amarchinthevines

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


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Still here

It has been a month since my last post, time spent back in the UK with family and friends. I will update on the state of the vines and what has happened with Jeff Coutelou upon my return there next week. Meanwhile, I have been enjoying some bottles from my ‘cellar’ and decided to share some of my favourites.

For a week or so it was actually hot weather here and white wines have taken centre stage.

Valentin Morel is a Jura producer with whom I am unfamiliar. This Savagnin is made in a ouillé style which means that the wine is topped up in the barrel. Jura wines can be made sous voile where the wines are left to age under a layer, or flor, of yeast in the same method that sherries are made. This ouillé style makes for a fresher flavour rather than oxidative notes and, though I like the oxidative style for which the region is more celebrated, I do think the fresher wines suit the cool climate wines. This was green apple and pear flavours with lingering acidity. Very nice.

Peilhan 2016 from Jeff was another success story. Pure Carignan blanc, looking like an orange wine but as fresh and clean as the Jura wine. White fruit notes, delicious.

Testalonga Keep On Punching 2017 is a South African pure Chenin Blanc. Grown on bush vines, the grapes made, you’ve guessed it, a fresh clean and dry wine, purer in style than the Loire Chenins which I also like a lot. I have had a few of the domaine’s wines recently and they are on top form. I enjoyed one of those Loire Chenins too. Vincent Carême’s Vouvray Spring is made from grapes grown by friends but made by him. Lighter than many Vouvray wines and with a clean lick of apple acidity. Very good, different to the Testalonga but still enjoyable.

Red wines also featured on my list. Star was probably the Brouilly 2017 of Jean Claude Lapalu, a classic light, fruity Beaujolais with strawberry and raspberry notes. Lingering, mouth filling and just lovely.

Charlotte and Louis Pérot of L’Ostal make excellent wines in Cahors and their Obras Completas 2016 was a prime example. Cahors wines can be dense and tough but the Pérots manage to produce a lightness of touch, fruity and drinkable wines. I have been lucky enough to know their wines almost from the start of their domaine and to see their development as top class winemakers.

Finally a point of interest from this bottle. Australian wines were long my reference point, my introduction to wine. I often bought wines from Tim Adams because he didn’t make the big blockbusters for which Australia became infamous. The Fergus is a pure Grenache, this bottle was the 2004 and stored under screwcap. It was often said that screwcaps would not allow wines to age so well as cork. This was evidence to the contrary, the wine was still bright red, fruity and full of flavour. Cork may have the romance but screwcaps seem to be able to mature wines equally as well without the risk of cork taint.

Some lovely wines, some points of interest. There were some less interesting wines too but let’s be positive.


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A great bunch

En francais

In the vineyards the grapes have had little respite from the heat, the extreme temperatures of Friday, June 28th may have eased but it has been a very hot week. There has been little rainfall this year in the region so the vines are having to dig deep into the soils for moisture. That is one reason why Jeff Coutelou does a very light raking of the soil in early summer, to create small ridges which will help moisture to be retained rather than evaporate.

Raked soils in Flower Power

Nonetheless, the risk is that without some rain the vines, unable to find moisture in the soil or air, will begin to use up its store of water and energy which should be going into the grapes.

At present that danger has not manifested into vine stress but, with no rain forecast, it is one weighing on Jeff’s mind. As one who refuses to irrigate his vines Jeff runs a risk, as he does through many aspects of organic agriculture, 2018’s mildew epidemic being the most recent example. Indeed as I toured the vines in the last few days there are some lovely bunches forming. The pea sized grapes of a fortnight ago have grown. As they continue to do so, rain would certainly help them to swell, the bunch will close up, the grapes rubbing up against each other to form the classic bunch we know from vendanges.

And, but of course, there is a risk at this stage too. As the bunch closes up any grape damage will be spread across the bunch. A lack of air inside the bunch will encourage any rot or disease there may be. The ver de la grappe moth might have lain eggs and these will form the caterpillar / worm (ver) which damages grapes especially in a bunch. However, let me not be too gloomy. The bunches are there, the vast majority in good health. It is a matter of vigilance.

A bunch of another sort brought a very happy day a couple of weeks ago. Cédric, who runs the website* vinsnaturels.fr, and some of his friends from Grenoble visited. A lunchtime visit said Jeff. A nine hour lunch it turned out to be!

Case filled with cold water to keeping bottles cool, Coutelou spirits and olive oil, new cuvées

We tasted lots of wines now on sale such as the Blanc and Grenache Mise De Printemps. However, it was the barrels tucked away and the older bottles which made this yet another special day. Tasting the 2018 blend of Maccabeu and Grenache Gris from different barrels and containers. A fortified Grenache Gris. Amazing bottles of the legendary Roberta 2003 and La Vigne Haute 2010.

