amarchinthevines

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


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Attention: Vin De Chantier

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In 1957 Eugène Mas moved the family winery  into 6, Rue de l’Estacarède, Puimisson and made his first wines there having constructed the cement cuves the year before. It was much easier for wagins to collect the wines fromt here than from Rue De la Pompe where the wines were made before. In 1987 Jean Claude Coutelou converted the whole domaine to organic production, one of the first in the country. In 2017 Jeff Coutelou completed the renovation of those cellars and decided it was time to celebrate his family and their wonderful wines.

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The cellars and garden were decorated, the wine flowed, music played. Friends and family gathered together to honour the history of the domaine and its future. Old vintages, jereboams and magnums matched the excellent food.

It was a great night, a celebration of all that is good in the world of wine – friends and family enjoying themselves around good bottles. ‘Grapes, work and love’ is one of Jeff’s sayings and Saturday night showed how many people love the work and care which Jeff gives to his grapes, and love Jeff himself. This was a celebration of the past but the wines and the work in the cellar show that there is a sparkling future ahead for Mas Coutelou.

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Midnight fireworks

 


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Mise, Maccabeu and Magnums

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Bottling time again, la mise en bouteille. Descending moon is the time for bottling and appropriately Monday was the appointed day, I know other domaines were doing the same. I have described the bottling process before for standard 75cl bottles, Jeff’s own bottling line means that we could at least carry out the process in the shelter of the cellar rather than the full sun and very hot temperatures outdoors. Jeff told me though that he sets the gauge on the bottling line according to the temperature. Hot days like Monday mean that the wine expands a little so you have to actually put a little more into the bottle than normal so when it cools down there is still 75cl of actual wine. And the reverse for cold days. Always learning!! The video below shows the line in action.

Today was the day for bottling the star wine of recent years, Flambadou the Carignan Noir from Rec D’Oulette. Before that came the Maccabeu 2015 which was aged in different barrels and then assembled recently.

There are lots of jobs to do during the process from putting the bottles into the machine, filling corks, checking levels of wine in the tank (no lees or gunge) to stacking the bottles. Now this latter job is more difficult than it first appears. There are two methods; a pallet with moulded plastic sheets which make the job easy as you lay the bottles in the space provided and then there’s the palox. This wooden crate can store more bottles so is preferable to use in some ways but it is a devil to arrange the bottles in it. You lay the first row down and it has to be level or as you add more layers the crate resembles a stormy sea with bottles sticking up all over the place. I have done this job and believe me it not easy. Vincent here shows how it should be done, a masterclass.

Magnums are too big to go on the bottling line so have to be bottled using a different machine, more labour intensive (the price of a magnum reflects extra costs). Here we can follow the process, note how magnums are stored on end.

Afterwards there’s lots of cleaning to be done, the machines but also the cuves from where the wine came, with its lees and sediment. Another tank ready for this year’s harvest whilst last year’s now wine slowly matures in bottle.

And on such a hot day one part of the team ensured that the door stayed closed to keep the heat out.

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The grapes, they are a-changin’

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Syrah in Ste. Suzanne, photo by Jeff

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Come gather round people.

The summer heat is settled and the vines are entering their final stage of the year. They have pushed out long stems, tendrils reaching around supporting wires, foliage at its maximum size and fruit has turned from tiny, green, pea-like balls into round, plump grapes. Taste them and they are still highly acidic, sour and sharp. Pips have formed and the red grapes are just beginning to change colour.

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Vines in La Garrigue reaching 2m into the air

This process of véraison is one of the magical turning points of the year, the grapes are now becoming the focus of the vine’s energy. It will spend less time growing and reaching out and more time in creating sugars for the grapes. The bunches are tightening up, the grapes swelling. From now until vendanges they will continue to grow and to store more sugar. The reason, of course, is to attract birds and animals to eat them and scatter the pips to allow the vines to reproduce. It is humans who have learned that this energy from sun and soil can be directed to the creation of wine, we encourage the sugars to change into alcohol and the juice to become wine.

Grapes 2 weeks ago above, and now (below)

Neighbouring vines to Mas Coutelou show dark green foliage, fed by nitrates. the natural evolution on this domaine means that they are a lighter colour but they are vigorous, healthy and all is set fair. Small outbreaks of mildew have been managed by a few organic tisanes. Most of the disease has formed on the new growth which has not been treated, so Jeff has been around affected areas cutting back the foliage to remove the mildew and its spores which could bring back the disease if rain splashed them onto the vines in the next few weeks.

