amarchinthevines

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


Leave a comment

Votez et ….. votez encore

Version francaise

People of France and the (Dis)United Kingdom,

We live in momentous times as elections are upon us. Promises have been made by all and sundry, new facts have been sent to astound us. So let me make it clear…

There is only one choice which makes sense, only one piece of campaigning which has kept its promise since the start of the year.

P1020379

So, vote Coutelou, open that bottle and register your support for someone who always delivers on his promise. The last “vigneron de gauche*” who is always right!

Vote and vote again.

*©Vincent Pousson


Leave a comment

New year, new start

Version francaise

cselqcavuai7i9

If only winemaking was like this! Bottles, however, do not produce themselves. The year round process of winemaking I have previously described on this blog. Readers will be aware of the work, effort and stress involved.

As 2017 began Julien returned from his travels in Iberia to Puimisson to start the long, finger numbing job of pruning (la taille). He will be joined by Carole who also returned to the village and who has pruned for many years at Mas Coutelou.

Jeff tells me that there is plenty of other work going on. I referred in a previous post to January being named after the Roman god, Janus. He was two faced, one looking to the old year, the other looking forward. So too in winemaking.

The pruning, for example, is finishing off the work of the vines of 2016, cutting away the last vestiges if that vintage whilst preparing the vines for the year ahead. Normally the wines of the previous vintage would be approaching readiness for bottle, the first wave. However, Jeff tells me that they have developed more slowly from 2016 and he is likely to wait until they tell him that they are ready. That may happen when I return to the area at the end of this month or maybe later. In which case he will have to prepare wines for the major salons ahead straight from the tank.

P1000991

Floor renewal

Other work is taking place in the cellars. Half of the floor was replaced in early 2016 and the rest will now be done. Other changes will add more facilities such as an office.

Meanwhile the weather is not playing its part so far. It has been warm again allowing no rest to the vines. However, a forecast I saw today suggests that freezing conditions will arrive this weekend. Perhaps, after two years, the vines will finally shut down and rest. This would certainly help 2017 be a more promising vintage. New year, new hopes.


2 Comments

The case for 2016

20161231_143000

Hard to defend 2016, it has been a dreadful year in so many ways, Brexit, Trump, Aleppo, Bowie and so many other deaths.

However, there were highlights, friendships, the Languedoc, the vendanges, grafting vines and some excellent wines tasted including great salons in London, Montpellier, Arles and the Loire.

So what were my top wines of 2016? I could write about wines I tasted at salons and would include great ranges from Kreydenweiss (père et fils), Pittnauer, Tscheppe, Forja del Salnes, Stentz and Thörle amongst others. Austria provided many of my highlights, so many good wines red and white. Alsace and the Loire were my other top sources of favourite wines.

So here is my case for 2016.

Whites

Clos du Rouge Gorge, Sisyphe 14 – This was in my 2015 selection and it returns this year. Fresh, zesty, long Grenache Gris from one of Roussillon’s great producers. I do love this.

Domaine Ribiera, Y’A Un Terret 13 – Even more zestiness, but balanced and lots of character from a small parcel of Terret, a traditional Languedoc grape. Lovely wine from a lovely couple in Régis and Christine Pichon.

Gérard Schueller, Pinot Blanc 2010 – Schueller’s wines need a few minutes to let them settle after opening. Riesling, Gewürz, and this Pinot Blanc were all characterful, fresh and balanced. This was the pick, from a grape which I have never previously associated with much flavour and showing the benefit of a few years in bottle. Delicious.

Domaine des Miroirs, Mizuiro ‘Les Saugettes’, 13 – A bolt from the blue like the label. I tasted this and got hold of a bottle at the Real Wine Fair in London. It is pure Chardonnay from the Jura from Japanese producer Kenjiro Kagami. It is pure in every sense. Clean and fresh. Nutty, lemon and long. Just superb expression of the variety. The Jura is a source of many great wines, this is well up there with any bottle.

Domaine Montesquiou, Terre De France, 14 – Any collection of white wines is incomplete without the wonderful wines of Montesquiou in Jurancon. Manseng grapes, this particular bottle had too much residual sugar for the appellation so the brothers made it into a Vin de France and it is a beauty. Still thrilling in its freshness but with the slightest hint of honey to boot.

Davenport, PetNat, 15 – Another unexpected delight. I had heard great reports of this English wine but was delighted by it when I managed to get hold of some. Indeed it was much more characterful than the champagnes I tasted recently. Auxerrois grapes, very sparkling but lots of character and acidity to leave you wanting more. An eye opener for me regarding English wine.

Mas Coutelou, RobertA, 2003 – A wine which would not stop fermenting in its barrel (named RobertA) and yet turned into a great wine in Jeff’s first year sans sulfites. A blend of Grenaches Noir, Gris and Blanc, it has nutty notes from barrel but pear and apple too. And still youthful. This was my star of so many great Coutelou wines this year. Despite the bottle this is RobertA.