Surprise after surprise, delight after delight. Accompanied by an unusual but very tasty barbecue, yes that is a wheelbarrow. Add in an amazing plateau of cheeses and it was a feast fit for a king.

So, great bunches all round. May they all stay healthy and prosper.

*also in English Deutsch Italiano Español


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The melting pot of Puimisson

En Francais

In the last weekend there have been visitors to the cellars of Jeff Coutelou from the USA, Sweden, Russia and the UK. In recent times I can recall visitors from Israel, Australia, Taiwan and Japan. No doubt there have been many others. What draws everyone to Puimisson is the wine, admired and coveted from all over the world.

Mats-Eric, family and friends with Jeff.

I had great pleasure in showing the renowned Swedish writer Mats-Eric Nilsson around the vineyards looking at how the vines relate to the wines themselves. As temperatures have risen markedly in the last week it was good to see the vines in very good health despite the heat. Mats-Eric is working on a new book on wine, his previous one Chateau Vada is available now.

As you can see the Kina disappears quickly!

Within the cellar change was stirring. Whilst it is still the wines which are the flagship and main substance of the domaine there has been a shift in emphasis. The name ‘Vins et Spiritueux Coutelou’ tells the story. Vermouth (kina), gin, brandy, triple sec are now for sale. With a Coutelou twist of course. No industrial alcohol as an ingredient, meaning that labels have to carefully following guidelines. Not gin but Djinn (as in genie) for example. You may recall I reported on the making of the vermouths. There are three styles, a very dry, one with a little more sweetness from residual sugar and a red vermouth too.

To reflect this new arm of the domaine Jeff, Julien and Nathan were re-arranging barrels within the cellar to create distinct areas for the spirits. And out of that rearrangement came a new discovery for me, a port.

Made in 2012, stored in barrel (see photo above) it is in the style of a Late Bottled Vintage port. The barrel ageing had given it a hint of wood but there was a rich fruit and, as with the spirits, no strong alcohol sensation because of the natural alcohol used. Having spent some time in Porto this year and being a fan of port in general I can honestly say this wine is very good, another top quality addition to the range.

The triple sec, an orange flavoured spirit, was made in a stainless steel tank. Have a look at how it emerged at different stages from there to be allowed to settle in large bottles. The various stages are evident.

Vermouth stored in the solera cellar, the barrel on the left needs attention

With Jeff there is always change, experimenting and new wines and products. He enjoys the challenge of conjuring up and mastering the different styles. And that is without mentioning the solera system again. This really is a melting pot, a crucible of discovery. The fact that he attracts support from all over the planet suggests that many others appreciate that work and creativity.


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Real Wine Fair #3 – the beat goes on

A final gathering of thoughts on the Real Wine Fair 2019. Enjoyment featured a lot in the course of the two days. Wine tastings can be pretty straight, serious events but there was a lot of laughter and appreciation going on in Tobacco Dock. The producers I spoke with said that it had been a successful event commercially and they too had enjoyed themselves. The variety of countries, regions, soils and grapes added to the enjoyment.

As well as all those producers and wines I recommended in the two previous posts I liked the following wines very much, described in order of their catalogue number.

Austrian wines have become a favourite of mine in recent years and they were to the fore. Grabenwerkstatt produce in the Wachau, I used words like pure, fresh, fruit for a number of their wines. Two which stood out for me were Wachauwerk Gruner Veltliner 18, the vintage adding depth to the wine. The other big hit was Ried Bruck Riesling 18, single vineyard, very dry but with a hint of residual sweetness.

Muster and Jurtschitsch

Other Austrian producers to impress included Jurtschitsch, Muster and Tscheppe, a favourite of many previous tastings. Andreas Tscheppe‘s wines are consistently top quality, characterful, pure, flavoursome and thought provoking. All of Tscheppe’s bottles are worth buying, my favourite three were: Blue Dragonfly 17, a fruity, round Sauvignon Blanc; Green Dragonfly 17 from a single, higher vineyard giving more direct, melon flavours; Schwalbenschwanz Muskateller 17, a skin contact wine with lovely character of the grape supported by a dry, grippy mouthfeel, lovely and another wine to convince me that skin contact often works best with aromatic grapes.

Tscheppe wines

 

The German contingent at RWF were of particular interest to me, I have already praised the Schmitt wines. Marto Wine from Rheinhessen was also the source of some good wines, especially their 2018 Pinot Gris. Another skin contact wine, another aromatic variety, another success. Spicy, fruity and with lovely texture.

Close to my heart now and Clos Fantine from Faugères. Declaration of interest of course as I consider the Andrieu family as friends and wrote about their beautiful vineyards and wines on here a few years ago. The 2017 Faugères Tradition was on top form, fresh, fruity and with a serious side too. The 2017 Courtiol of pure Carignan was big and bold with nice tannins backing up the dark fruits, a wine to keep for a few years and enjoy. Valcabrières, the white of Terret Blanc and Terret Gris was made from 2 vintages 2016 and 17 and is one of my favourite wines, rich, fruity but dry and spicy too. I include them here on merit believe me.

