amarchinthevines

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


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Wine tasting, expert opinion

En francais

In the last blog I said that wine should be about enjoyment, whether you like the wine is surely the most important aspect of wine tasting. Yet, when I read tasting notes that issue is hardly ever mentioned. There are long descriptions of colour, aroma and flavours. There may be mention of the persistence of taste in the mouth, possibly of wine faults and, perhaps, of the typicity of the wine in terms of grape, origin and year. But not very often do you read whether the taster actually liked the wine.

I was, and still am, asked to judge in professional tastings whilst in France. I attended two, one for a well known wine guidebook and another for regional medal awarding. I have to say I came away rather disillusioned. There were some true benefits, having to analyse the wine according to sight, smell and taste with guidelines for marking those. Having to do so in a short space of time concentrated the mind and my French language skills.

One of my judging experiences

However, in one tasting the group I was working in was told in advance how many medals would be awarded, that is before the wines were tasted! Some bottles received medals which truly didn’t deserve them. In the other tasting there was discussion about our individual marks and thoughts but then as lunch approached the chair said he would just hand in his results so that lunch was not missed. In neither case was actually liking the wine ever discussed or taken into account. Importantly there was huge disagreement amongst the tasters, all of whom were professionals. Marks varied, they are always subjective no matter how much the guidelines are given to establish an objective framework for scoring.

Just this week two well known professionals had a little spat on Twitter about the reliability of scores. Many professionals defend their accuracy, but then they would wouldn’t they?

I have often tasted wines which were correct, well made, ripe grapes. Technically they deserved high scores but they were dull, lacking personality or excitement. Would I buy them? Certainly not. Yet they are the ones which often wear their medals on the bottle and that is a real boost to sales in supermarkets etc. This is one example of how a little education would benefit the wine drinker who simply wants a nice glass of wine and is not interested too much in the story behind it. Medals and high scores, in my opinion, can be misleading and a red herring.

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This must be a terrific wine! But, note the different opinions

Similarly I have drunk wines which had a hint of faults, a touch of volatility or a bit farmyardy and yet, they were exciting wines with personality. Not that the fault made them good, just that the wine could accommodate it.

I shall return to the question of the story behind wines in the next article.

As for newspapers and wine magazines. Too often they are basically publicity puff pieces, advertorials for wines. I gave up on wine magazines a long time ago. Until they are more honest and describe poor wines as well as good then I shall stick to tasters whose opinions I respect on the web or in person. And trust my own judgement too.

 


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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.