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

Now and then, a tasting of Coutelou 2021s

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On the day of my first tour of the vineyards in 2022 I was able to join a group of visitors for a tasting of some of last year’s wines. The three were all from Australia, Jason has been in London for over ten years but is now dividing his time with Biarritz and has the wine bug. His parents have a farm near Melbourne and are considering planting some vines and, after the covid hiatus are happily touring French vineyards with their son, Jeff’s being one of the first calls, naturally.

Whilst they toured the vines I helped Flora label some of the bottles of En Commun, the name given to the wine made from the Carignan and Syrah grapes secured from Vivien Hemelsdael of Le Clos Des Jarres after the harvest here was cut in half by the April frost. I love the name and the way the label plays on the En Commun / Commune theme, a reflection of one vigneron helping another. I opened a bottle of En Commun a few days later and was excited even more by the wine. Light, red fruits to the fore, easy to drink on its own or with food, this is Carignan at its most friendly. A lovely wine, bravo Vivien and Jeff.

Back from their tour Jeff offered a tasting of wines from bottle and tank, some of the bottles had been open a couple of days from a previous tasting (coincidentally with Jeff’s Australian importer Andrew Guard) but all of them were in good condition, not a fault to be seen. Remember that some of these wines will be in short supply after that crippling frost.

Clairette, as the advert used to say does what it says on the tin, or in this case bottle. This Languedoc native white has increased in planting with Jeff recently and here was evidence of why. Clean, fresh and with a good length of white fruit flavours. Clairette is low in acidity but carries a slight bitterness which makes it feel like there is more acidity but also adds a grown up feel to the wine. Good start. This was followed by Macabeu, the other white grape which Jeff has favoured in recent times. However, what made this wine different was the use of a concrete egg to mature the wine after it fermented in steel tank. The wine was bottled directly from the egg by gravity and this means that there is a tiny amount of sediment in some of the bottles, obviously more towards the end of bottling. We tasted one from the beginning and one from the end of that process and, in truth, there is little real sediment. Stand the bottle up before serving and you won’t notice. Was it autosuggestion from the egg but there was a real minerality to this wine, ie a feeling of texture and a stoniness to the fruits. It was lovely, Jeff has ordered another egg so is clearly happy about the benefits for the wines.

On to reds. Ploutalou is a new cuvée, every year brings them! Aramon, another traditional and maligned Languedoc variety to the fore this time, supported by Cinsault, Grenache and a dash of Clairette. Aramon makes light wines, Cinsault too and the white Clairette exaggerates it. Not surprisingly light in colour, Ploutalou has fresh, red fruit – a wine for sheer pleasure. The playful label, a nod to the rabbits who helped themselves to the fruit in the vineyard.

Matubu was a new cuvée in 2020 and its success has gained it a place in the Coutelou pantheon. This is still in tank and an assembly of Cinsault from Segrairals vineyard with Syrah from the same vineyard topped up with Grenache. The Cinsault is eveident on the nose, the strawberry fruit gives it away for me. Another fresh, light red, another bottle to open at any time.

Talking of the celebrated Coutelous, well Classe is back of course, its pink label with a diamond easily Jeff’s most recognisable wine. Syrah, Grenache and Carignan blended to make a much fuller wine than those tasted so far, more body and tannin but depth of flavour and richness too. Classic Classe, always a joy.

By comparison there is another new cuvée, yet to be named, still in tank. Carignan, Castets, Terret Noir and Morastel – now there’s a blend you won’t see anywhere else. A dark, brooding colour with generous fruit and acidity, I’d say this needs a little time still but it carries a lot of promise, I really liked it. However…

Back in 2015 when I was here full time Jeff produced a bottle called Flower Power which garnered plaudits from everyone including influential French wine magazines. For the first time since then it is back and, I have kept it till the end because on first taste this is one of the star wines that Jeff has ever made. I was not surprised that he then told us it was made from the Syrah of La Garrigue (the grapes which go into my favourite, La Vigne Haute). These were blended with the grapes from the Flower Power vineyard itself, Font D’Oulette, the parcel with over twenty different varieties planted at random. The red and black fruit aromas filled the glass and the mouth, it was pleasure from start to finish with a good backbone of tannin and acidity too. This was lingering in my mouth for a long time after we finished, it will age well. Unfortunately, there had to be a downside, there isn’t much of it, probably just a few hundred bottles. I’m first in the queue and Jason won’t be far behind.

La Garrigue Syrah free run juice when picked in 2021

2021 was such a year of torment for winemakers across Europe, 50% of harvest was good compared to many. It is a relief that the wines which have emerged are of such a high standard, we’ll have to be patient for them but they are definitely worth the wait.

Meanwhile 2022 has begun very well, Jeff’s vines have grown healthily, the grapes are formed and in plentiful supply promising a big crop at this stage. Disease is at a minimum, a touch of oidium on one or two parcels but manageable. There is a lack of rain, it is not just vignerons who would love some sustained rainfall. Ironically last week we had two to three hours of such rain at the house just eight kilometres away from Puimisson. I was astonished when Jeff said they had had virtually none. My next door neighbour told me some of his parcels had hardly any rain, just a kilometre away. Now we have 35c in early June, the climate is certainly confusing. Enjoy the bottles while we can.

Below – some of the 2021 grapes mentioned here, l-r Jeff with Segrairals’ Cinsault, Castets and Macabeu

Author: amarch34

I'm a recently retired (early!) teacher from County Durham in North east England. I am going to be spending most of the next year in the Languedoc leaarning about wines, vineyards and the people who care for both.

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