Reds

Occhipinti, SP 68 Rosso, 15 – I am a real fan of Sicilian wines. COS is one of my favourite producers and the niece of its winemaker is Arianna Occhipinti. Her Frappato is even better than COS’ version and yet it was this bottle with Nero d’Avola added to Frappato which captured me. Black cherry, plum with a lot of floral aromas it is very Sicily,  and just very good.

Christian Venier, La Roche, 11 – The highlight of a fabulous weekend at Christian’s Portes Ouvertes was this wine in magnum. Gamay from a special parcel, with great depth, fruit and one of those wines which got better with every sip. Terrific. (Photo shows a different vintage).

Cédric Bernard, La Cabane A Marcel, 15 –  no writer’s trick this. Cédric’s wine is actually the same parcel as Christian’s wine. Remarkably Christian gave it to his protegé and this litre bottle was very very different. Lighter, more overt fruit but joyful Gamay like the very best Beaujolais but with added pepper and spice.

L’Ostal, Anselme, 14 – Great Cahors wine. Malbec of course and deep purple with dense chewy fruits charcateristic of the area. However, Charlotte and Louis Pérot add amazing drinkability to their wines with the fruit overy enough to make them a pleasure and acidity to cut through the tannins. They will certainly age well but it’s hard to resist L’Ostal wines.

Sweet

David Caer, L’Autre Vendange, 13 – David Caer makes wine in Aspiran the same village as the Pichons (see above). He makes a nice red (Exorde) but this dessert wine is special. 100% Roussanne dried on the vine, aged in barrel. Lovely cinder toffee aromas and flavours with a real twist of acidity. Lovely.

So there we are, I could have chosen many others believe me.

So, all that remains is to wish you a very happy 2017, may it bring you health and happiness.

 


2 Comments

A year in the vines, Mas Coutelou in photos (Part 2)

July

p1010428

Young vines freshly grafted in March (see above) surrounded by straw? What is going on? The weather was so hot and dry over  a prolonged period that the vines were stressed. As these young vines would not be producing any grapes they could be watered to protect them, the straw keeps the moisture in the soil.

The grapes continued to grow though and July saw véraison, the colouring of the red grapes. They were smaller than most years but healthy in the main. Other than those vines affected by the widespread mildew of the spring and early summer, those grapes were dried and shrivelled by the disease.

August

More grape ripening, Carignan to the left, Grenache to the right. There were some beautiful bunches despite the weather problems of the year. Time to start thinking about harvest and that work began in the cellar itself where Jeff had taken out some very large fibre tanks and replaced them with smaller stainless steel tanks with a new steel staircase to take us above the tanks to place in the grapes and to carry out pigeage or remontage during the vendanges. And on the 24th Jeff was testing the grapes to check for ripeness and acidity to see if they were ready for harvest to begin (they weren’t quite!).

September

As dawn rose over Rome vineyard probably the most important month of the year began.

p1010639

Vendanges means hard work, fun, pressure, grapes and cleaning amongst other things. Selecting the best fruit from the vines’ year of growth, making the best of that fruit in the cellar to make a natural process work by using care, patience and analysis.

For each of the three harvests in which I have now taken part at Mas Coutelou my main memory is of the people, the teams who work to support Jeff. Friends all, and so many happy memories.

October

Cellar work continues as this year’s wines ferment and start their journey to bottle. Meanwhile time to prepare bottles of more of the 2015s, this time magnums. And in both photos Julien to the left and Michel to the right. The two figures who have been most present in Puimisson working at Mas Coutelou through the year. Two of the best, kindest people you would ever meet. Is it a coincidence that good people congregate together and that the best wines come from the best people?

Meanwhile autumn arrives in the vines, Puimisson in the background.

p1020227

November

Cases of wine leave Puimisson to head around the world. Mas Coutelou is sold in Australia, Japan, the USA, all over Europe and at the cellar door. As the end of year and Christmas holidays approach merchants want their wines and exporting the cases involves planning, spreadsheets and collation of the various cases.

Meanwhile, in one corner of North East England one happy vineyard worker sorts his own collection of Coutelou treasures.

December

15439861_10154009671412595_5814305575539506409_n

A photo from Camille Rivière who imports Jeff’s wines into the USA, those cases above have arrived safely and Camille shares her happiness with the bottles she has opened and enjoyed.

Jeff tells me that there has been a lot of rain in recent weeks, 400mm last month. That is certainly welcome but the weather has also been very mild. Reports of mimosa blossoming (it should happen in February) and Jeff told me he had seen a neighbour’s vines preparing to bud!! Frost is needed for the vines to enter a dormant stage and rest, recover after  a difficult year. More mild weather would mean two years of non-stop activity, which would weaken the vines.

