amarchinthevines

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


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Harvest 2019 – The End

En francais

Julien loads the last case of 2019

Life is full of surprises.

I went along to the cellars on Monday 23rd September in order to take some photographs of the pressing and progress with the making of the wines. When I arrived Jeff and Julien were on their own pressing the marc from the Cinsault. The free juice had been run off already into tank but the grape skins and pulp contain a lot of juice still so they are pressed adding more tannins and colour to the finished wine.

However, shifting tons of grape skins from a tank through a small doorway and then pumping it into the press is hard work and though they were managing well enough I decided to help out and get stuck in. It’s a proper workout pitchforking all that pulp, it gets very messy (bad news for my trainers) but job done. More remontages in the afternoon but also the chance to taste through the tanks before sending samples off for analysis.

Tasting wines from tank during or immediately after fermentation is challenging. Jeff is used to it and knows how a wine will emerge. I taste a lot of wines and know his very well by now but all I seek to achieve is an idea of acidity, tannin and fruit presence, to see if these elements are balanced. Happily it is good news all round. The wines tasted good, very promising for the vintage following on from last year’s excellent quality. The analyses are also good, there have been one or two scares along the way but the wines have worked themselves out with a little help from Jeff.

A week later I was a little surprised to hear that there was to be one last pick. This has happened in previous years, often picking Muscat for the solera. However, there were a few rows of Grenache Gris unpicked and so on September 30th, a month after harvest began we started over.

I picked all morning with the Moroccan team of four, my aching back a reminder of how quickly we get out of practice and rhythm. Then back to the cellar where the grapes, with a few vines of Macabeu, were pressed.

Grenache Gris is one of my favourite grapes, its pinkish colour marks it out and many of my favourite white wines from the Languedoc, and especially Roussillon, are made with the grape. The bunches were healthy, the wine should be very good.

In the afternoon we used the marc from the Grenache Gris. It was passed back through the destemmer and the grapes placed into a container with a little bit of water. This will make a piquette wine, a light quaffing wine. I was surprised to read a couple of days later that piquette wines are the new trend in the USA. It is something of a tradition in Puimisson. On Wednesday the piquette was already fermenting when we looked in the container.

There still remains much to do in the cellar but this was definitely the end, the final cases are in. I think.


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Wine into bottle, wine out of bottle

En francais

Descending moon, favourable high air pressure, time to bottle some of the 2018 wines. This also means that the vats can be emptied and cleaned in readiness for the 2019 harvest. Yes a winemaker does have to think about that already even as the grape bunches are just forming and 3 or 4 months from being ready to pick.

Filling magnums

Two of my favourite Coutelou wines were being bottled on Friday May 24th, Classe and La Vigne Haute. As the latter is my desert island wine Jeff invited me along for the day to help out. He is fortunate to have his own bottling line so he can choose exactly when conditions are right for this crucial process. The wine must be in bottle and corked as quickly as possible to avoid any oxidation.

The bottling machine automatically:

  • fills the bottle
  • tests the level of wine in there, adding or removing accordingly
  • corks the bottle
  • sends the bottle on a 3 minute journey to let the cork seal in the neck

It is mesmerising to watch as you can see for yourselves.

The bottles are stocked on moulded plastic sheets or in a pallox which is much more difficult to do, the bottles stubbornly find ways to fit awkwardly together causing lumps and bumps in the layers.

Pallox

Julien, Nathan, Christian and myself took turns at the various tasks for a 10 hour day with each of us taking a break for food and drink. We have to check every bottle to ensure that the cork has sealed and there is no leakage of wine. Any that do are set aside for use in up and coming tastings.

Christian and Nathan storing bottles in pallox and pallet
Magnum whose cork has leaked

Jeff, took his turns too, of course, but was also busy with other tasks, tastings for a restaurateur, a radio interview.

Interview

Both wines were in good form, Classe more immediate, La Vigne Haute with more structure and tannins but lovely fruit, it will be great. As with all 2018s though there will not be very much of it.

Another wine was tried too. Jeff sent me to the solera cellar to find one of the bottles of my wine, the one I made from Rome vines in 2015 to celebrate my 100th blog post. This was one from the old barrique. I liked it, the others were generous in their comments. There’s a little residual sweetness as well as the tertiary flavours of 3 years in barrel, a drier influence with a raisiny influence. It will be interesting to compare with the wines from the newer barrique and from the glass bottle.

A long, physically tiring day but, as ever, rewarding. Bottling is such an important process in getting the wine to the customer, imperative that it should be done correctly. It doesn’t improve the wine but it could spoil it. Happily all was well this day and these bottles will be well worth seeking out.

