Vignes 2016. I drank this from magnum at lunch during vendanges and again in single bottle from the excellent Chai Christine Cannac in Bédarieux. It may not be the most celebrated Burgundy but this relatively humble area produces a pure, creamy but citrus, hazelnut and white fruit flavoured delight. A producer I hope to find out more about.

Four Chardonnays and a Merlot/Cabernet blend so far. What is the world coming to? Well, let’s add some exoticism. Bacchus, Ortega, Huxulrebbe and Segerebbe to be exact. From England. French readers think I have gone mad! Davenport Limney Horsmonden 2016 is the work of a very talented producer in East Sussex whose PetNat is another favourite. This wine has a distinct floral note to the aroma profile, fresh and fruity. English wines are really on the move.

No sparkling wines to add this year, I had some nice ones but nothing which made me go wow. Only eleven wines though. Well to make the case I am adding another bottle of the Little Things Field Blend as my favourite of the year. Or maybe the 2010 La Vigne Haute.

Please would someone bring in some of the Australian wines to the UK market. I am missing them already.

 

 

 

 


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2018 wine favourites

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With James and Flo at Little Things winery

 

As the new year began (and I wish you all a very happy and healthy one) I spent some time thinking back over wine related pleasures of 2018 as well as my favourite wines of the year.

TL – Barossa, BL – Nelson, NZ, R- Cloudy Bay

The trip to Australia and New Zealand was the highlight, visiting wine regions and wineries that had long interested me, indeed even got me interested in the wine, the Barossa and Marlborough for example. Wineries such as Cloudy Bay were part of my formative wine learning so it was a pleasure to actually be there in person.

The true highlight, however, was the days we spent in the Adelaide Hills with James Madden and his family. James was part of the 2016 team for the vendanges with Jeff Coutelou and now has his own winery in the Basket Range which I wrote about at the time. The immediate success he has made there with his excellent SO2 free wines and the community of winemakers he is part of there were inspirational. More about them in my wine choices.

                        James with James Erskine of Jauma, TR – barrels at Gentle Folk,                                                   BR – Basket Range vines

Vendanges was also a highlight of course, as ever. It was short this year because of the damage wreaked by mildew but the experience was enjoyable as always.

I read a few wine books through the year. I enjoyed ‘The Dirty Guide To Wine’ by Alice Feiring and Pascaline Lepeltier (who I was delighted to hear had been chosen as best sommelier in France this year, she visited Mas Coutelou a few years ago). I am very much looking forward to ‘Flawless’ by Jamie Goode which looks at wine flaws and faults, something which interests me greatly. However, my favourite book was The Amber Revolution by Simon J. Woolf. I must declare an interest as I helped to crowdfund the book but, bias apart, this is an excellent read. Simon examines the history of orange wine, the tradition of it in Georgia and Slovenia in particular and its recent renaissance led by producers such as Radikon and Gravner. The Amber Revolution is well written, flowing with stories and history and enriched by excellent photographs. Highly recommended.

I have tried all sorts of wine objects over the years. Ironically the one which I use and like the most is a simple decanter. Increasingly I find that a few minutes in the decanter opens up wines. Some natural wines in particular, and they are the major part of what I drink these days, just need a little air to blow off reductive aromas as some are made by minimising oxygen contact because they do not have SO2 to protect them as an antioxidant. White and orange wines as well as red seem to benefit from time in the decanter. It became common to decry this very traditional wine object as being simply for show. I am now a convinced decanter fan.

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My decanters

Funniest wine moment. A photo that Veronique Attard of Mas Coris posted on Facebook. It shows a wine described as vegan but look at the recommendation for food to accompany it.

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Wines? Well that is for next time.

 


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Tasting the older barrel in 2017

 

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Back in September 2015 I wrote my 100th blog post about a great day. Jeff had suggested I do something special to celebrate the event and offered me the chance to pick grapes from my favourite vineyard, Rome. The grapes were a mix of all three Grenaches, Blanc, Gris and Noir as well as a few Muscat grapes. To make it even more special our great friends Martin and May came along to help pick the grapes, it was a day when I was truly blessed to be surrounded by friendship, a day when the Coutelou motto of ‘Grapes, work and love’ was evident.