A fantastic year, a memorable year, a complex year in the vines.  But also a year marked with sadness at the passing of Jean-Claude Coutelou. I raise my glass once more in his memory.

ddfce457-16d5-4dcf-9236-afcb4c40987b

Grapes, work and love

 


8 Comments

Sailing on a sea of prosecco

Not a pleasant image. I did taste a very nice Prosecco at Vinisud this year so I am sure there are some very pleasing wines. However, since returning to the UK last month everywhere I turn I see Prosecco taking over. It is apparently the chosen tipple of women, young women in particular. In supermarkets trolleys seem to be incomplete without a bottle, in bars people ask for it. Not any particular Prosecco, no thought towards vineyard and production methods let alone quality. Just Prosecco.

I hear people asking for a Chardonnay or Merlot in bars too and it made me realise just how rarified is the world of wine in which I am now happily rooted. For the general wine drinker terroir means nothing, SO2 even less. This blog and the many other forms of writing about wine are a minority interest as we sail the good ship ‘Quality’ against the tide of commercial prosecco.

51yi1wyojkl-_sx322_bo1204203200_

Nevertheless quality does matter and little things mean a lot to those of us who are fascinated by wine. I am currently re-reading American wine importer and writer Kermit Lynch’s 1990 book ‘Adventures On The Wine Route’ and was highly amused by a decription of his early work. He was bowled over by the Burgundy wines of Hubert de Montille in the 1970s but, sadly,  when they arrived in the USA he was devastated because the wines were dumb. He contacted de Montille to complain they weren’t the same wines, which of course was not true. The wines had simply cooked on board the ship as they travelled through Panama. De Montille explained that his were ‘natural wines’.

He meant, of course, that his wines were living and are altered by conditions around them and by time etc. Nobody would question de Montille’s statement. Wine is a living thing. Yet just yesterday at a wine conference in Verona an audience member at a session about natural wine made the statement that ‘natural wine does not travel’. Presumably s/he believes that SO2 is travel insurance for wine!

 

As de Montille said back in the 70s all wine will suffer if not transported correctly. The answer lay in Lynch usung refrigerated containers to take wine to California. Jeff Coutelou’s wine travels to the USA, Japan, Australia and all over Europe without problem. Kermit Lynch himself imports plenty of natural wine (the modern version) such as Barral and Ganévat. In the same conference Alice Feiring reported that in 2015 there were no natural wine fairs in the USA, this year there were six and demand is growing. Natural wine doesn’t travel?? Nonsense.

Does this matter? In the wider world these are academic concerns, of little matter to most wine drinkers. Yet amongst those of us to whom wine really matters the argument rages on, full of hot air cooking rational debate as surely as those wines in the 70s. Carried along on the waves of Prosecco rather than the Panama Canal.


2 Comments

Mas Coutelou 2015 (Part 2)

P1010486

En français

Thursday, August 11th was the last day before Jeff shut up shop for a few days as he does every year to celebrate the Béziers Féria. A few days of rest and recuperation before the preparations really start for the vendanges. As he had received a number of requests for visits Jeff decided to group them all together and have a tour of the vines and tasting with lunch.

P1010471

Visitors from Grenoble, Orléans and Nanterre assembled at the cave along with my friend and sommelier Sandra Martinez and we set off around some of the vineyards. Jeff explained his philosophy and vineyard work and it’s worth repeating a couple of points of note. I mentioned the problem of vers de la grappe a few weeks ago which Jeff treated with a spraying of clay to discourage the moth from laying its eggs. We found a bunch in La Garrigue which was affected and Jeff opened it up to reveal the cocoon of the larvae.

P1010479

Vers de la grappe cocoon

He also explained how bats are the ideal solution and why he provides shelters, each bat would eat around 2,000 insects a day including the moths responsible for vers de la grappe.

We also looked around at the majority of vineyards and their dark green colour at a time when the vine is putting its resources into the grapes to get them to maturity, as that is how they reproduce. So, in a natural state the leaves start to look pale and tired as the vine is not channelling energy into the leaves. The dark green, attractive vines are so coloured because of the nitrogen feeds and, in some cases, irrigation.

We returned to the domaine where we were joined by a group of wine professionals. In the garden we tasted a range of Mas Coutelou wines as well as some lovely salads and (for the carnivores) some charcuterie.

P1010488

Jeff leads the tasting accompanied by his sister and niece

The list of wines shared, all from 2015 except the last, was: Bibonade (rosé and white), Peilhan Blanc, Maccabeu, OW1, 5SO Simple, Sauvé De La Citerne, On Peut Pas Vraiment Dire Que, Classe, La Buvette À Paulette, Flower Power, Flambadou, L’Oublié, Devigne Qui Vient Diner, 5J

I missed the Bibonades and Peilhan as I was getting the Maccabeu from tank. I had a bottle of Peilhan at home recently though and it was lovely, really strong evidence of the quality of 2015. All apples and pears and fresh acidity with a long finish. Even by Coutelou standards it is an exceptional wine.