Julien filling magnums, the vat is cleaned including the sparkling tartrate crystals


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Rethinking

At a time when my country is in desperate need of a rethink I have had a couple of wine related examples myself recently. So, here they are.

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Merlot at Coutelou

Merlot. I must admit that I have always been very ambivalent towards this grape. Early wine ventures in my life often featured Merlot blended with Cabernet Sauvignon from Bordeaux or, more usually, Australia. However, it was always the underling, the supporting star. My attention was grabbed by the headline act. Then in recent years Merlot has been a bit of a whipping boy, scorned by me and many others. And yet. I recently noticed that Merlot has featured in a number of my favourite wines this year (of which more soon on these pages).

 

Little Things (James Madden) Joy’s Wild Fruits Field Blend which was the star of my trip Down Under this year, Basket Range Vineyard Blend, Jeff Coutelou‘s Vin De Table (and the 2018 wine in vat) and then Patrick Rols‘ Les Anciens 2016 all feature Merlot in the blends to a greater or lesser extent. The latter, from the up and coming Auvergne wine region, has Merlot as the main constituent together with Cabernets Sauvignon and Franc, and it is a delicious, fresh wine. So mea culpa, I have too easily dismissed this grape, Merlot is back. At least as a grape for blending, I’d happily receive recommendations for single variety wines.

The Rols wine was part of a case I ordered recently now that I am back in the UK. Having looked through the lists of several cavistes in this country I found a bigger range of wines, cheaper by buying from France and Spain. The cases arrived quickly, intact and I can safely and wholeheartedly recommend Petites Caves based in Toulouse and Gourmet Hunters based in Barcelona. Both have websites with English translations. So think wider than your local supermarket, enjoy some natural wines, and give a thought to Merlot!

Now, can we persuade my country to think a bit more?

 


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A Tour Down Under, Adelaide

Time to see the world from a different angle. Two months on a trip to Australia and New Zealand, a lifetime ambition becoming reality. A holiday but also the opportunity to survey the wine scene Down Under. As ever with such visits I am aware that I am scratching the surface, giving an impression rather than a fully informed picture. However, I hope to share my thoughts on what I find, taste and see and that they will offer some insight.

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First stop on the tour was Adelaide, South Australia. A city of 1.2 million people but with a compact centre and excellent free tram and bus service to help get around. Wine is important to the region, the Adelaide Hills and Barossa Valley are close. We were going to stay in the Hills with our friend James who worked harvest with Jeff Coutelou in 2016, his partner Sam and year old daughter Flo. First though was a few days in the city itself.

Things started a little disappointingly with the National Wine Centre. There were some interesting exhibits, one on grape varieties was extensive and another contained a 150 year old Shiraz vine which had been taken up, showing the extent of the root system  and wood above ground. Otherwise though, there was little about the story of Australian wine or examples of the wines. The tasting on offer was via enomatic machines which can work out expensive.

However, better was shortly to come. Having left behind 70cm of snow and freezing conditions in the UK the 35°C of Adelaide meant that a drink was soon needed. By chance, we were close to a bar I had seen on a list of recommended places, La Buvette. Only one table was left so we took our beer to sit down and I surveyed the line of wine bottles arranged on the shelf. What a coincidence to find one of Jeff’s Sauvé De La Citerne!

I went to talk to the barman and owner, Dominique Lentz, who turned out to be from Strasbourg and knows some of my favourite producers such as Patrick Meyer and Julien Albertus. When I asked about local wines he offered by the glass none other than Little Things Shiraz, made by… James! The wine world can be a small one. Good wines, beers and food were available and I would recommend a visit to La Buvette if you are in the city.

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James’ Little Things Syrah 2017

We also visited another wine bar, The Apothecary 1878. More traditional in its choice of wines with celebrated producers from France and Australia there were still one or two natural wines. It was very pleasant and worth a visit too. One final recommendation is Luigi’s Delicatessen where we ate excellent crab pasta and there was plenty of good food to take out or eat in.

I was very taken by the cosmopolitan nature of Adelaide, very much a multicultural city which seemed to be working well. The transport system allowed us to get around easily and see the Oval with its very good statue of Sir Don Bradman, the Cathedral, Botanic Gardens and many other attractions. I was taken by the mix of old and new, especially the intricate ironwork on the older houses. It was a great way to start the tour and I was looking forward to meeting up with James and getting out into the vineyard areas.


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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.

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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


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New year, new start

Version francaise

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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.

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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.


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The case for 2016

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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.