As my stay in France was coming to a close Jeff invited me to taste the 2020 wines as well as some of the recently harvested whites I had helped to bring in. Leon Stolarski and his wife Diane were also in the region and came along as Leon is an importer of Jeff’s wines to the UK. We gathered in the tasting room upstairs at the cellars in Rue De L’Estacarade, one of the improvements of recent years with its fine furniture recycled from barrels. You can see an example in the photo above. Two hours of tasting, chat and laughter – is there a better way to spend time?
In the last couple of weeks I have had a number of requests from people who sell Jeff’s wines to inform them about the cuvées which Jeff is offering at present and which will be heading to market soon, therefore I decided to reproduce my thoughts to a wider audience. Please bear in mind that I am biased, I don’t recall any wines of Jeff that I didn’t like a little bit at least but these are my views based on the notes I took at the time.
We started with the Macabeu which is ageing in the concrete egg, another recent innovation. It had been in there just five days when we tasted so has a long way to go before being ready, still cloudy in the glass. There was a fresh, liquorice note and all is set fair. The Macabeu from tank was more ready, more winey with apple and pear flavours. Continuing the Macabeu run was a skin contact wine, aged for five days on those skins after harvesting in the new plantation of Ste. Suzanne. The skins’ influence was clear, much more texture and graininess and a real depth of flavour already, impressive for juice from such young vines. Macabeu is becoming the backbone of Jeff’s white wines, a grape suited to the influence of climate change in liking heat. In recent years he has also planted a lot of Clairette, a local Languedoc speciality and it formed the next new wine we tasted, a blend of grapes from Segrairals and Ste. Suzanne’s new plantation. These grapes had been pressed directly, there was a distinct saline note and good freshness. The last 2021 baby was more Clairette but this time blended with Muscat à Petits Grains, the other white grape which Jeff loves so much. This had been intended to make a PetNat but lacked the acidity, a fortunate happenstance perhaps as this was lovely, full of fruit (the Muscat influence for sure) and the most pleasurable of these five wines. It is not easy to taste new wines, it is an art learned through experience, and there is a long way to go before these young wines go into bottle but all seemed promising.
So, on to the 2020s. A vintage which will be remembered for a global context and, by me, with regret for not being there. The grapes were good, the quantities were a little down on average but nothing compared to this year. Fermentations were much more straightforward than the 2019s even though the grapes were not as consistently high quality as 2019. Jeff is very keen on the 20s, he believes the wines are very good.
We started with OW, Orange Wine. This is based on Muscat, aged on skins for three weeks, and needs a little time still to settle the tannins. That said it is lovely, full of floral notes typical for Muscat. A nice reminder that orange / skin contact wines can be true to their grape and not just about texture.
On to the red wines. To begin with was a new cuvée, now named Matubu (a play on words for the expression m’as tu vu? (Do you get me). This is a blend of Carignan, Grenache and some whole bunch fermented Syrah. In all honesty this blend was made because it was what was left over after the other wines were put together, the idea was to make a cheap wine for early drinking. And it achieves its aim with ease, very drinkable, good forward fruit and nice and fresh. It will be cheap and worth every penny or centime. Next was a Sauvé De La Citerne, the name suggesting that this was the original wine made from the leftovers and now a regular label from Jeff. This is half made up from a blend of Carignan and Grenache made whole bunch and the other half from destemmed Grenache and Syrah. Before finding that out I had written down ‘Good balance’ and having heard the complicated blend it seems appropriate. There is a little greenness (from the stems perhaps?) but balanced by the red fruit profile. Good.
Le Vin Des Amis is a signature cuvée of course. The 2020 version is a blend of half Cinsault and the other half comes from previously blended Syrah and Grenache. Cinsault often adds the distinguishing lift and lightness of Vin Des Amis and this vintage is trademark for that, a lovely lightness of flavour and fresh, clean fruit. Really lovely. On to another new cuvée, given the name Quoi qu’il en goutte which translates as ‘no matter what’, perhaps a reference to the year’s events. This is another example of Jeff’s experimental nature, his willingness to try something different to achieve good wines. He took Carignan and Syrah from 2019 and added some more Syrah but this time from 2020. The Carignan was clear with its deep, leathery and cherry notes but the Syrah lifts the fruit profile further. A definite success.
The next wine was has been labelled as Couleurs Réunies, a cuvée familiar in recent years. This time Jeff has blended some white grapes into the red majority, as done in the Rhone for example. The grapes come from the 2015 plantation in Peilhan a mix of Morastel and Terret Noir but with Terret Blanc and Riveyrenc Gris added. There is also the Castets from the main Peilhan planting. I really liked this, the red fruit flavours were followed up by deeper notes but there was a lightness (from the Terret Blanc?) on the finish. There is a lot going on here and I suspect that is why Jeff has held it back to settle down a little but I am eager to follow its progress. Classe, the other signature Coutelou wine, came next. Syrah, Mourvèdre blended with previously blended Carignan and Grenache for the 2020 version. This was the star of the show, silky tannins, full of fruity notes and the Syrah showing through particularly. This is excellent. More Mourvèdre, this time bottled on its own, from Segrairals vineyard. Black cherry fruits, good depth and long lasting in the mouth, it will benefit from a little ageing perhaps. Good.
Amphorae arrived at the domaine four or five years ago and Jeff aged some of his Syrah in one of them, I think from La Garrigue given that there is no La Vigne Haute in 2020. The results were excellent. If Classe was the star then this Amphora runs it close. The fruit was forward and sweet but lingered long. Freshness, depth and real pleasure. I’ll be eagerly seeking this out. Finally, another classic, L’Oublié. As most readers will know this is a wine made by blending a mix of grapes and vintages, going back to Carignan from 2012. I wrote about the making of this wine here. The blend changes every year, this time Jeff went for a higher proportion of older wines and sought a more oxidative profile. It is typical of the label and, if you like oxidative wines like me, a treat.
A lovely morning spent in great company and great wines too. I hope you will find these notes of use, I must add that the wines will continue to evolve but I have enough experience of Jeff’s wines to be confident of my thoughts. The 20s will be worth your money, and provide something far more pleasurable to recall that vintage than the circumstances in which the wines were made.