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


MIllésime Bio 2016


The world’s biggest organic wine fair took place in Montpellier last week and I attended all three days of the main salon as well as a number of the offline events around the main event.

Last year I reported on the 2015 event in two posts about the salon and the offs and I shall do the same over the course of the next week. However, a brief introduction with an overview of thoughts and preferences.

1 salon attended

6 offline events attended

7 countries’ wines tasted

84 domaines’ wines tasted

373 wines tasted


Although my main interest is the wines of Languedoc – Roussillon I deliberately chose not to concentrate on them as I get to taste them throughout the year at other events. In addition I think I ought to taste wines from other regions and countries to broaden my experience and place the Languedoc – Roussillon in better context. That said I did taste some very good local wines at the offline events from the likes of Joe Jefferies, Mas Sibert, Escarpolette and Fontude.


Wines from Joe Jefferies

However one country’s wines stood out, Austria. I tasted with a number of Austrian producers and they were consistently good, some outstanding, for example Sepp Muster, Ewald Tscheppe, Preisinger and Pittnauer above all. I have always enjoyed the white wines of Austria but the reds were a revelation, local grapes with character, distinction and drinkability.

The Rhone Valley was another source of top wines, so many elegant, fine wines such as those of Domaine des Aphillantes, Domaine du Coulet (Matthieu Barret) and Domaine Lombard in Brézème, an area I didn’t really know before. Interestingly Brise Cailloux from Barret was one of my choices of outstanding wines of 2015.

There were outstanding wines from Marc Kreydenweiss in the Rhone (as well as from his son in Alsace).

Just to the north of the Rhone I also enjoyed a number of Beaujolais wines (Lapierre, Séléné for example). The other outstanding wines were those of Aimé Stentz from Alsace, wines of great finesse, flavour and sheer drinkability.

There were many more interesting features and wines which I shall report on this week, the presence of an English vineyard certainly created a stir for example.  Most surprising wine of the week was a delicious Viognier from Greece, Domaine Giannikos. I expected a flabby or blousy wine and instead the Neo∑ Anemo∑ was dry, clean, citrussy and truly elegant.

All in all it was a very good week.







Taille, tasting and temperatures



One of the new fruit trees planted at Peilhan


First visit of 2016 to Mas Coutelou this morning. We tasted the 2015 wines, now mostly assembled, and whilst I am sworn to secrecy about what they will be I can confirm that the cuvées are looking excellent. There is a real elegance and refinement to them already, Jeff has compared them to Rhone and Loire wines rather than the typical, fuller Languedoc wines. They are still in their infancy of course, tasted from tank, and in midwinter they are still coming around. However, the structure, aromas and flavours are in place for wines of real quality.


The weather was much discussed as the temperatures in Puimisson and the Languedoc remain above average (see last post). The effect on the wines can be important, the wines restive, troubled in warm conditions, for example they don’t clarify. A few colder days early this week has helped them to settle a little more, Jeff has already noted changes.

The warm temperatures were evident in the vineyard too. I went to see Julien who is carrying out la taille (pruning) this year. He showed me how some of the precocious vines, such as Muscat, are showing signs of the buds swelling already, way too early. This fits in with the wider vegetation, fruit trees showing signs of blossom, even our tomato plants have flowers!


Bud swelling in the vine

Julien was busy in Peilhan vineyard and explained how he was trying to prune the Muscat in a gobelet sur fil style, rather like guyot, pruning to create two main canes for growth in 2016.

This weekend sees a huge wine salon, Millésime Bio, in Montpellier. Nine hundred domaines represented with many more at various ‘off’ events around the city. Jeff will be preparing bottles for Les Affranchis. Then it’s on to the Loire for more salons. So the cuvées will make their first public appearance. I shall be explaining some of the different Coutelou cuvées in my next couple of posts as well as reporting on the Montpellier salons.


Icare playing with his Christmas present from Pat, a toy sheep



2016 – whether the weather

Whether the weather be fine
Or whether the weather be not,
Whether the weather be cold
Or whether the weather be hot,
We’ll weather the weather
Whatever the weather,
Whether we like it or not.

(Unknown poet)

I read an interesting article this morning, from the iDealwine website, about the weather. Yes a British preoccupation but one shared by vignerons around the world. It was ironic timing as, returning to Margon yesterday (January 17th), I awoke this morning to flakes of snow falling!

Hardly the snowfalls I saw in December in the UK but surprising. Not enough of a cold snap however for the good of the vines. They need a period of cold to go to sleep. The sap needs to fall and concentrate at the heart of the vine, pruning (taille) can then remove the surplus wood from last year and prepare the vines for this year.