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Some mildew on outer leaves, these will be cut away

2017 has been relatively kind, much more so than the drought affected 2016 vintage. Yet other regions have been hit by frost and hail, Beaujolais recently damaged by the latter for example. Remember it was August last year when a hail storm hit the Languedoc and wiped out much of the production in Pic St. Loup and some vines in Puimisson. So, it is still to early to say that 2017 is set fair but it is promising. The vines are a-changin’, time to start getting excited.

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Grapes and vines battered by hail in Ste Suzanne 2016


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Faugères, Le Grand Saint-Jean

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The annual wine event in the village of Faugères took place last weekend and I duly went along on Sunday for the tasting. Twenty five vignerons with stands along the streets and corners of the medieval village, all sharing their finest products, what is not to like? I have said many times before on these pages that Faugères is my favourite appellation in the region. The schist based vines produce deep flavours and a final twist of refreshment which leaves you wanting to taste more of the wine. I am looking for clean fruit, depth and compexity and that enjoyable palate cleansing finish.

Some of my favourite domaines were not present at the event, Barral, Clos Fantine, Domaine des Capitelles but that meant the opportunity to try other domaines as well as reacquainting myself with other favourites. * Rosemary George was present signing copies of her authoritative book on Faugères and asked me whether I had discovered anything new, happily I had.

(plus Mas Sibert based in Fos but whose wines are more Pézenas and not strictly appellation wines either)

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Domaine De L’Ancienne Mercerie is one I have tasted previously and is a firm favourite of my friend Graham Tigg whose palate I trust implicitly. These wines wee certainly on good form today; a refeshing Blanc 16, a big oaky Couture 13 but best for me was the Petites Mains 15. This is a classic Faugères full of long flavours of dark fruits with an earthy note and that lick of acidity to cleanse the mouth. An assemblage of Carignan, Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre Petites Mains would be a excellent introduction to the Languedoc and to Faugères.                                                                                             Website

Chateau Des Peyregrandes is based in Roquessels. With 25ha this is a large domaine and there were multiple bottles on taste. These ranged from a good Blanc 16 to big oaky reds. Personally two wines stood out for me. The Rosé 16 was much darker than many rosés, the Syrah had given it colour. Nice red fruits and a long textured finish, this would be a good aperitif or match many foods. I also liked Prestige 13 with good character and complexity from Syrah, Carignan and Mourvèdre.                                                        Website

Domaine Valambelle was new to me though it is a well established, independent producer in Laurens since 2002. Another large domaine with many cuvées I tried a handful. Millepeyres 15 offered a classic Carignan with red fruits, an earthiness too. I also liked the Mourvèdre led Caprice 15 (well named for this grape) with plummy fruits. Keenly priced, good wines.                                                                                            Website

 

Domaine Du Causse Noir is the Cabrerolles domaine of Jérome Py and he always greets me with a big smile and firm handshake. His wines are regulars on my table and firm favourites, indeed I had opened a bottle two nights before. It was good to meet this great guy again and share his wines with some Arbroath converts who were at the stand at the same time. Low yields of 20-25 hl/ha give a rich full bodied fruit profile in the cuvées. 3,14 (a pun on π) 2015 is so complex for an entry wine, full of fruit and life. Caius 14 was even fresher and Mathias 13, serious and lovely. Favourites again.                                    Website

Jérome Rateau makes wines under his own name as well as his domaine Haut Lignières. Based at the top of the village of Faugères Jérome’s wines are always good. New to me this year was a premium white Empreinte Carbone (same name as the prestige red). Made with the same juice as the Petites Plumes white but given 9 months in a very lightly charred new barrel with acacia top and bottom. The effect was certainly impressive, very little oak flavour surprisingly but lots of nutty complexity.          Website 

Domaine De Cébène was one of the first Languedoc domaines I visited and remains a favourite. Brigitte Chevalier has made a name for herself and her wines through hard work and skill, she has lovely vines high on the hills around Caussiniojouls along with a brand new chai. Brigitte showed the wines of her partner who makes St. Martin D’Agel whose traditional red I like very much. Brigitte was showing the excellent Carignan Belle Lurette 15 with fruit, complexity and a long life ahead. She explained that the schist soils mean the vines send out very long roots to fins nourishment and their contact with the soils adds complexity. My personal favourite of the Cébène wines is Les Bancels, classic combination of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre. The 14 was expressive, round with full fruits and the classic Faugères refreshing finish. Brigitte kindly opened a 15 to compare, and it will be great. Still a little reticent it packs flavour and, yes, that finish.     Website