 

I trod the grapes, pressed them and stored the juice in two barrels and two large 27l bottles. I even used airlocks provided by my friend Barry back in the UK. One of the those bottles was used to top up the barrels over the intervening three years before the wines were ready to be bottled. The wine was racked occasionally to separate the juice from the sediment and dead lees. From time to time we tasted from all three containers and it was fascinating to monitor their development and how they matured differently according to the container they were in.

The newer 60l barrel allowed more oxygen into the wine and this added a drier note to the wine which aged quicker than the other two. The smaller, older 30l barrel had been used for more wines and the wood staves had sealed more as a result. The wine was fruitier, tasted younger and fresher. That was the reverse of what I had expected from the barrels at first but it is logical. Meanwhile the large glass bottle produced a wine like imprisoned fruit, almost as grapey and fruity as the day the juice first went in.

After three years it was time to assemble and bottle the wine. That was supposed to happen in the week before I left France in October but climatic conditions were unfriendly for bottling, heavy atmospheric conditions. Jeff, Michel and Julien kindly did the bottling when conditions were more suitable. I can’t wait to see them, and open one in January when I return.

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I am a winemaker! It has been one of the great experiences of my life. That it is the result of the generosity and kinship of my friends made it even more so. In particular Jeff’s kindness and inspiration is something I appreciate more than he can know.

This is the 300th blog article. I have been delighted and amazed that people from 118 countries have turned to these pages over the last four years, often several thousand a day. Thank you for doing so, it means a lot. I started simply to occupy time and keep my own personal record, your readership has helped it become so much more. I hope that my love for wine, the Languedoc, real wines and, especially, the Coutelou team and wines have brought you some pleasure. And who knows, we may get to share a glass of the century wine.

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A March in the vines (photo by Flora Rey)


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Recent wine highlights

I have had some cracking wines in recent weeks. Let me share some of them with you before I get to my wines of the year in a future article.

 

Jeff Coutelou always provides me with memorable wines and these two from 2017 underline what a great vintage that was from him. Classe is one of the headline acts of the domaine and the 17 is as good as any I recall. Syrah (50%), Grenache (40%) and Mourvedre (10%) with ripe red and black fruit flavours and a depth of flavour indicating many, many years of life ahead if you can resist drinking it now. The Vin De Table (Syrah and Grenache again but this time with Merlot) is made from what was left after the main cuvées were assembled. But, it is no leftover. Ripe, concentrated and very drinkable. Jeff’s wines gets better and better and that is the highest praise I can give him as I have long considered him an exceptional winemaker as well as a friend.

From the same stable comes my good friend Julien Banville who took some of Jeff’s grapes in 2017 to produce his Chateau Des Gueux. A light red wine of intense red fruit aromas and lingering flavours it shows Julien’s talents for stamping his won personality on his wines. Delicious but sadly unavailable commercially.

From Spain two excellent wines. Jordi Llorens‘ wines have long been a source of pleasure and the Blan 5.7 2017 of Macabeo and Parellada was a joy, refreshing but full of creamy, white fruit. Partida Creus XL 2016 made from Xarel.lo was equally good with perhaps a little more acidity. I preferred that to the red VN though that was still good.

Back to France and two eastern regions. Alsace has long been one of my favourite wine regions in the world and the biodynamic Zind Humbrecht domaine one of my favourite producers. This Riesling 2009 was classic of the grape, petrol nose, citrus fruit, dry but with just a slight suggestion of sweetness. Savoie is becoming ultra fashionable and the Altesse from Domaine Giachino was a clear example of why its reputation is high. Floral, fruity, complex and dry, it really convinced me that Savoie and the grape Altesse are top quality.

I mentioned how much I enjoyed Patrick RolsLes Anciens 2016 in the last article with its Merlot and Cabernets from the Auvergne region. There’s an iron edge to the complex red fruit flavours, a wine showing the promise of a region only starting to develop its wines. From the Gard department came the Va Nu Pieds 2016 of the Frères Soulier. Classic Languedoc/Rhone Syrah and Grenache with plenty of black fruits as well as good tannins.