Macabeo

Maccabeu

The Maccabeu is, if anything, even better. Cooked apple and cinnamon flavours, fresh acidity, almost smoky. There is so much going on here and, as the jug I collected the wine in was in front of me, I kept being drawn back to it through lunch. The wine changed and opened out with more fruit and spice. This will develop beautifully when it is bottled, a stunner, my new favourite.

P1010497

OW1 is Jeff’s first skin contact wine. He was reluctant to join the trend and didn’t want an orange wine but this spent plenty of time on skins, I remember Cameron and I carrying out a manual pigeage. Now bottled the wine has texture and tannins from that skin contact but there is plenty of fruit and remains balanced and fresh. Very good.

IMG_2362

Manual pigeage of OW1

5SO was on good form. The boisterous, chatty group became quiet for the first time, captured by its fruit profile and drinkability on a hot summer’s day, which essentially is what it was designed to do.

Citerne was one I didn’t have last week and it had been some time since I had tasted it. It showed well, the Mourvedre adding a real plummy depth. Another wine which will emerge in coming months, another to look forward to. OPPVDQ was on great form, another to quieten the crowd. It confirmed my opinion that this is a wine which will really benefit from some time in bottle, hang on to some if you have them. La Buvette À Paulette was last week’s big surprise and another bottle confirmed the pleasure, really showing its quality.

P1010494

Flower Power not yet properly labelled. What a colour!

Flower Power took some time to come around but now that it has done so I can confirm that this will strengthen the reputation which it earned in its first vintage in 2014. The vineyard is still young and will continue to improve the wine it delivers, if the snails leave it alone. The ten grape varieties give a complex story of light and shade, red and dark fruits, floral and sappy.

Flambadou was once again a star, showing the lightness of touch in this Carignan. Jeff describes it as like a Pinot Noir. There is depth and character packed into quite a light structure. The vineyard has a light layer of limestone beneath the fine clay and it is this limestone which adds the complexity to the wine. A grand cru of Carignan.

L’Oublié and its story once again captured the imagination of everyone, its secondary flavours beguiling the tastebuds. Devigne Qui Vient Diner is the wine which Jeff made in partnership with Christian Venier from the Loire, Gamay added to some Languedoc grapes such as Cinsault. My, this has improved with a few months in bottle (magnum), really delivering a rounder more harmonious blend with zappy fruit and lovely sweet fruit.

P1010498v2

Finally 5J the Grenache Gris from 2012 aged in barrel made to reflect a Spanish fino to accompany the best hams. Oxidised notes, barrique notes and a flash of clean fruit, quince and apple.

A great day, much longer than most were expecting but nobody showed any signs of fatigue or willingness to depart. Many joined us in the cave des soleras to taste some of the old wines there. And poignantly, some wine of Jean-Claude on what would have been his 80th birthday. His legacy will live on.

I enjoyed reading the Facebook post of one of the visitors Benoit who described Jeff as a magician and an artist. The day was a success.

P1010484


7 Comments

Natural desert

UK-wine

hospitalitybusiness.co.nz

I have been in the UK for the last two weeks and thought I would look around to see whether I could find natural, biodynamic or organic wines. If I lived in London then the experience would have been very different as there are a number of wine merchants who sell natural wines, even specialise in them. This website has a map showing such oases. Around the country there are merchants who also specialise in these wines, the excellent Vins Naturels website links to some.

However, I live in the North East and it is a desert for the sort of wines which I love. I walked around a number of supermarkets and it was a depressing experience. Rows of shelves loaded with branded wines from the usual suspects, Yellow Tail, Gallo etc. Hardly any artisanal wines and, in my regular supermarket, I could not find one organic wine let alone natural wine. On the websites of the big supermarkets, Tesco lists 5 organic wines from almost 600 wines, Morrisons just two from over 500. Other big chains don’t even show organic wines.

20160712_115723

A supermarket near me

The moral is, if you want to drink organic, biodynamic or natural wines, then search online for specialist merchants. The message is not getting out there to a wider wine drinking public. Just this week I read a thread on a well known wine forum which included comments about not buying natural wine in France as it doesn’t travel back to the UK. Complete nonsense of course. Many natural producers sell their wines in the USA, Australia and Japan in large quantities. I transport such wines regularly back to the north of England with no problem whatsoever. That people still go along with such nonsense shows that prejudice and clichés carry more weight than reality. But then after recent weeks why does that still surprise me?

The Real Wine Fair, RAW and other events show that there is a market in the UK but it is very London centric. We need change.

supermarket-logos-2015

from Britpoll.co.uk