Mas Angel / La Graine Sauvage  is the domaine of Alexandre Durand and Sybil Baldassarre also based in Caussiniojouls. Sybil is, first and foremost, an oenologue and I have been privileged to meet her and Alexandre numerous times at Mas Coutelou and various events. They have ventured into winemaking for themselves and the results are impressive. The white Rocalhas was star of the day. Grenache Blanc, Roussanne and Marsanne grapes blended to give a gorgeous fruit nose with soft, peachy fruit and a nice sharp finish. Very drinkable, very good. A lovely red fruits and textured Prestige 15 red (Carignan/Grenache) and very deep, complex Syrah Marius 15 converted me completely. These are very good Faugères wines, very good natural wines. If you want proof that natural wines can express terroir then here you are.                                      Facebook

A very enjoyable morning, lots of parades, stalls, music and fun. But most of all, a reminder that Faugères is so good. Incidentally all of these domaines are organic, other than Haut Lignières, this really is a pioneering appellation.

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Dégustation, Bédarieux

 

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It was good to be able to attend a local tasting after being in NE England for so long, I’m afraid they are rare in my home region. Christine Cannac runs a wine bar, which offers good food too, in Bédarieux. These sort of caves/restos are to be found all over France and are my favourite eating places of my time in France. Places such as Christine’s,  Cave St Martin (Roquebrun), Pas Comme Les Autres (Béziers) and Picamandil (Puissalicon) offer good wines with quality food in the Languedoc. Not to mention Verre Volé and Cave Insolite in Paris, Aux Crieurs in Troyes and the peerless Papilles Insolites in Pau. Highly recommended.

Christine organised a dégustation of some of her producers as she regularly does. There were 9 winemakers present and they offered a high standard of wine.

Domaine Léonine (Roussillon) had some very good red wines with my favourite the Bottle Neck, a full, complex combination of Grenache and Syrah with plenty of fruit and power.

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Bernard talking with my friend Vincent

Domaine Plageoles (Gaillac) is a domaine rightly renowned for its quality, pioneering work and championing of local and old grape varieties. Bernard Plageoles was present and it was good to chat with him. The Mauzac Nature 16 seems richer than usual and truly delicious. However, his Contre Pied 16, made from Duras was my highlight. Made to be drunk young it is refreshing, light, fruity with typicity of the grape and its dusty aromas.

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Domaine Mosse (Anjou) offered bright, clear Chenin wines. The highlight was the Rouchefert with round, full apple and honey notes, a wine which will develop for many years.

Yannick Pelletier (St Chinian) is a regular on these pages. His wines are always good, often excellent with concentrated fruits, local character and very drinkable. As so often Engoulevent was my favourite, classic St Chinian notes of dark fruit and lovely depth.

Mas D’Agalis (Hérault) is a long term favourite too, Lionel Maurel offered Yo No Puedo, perhaps his most famous wine. Largely Carignan but with Syrah,Grenache and Cinsault it is classic Languedoc and the 2016 has really come together from when I tasted it in Montpellier in January.

Domaine Yoyo (Roussillon) with yields of less than 10hl/ha in places has serious wines and features one of my favourite grapes, Grenache Gris. However, it is made into a light and darker red by maceration on skins. Both are very good but the lighter La Vierge Rouge is a favourite, lots of red fruits with power and a refreshing finish.

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Léonine (left), Foulards Rouges served by Laurence Manya Krief who makes Yoyo wines

Les Foulards Rouges (Roussillon) is another well known producer. I really like Glaneurs, pure Grenache with dark, complex fruits and a clean, refreshing finish.

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Justifiably proud Vincent

Domaine De Pélissols (Bédarieux), the local boy done good. Vincent Bonnal has really upped his game and these were very good wines. I liked everything, would happily drink his Luna Novela red at any time. However, star was the clairet style rosé. 36 hours maceration gives the Grenache (and tiny amount of Syrah) time to extract a deep colour with a depth of flavour to match. Lots and lots of fruit, not many wines will be more suited to the Languedoc summer, a real success.