Finally and certainly not least. From England, yes you read that right. Davenport winery in East Sussex produces one of my favourite PetNats but this was the first still wine of theirs I had tasted, the Limney Horsmonden 2017. If Savoie shows promise then this is equally the case for English wine. Ortega, Bacchus, Huxulrebbe and Segerebbe are not grapes I know particularly but this blend had tremendous floral notes and a dry, clear expression of the place and grape. One of the best wines I have tasted this year.

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Rethinking

At a time when my country is in desperate need of a rethink I have had a couple of wine related examples myself recently. So, here they are.

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Merlot at Coutelou

Merlot. I must admit that I have always been very ambivalent towards this grape. Early wine ventures in my life often featured Merlot blended with Cabernet Sauvignon from Bordeaux or, more usually, Australia. However, it was always the underling, the supporting star. My attention was grabbed by the headline act. Then in recent years Merlot has been a bit of a whipping boy, scorned by me and many others. And yet. I recently noticed that Merlot has featured in a number of my favourite wines this year (of which more soon on these pages).

 

Little Things (James Madden) Joy’s Wild Fruits Field Blend which was the star of my trip Down Under this year, Basket Range Vineyard Blend, Jeff Coutelou‘s Vin De Table (and the 2018 wine in vat) and then Patrick Rols‘ Les Anciens 2016 all feature Merlot in the blends to a greater or lesser extent. The latter, from the up and coming Auvergne wine region, has Merlot as the main constituent together with Cabernets Sauvignon and Franc, and it is a delicious, fresh wine. So mea culpa, I have too easily dismissed this grape, Merlot is back. At least as a grape for blending, I’d happily receive recommendations for single variety wines.

The Rols wine was part of a case I ordered recently now that I am back in the UK. Having looked through the lists of several cavistes in this country I found a bigger range of wines, cheaper by buying from France and Spain. The cases arrived quickly, intact and I can safely and wholeheartedly recommend Petites Caves based in Toulouse and Gourmet Hunters based in Barcelona. Both have websites with English translations. So think wider than your local supermarket, enjoy some natural wines, and give a thought to Merlot!

Now, can we persuade my country to think a bit more?

 


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Vermouth, Kina

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It was interesting to see Oz Clarke* on James Martin’s Saturday morning TV show this week looking at the topic of vermouth. I wrote earlier in the year about the vermouth which Jeff Coutelou is now making and selling, Kina.


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Screenshot from the TV programme

The Languedoc is associated with vermouth since one of the most famous brands, Noilly Prat, is made in the lovely port of Marseillan. Vermouth was never a drink I enjoyed but Kina is changing that.

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According to specialist website The Fine Spirits Corner, “The Kina is a type of fortified wine that is made ​​from dry and sweet wines of high quality to which are added extracts of quinine. Produced mainly in Andalusia, was formerly used as a tonic, invigorating and during the appetizer to open the food.”

After mixing various herbs and spices with the base wine back in July Jeff left the kina to macerate in the cellar for a few weeks. Time for an update.

During vendanges he also prepared some more wine to be mixed with the kina. The wine was mixed with pure alcohol to stop fermentation (mutage) and retain some of the sugars from the grapes. This was then blended with the macerated wine to make Kina.

As the quote above says, supported by Clarke’s introduction, vermouth should be a drink with plenty of flavour and sweetness from the herbs and spices but with a bitter finish to cleanse the palate. I have tried other examples of kina drinks from the commercial, e.g. Lillet or Martini as well as another artisan vermouth from Carcassonne. I liked the latter though it was certainly sweeter than Coutelou Kina. I like the bitter twang of Kina though Jeff is also making a sweeter version if that is your preference.

With Christmas and New Year celebrations on the horizon Kina will definitely be featuring as my aperitif of choice. Vermouth may be the new gin (also made in Puimisson!) and, to my surprise, I welcome its return to the spotlight.

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Taking its place in the Coutelou range

*Oz Clarke is an English wine writer and broadcaster who certainly did a lot to spark my passion for wine