Instead, as the article points out, the winter here has been unusually warm, possibly the warmest since 1900. Temperatures in Montpellier were more than 3° above average in December and some vignerons have reported that as they have pruned they have seen sap running out of the vine, which means the vines are not resting. Indeed, even worse, the vines could be damaged by a sudden cold snap as the wood could break if the sap has not fallen.

As I drove south through France it was noticeable at the sides of the autoroutes that blossom was out on some trees, and if the vines follow suit and start to grow early then that could also bring problems. Finally, the lack of a cold spell does not help to fight diseases or the conditions in which diseases such as mildew can thrive.

The article supports what Jeff has told me about the situation in the Languedoc. There was also very little rainfall after September, next to none in fact. A few showers in January so far but that will not replenish the reserves in the soil. Some cracks in the soil are actually bigger than they were at the end of summer.


The vines have been too active and a lack of water is the last thing they will need. The 2016 vintage already faces significant problems, three weeks into the year!

Therefore, although today’s snow is welcome a sustained cold snap and steady rain would have been much more so. We may weather the weather, whether the vines will is another matter.



Alcohol, the wine elephant

Today (January 8th) the UK Government issued guidelines on alcohol. To summarise the guidelines say:

  • Any alcohol use creates an increased cancer risk
  • Pregnant women should drink no alcohol
  • Men and women should have the same recommended limit to their alcohol consumption
  • That limit should be 14 units per week, best shared between three to four days with other days alcohol free
  • A large glass of wine (175 millilitres) contains roughly 2 units if the alcohol level in the wine is 11.5%
  • The level of 14 units was chosen as it represents a 1% risk of someone dying from alcohol related illness (equivalent to the risks of dying when driving a car)

                                                                    (Source, BBC)

Alcohol is the elephant in the room of wine. People like me drink wine regularly and promote its pleasures and its benefits. Yet we should also bear in mind that alcohol is a risk and should be treated with due respect and concern. It is a major cause of illness, crime and social problems when not treated with due respect.

The figure of 7 glasses of wine a week should also be treated with caution. Very few wines are at 11.5% alcohol, most wines I drink weigh in around 13-15% and therefore that reduces the recommended drinking still further. I estimate that means just over one bottle per week and taking some days off from drinking alcohol. I don’t stick to that guideline I freely admit, I do not step over that limit by much, but I am aware that I need to be watchful and I do take some days off from drinking.


       A bottle of Australian Grenache in my cellar

I raise the issue because of its topicality and I am aware that different countries have different guidelines. However, as someone who genuinely believes that wine and sharing wine is one of life’s great joys I feel that I should at least address that elephant in the room. And, like that elephant, not forget. It is for you to decide how you react to the guidelines. Personally, I shall be mindful of them but wine is a source of pleasure which I shall continue to enjoy in moderation.

                             Private Eye cartoon on Twitter


New Year, new feature

Happy New Year everyone.

To start the year I have added a new page to this blog, Wine Of The Week. You will find the link at the top of the home page and as its title suggests I shall be highlighting one wine every week which has caught my attention during those seven days. I am posting the first entry on this page to kick start it, however it will be a freestanding hereafter so please click the link and read it in future weeks.

Week 1

Each week I shall select a wine which has captured my attention for good or bad.

I could have chosen the wine with which we saw in 2016, La Vigne Haute 2011 of Mas Coutelou, but instead I have chosen a wine which I would never normally choose.

I have never been a fan of Cabernet Franc after my early visits to France 30 years ago when I tasted so many unripe, green and bitter Loire red wines. It has become a blind spot for me and people have tried to convert me without success. Greg Bureau of Bouchon Bistrot in Hexham, a native of Tours, has consistently tried to convince me of Cabernet Franc’s merits. So, when we dined at Bouchon on New Year’s Eve I promised him I would order the Bourgeuil on his wine list. And I liked it.


In fact this wine comes from one of the natural wine world’s more famous producers, Catherine and Pierre Breton. The bottle was called ‘Trinch’, of which more later. The freshness on the nose was characteristic sign of a biodynamic or natural wine. Red fruits and a streak of acidity were the first taste impressions both reflecting the bright, crimson colour of the wine. An hour later the wine had softened a little though still fresh. There were clear pepper notes, typical of the grape and Bourgeuil with just a hint of greenness. Really nice, soft enough to drink on it sown but very good with food including my excellent halibut dish. This 2014 should be drunk young.

Trinch is part of a quote from Rabelais which you can find on the domaine website. Basically it is an old term for ‘drink’ and I would be happy to drink this wine again. Was it great wine? No, but it was quite good and showed that I can enjoy Cabernet Franc. It is by no means the Bretons’ most serious wine but shows off their skills and philosophy.

Incidentally Bouchon recently won European Restaurant Of The Year in the Journal Secret Diner Awards, the latest in a long line of awards for this consistently excellent restaurant. If you are in the North East of England, try it.