Champagne Jacques Lassaigne (Montgueux near Troyes). I first tasted Lassaigne champagnes at the aforementioned Aux Crieurs in Troyes and have sought them out since. Pure Chardonnay they are wines of pure fruit, concentration, complexity and sunshine in a glass. Jacques was present and I loved his Blanc De Blancs from 10 parcels, La Colline with added complexity from the barrel ageing and the blend of 2010, 2011 and 2012. Star though was the vintage 2008. Such power, fruit; pleasure for the palate and mind. I have been lucky enough to enjoy some fantastic champagnes this year and these rank as high as any.

So, a small friendly tasting with a lovely mussel brasucade to add to the pleasure. If you are in the Bédarieux area seek out Chai Christine Cannac.


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Sparkling Coutelou

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Leon snaps, Jeff pops

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With UK importer Leon Stolarski in attendance Jeff offered us the chance to taste through the 2016 wines which are largely still in tank. Fermentations have been slow from last year, some are still bubbling away gently, finally eating up the last sugars. Jeff thinks the very dry winter and spring and heat of July meant that the yeasts were perhaps weakened meaning fermentation has been slower. The key point is, how does that affect the quality?

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Even from when I tasted them a month ago they have changed in nature, more streamlined, less opulent, more complex. And, as always chez Coutelou, very drinkable. The whites show lots of fruit but restrained and serious too, the long maceration Muscat a definite highlight. Sadly, quantities are down, another result of the dry winter and spring. Reds show fruit and complexity, the Carignan beginning to emerge as a star (true of so many recent vintages) and the Mourvèdre continuing to shine bright.

In the afternoon a new treat. Bibonade is Jeff’s PetNat, a natural sparkling wine. The white and rosé version have been sitting in bottle for a while and it was time to disgorge them. Sparkling wines, including champagne, age in bottle rather than tank and as they do so they throw a sediment. Still wines do the same, the sediment (lees) falls to the bottom of the tank and the wine is then taken out leaving the sludge behind. In bottle the sediment also falls to the bottom, if the bottle is laid flat the sediment will coat the inside. To gather the lees the bottles are placed in special racks (pupitres) with the neck pointing down. By turning the bottle 90° every day the winemaker can ensure that the sediment doesn’t stick to the sides and all gathers in the neck above the capsule.

Fermentation in bottle produces carbon dioxide which in turn creates the fizz in there. By opening the bottle, the release of pressure forces the sediment out of the bottle. Obviously this has to be controlled or you lose too much of the wine as well, so Jeff quickly covers the bottle as soon as he sees the sediment is gone.

The bottle can then be topped up from others and resealed.

It is a messy business, the small steel tank stops the capsule from flying off and the wine from coating the whole cellar. Jeff’s arms were quickly covered in flecks of lees. However, the result is delicious, refreshing and Bibonade is a firm favourite chez March.


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Midsummer at Mas Coutelou

After a month back in the UK due to bereavement I apologise for not posting for the last two weeks.

It was good to return to the Languedoc even in the midst of a midsummer heatwave. After a day’s acclimatisation I was at Jeff’s on Thursday morning, good and early. Well I thought so though he and Julien had been at work in the vines from 6am! Michel and Vincent were busy labelling some bottles of 7, Rue De La Pompe.

Leon Stolarski and his wife Diane arrived to meet up with Jeff, I can reveal that Leon will be the importer of Mas Coutelou wines in the UK along with Noble Rot bar in London. I showed them the updated cellar and Jeff led us on a tasting through the 2016 wines, of which more next time.

Almost as much as the people I missed the vineyards. They offer such variety, calm and beauty. The one advantage of being away for a while is to see the change over a month. The sun has seen off the wildflowers, the greenery of the vines now contrasting sharply with the parched grass. The flowers on the vines have also long gone and the grapes are now well formed and starting to swell, the size of peas. There is no sign yet of the red grapes starting to change colour (véraison).

The vines look to be in very good health. The 700mm of rain through the winter, the spell of very cold weather too have helped them to rest and be strong, a vibrant green colour. The humidity of recent days brings the threat of mildew and oidium (downy and powdery mildew respectively) and Jeff has sprayed the vines with organic treatments to help them fight against the disease.

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Mildew spots

The other main risk is from snails. In 2016 they ravaged Flower Power vineyard for example, reducing the harvest there to virtually nil. There is less evidence of them there this year but there are huge numbers in Peilhan and Segrairals. In the former they are covering the trees which Jeff planted around the vines a couple of years ago, feasting on the greenery amidst the parched vegetation.

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Nevertheless so far so good, 2017 promises to be a good vintage.