From Savoie I very much enjoyed the wines of Les Vignes De Paradis and especially the 2017 IGP Savagnin, a deceptively simple wine of clean fruit with a nice acidic backdrop. On to the Loire and another old favourite, Hervé Villemade from Cheverny. His Cour-Cheverny ‹Acacias› 16 was refreshing, clean, fruit gum and citrus. Made from the Romorantin grape which 30 years ago was so scorned and is now finding recognition – climate change, better vinification and probably other factors too make the wine world ever evolving.

TWR wines

To the Southern Hemisphere. Whilst in New Zealand in 2018 I tried to visit Te Whare Ra in Marlborough but they were closed that day. So I was pleased to get to know their wines at RWF with Anna Flowerday presenting them. They are lovely wines, freshness and fruit to the fore with nice complexity. Lots to recommend including Riesling, Gewurztraminer and Syrah. However, it was their 2018 Toru Single Vineyard Blend which I enjoyed most that day. A mix of Gewurz, Riesling and Pinot Noir are co – fermented and the result was a dry, clean wine with all kinds of fruit and spice.

I tasted a number of Patrick Sullivan‘s wines in Australia, bottles such as Rain and Ada Chardonnay were much appreciated. This time though it was the 2018 Baw-Baw Chardonnay which stood out for me, a wine of real concentration and power but elegant and fine at the same time. A wine to keep and cherish.

I was fortunate to spend a good half hour with Julian Castagna of Castagna Wines. He has worked in films and now wines and made a success of everything. He’s a real character as were his two sons wowing the crowd and pouring generous samples. So many wines to enjoy here, a clear Savagnin 16, Segreto 16 of Sangivese and Shiraz for example. There were also magnificent vermouths and sweet wine too. Stars for me were 2017 Quasibianco Grower’s Selection in magnum, a delicious, full flavoured skin contact Riesling. Full yes, but elegant and refined too, bravo. And Genesis Syrah 2015, rich, round and full in a Rhone style, powerful but not heavy with flavours which lasted for ages. Top wine.

On to Italy finally. The wines of Dario Princic from Friuli are in the syle of Gravner and Radikon. I have a number of these bottles at home and was glad to taste even more at RWF. The use of skin contact has to be balanced to be successful in my view, too much and the wine can become hard and bitter. Princic consistently hits the sweet spot of extracting tannin and power whilst keeping fruit. I particularly liked his Jakot 2016, the Friulano grape. Ampeleia on the Tuscan Maremma coast is another well established natural producer, a collaboration of producers such as Foradori, Widmann and Podini. Their Unilitro bottles are a staple in my house, white and red. Here I want to end on a bombshell as my favourite wine was a Cabernet Franc, a grape I really struggle to like. 2015 Cuvée Ampeleia was a big, concentrated wine but the grapes from the highest of their vineyards have a natural freshness which enlivens the wine and never makes it tiring.

So many great wines, so many I no doubt did not get around to tasting. To taste so many great wines in all forms, red, white, skin contact, sparkling, sweet was a treat. Not to mention that wonderful Cota 45 sherry. Lessons? That there are many exciting young and new producers spreading the natural wine philosophy around the world. That more established producers should not be forgotten, their wines are often reaching new levels of excellence. That skin contact wines are appealing more and more to me, especially those aromatic varieties. That wine is fun and should be enjoyed as well as studied.

Thanks again to all who organised Real Wine Fair 2019 and to the producers for such a high standard. To the next time.

Cota4

 


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Buzzy Bs – Real Wine Fair #2

B

So many good wines at Real Wine Fair, I include a selection of wines worthy of anybody’s attention and money. How to order them for this blog was the difficult choice.

The buzzy, busy Bs? Binner, Bain, Ballorin were amongst more established natural producers whose wines showed up very well.

 

Gilles Ballorin is based in Morey St. Denis in the heart of the Côte De Nuits. I liked the freshness of his wines, plenty of characterful fruit flavours, supported by a cleansing finish of acidity in the Marsannay wines but especially the lovely Fixin “Les Chenevières”. Fixin was the first Burgundy village I visited, it has happy memories and this wine lived up to all hopes.

 

Christian Binner is based in Ammerschwihr in Alsace. Yet another village which was the centre for my early visits to that region. I have been trying Christian’s wines for many years and, to my taste, they get better and better. The whole range was excellent, a lovely rosé (Si Rose) made from Pinot Gris, the beautifully named Amour Schwihr, but above all, the tremendous Rieslings, the 2016 Grand Cru Schlossburg being as fine an example of place and grape as you could ever taste. Lovely guy, and give a listen to his fun interview on the Bring Your Own podcast.

Alexandre Bain from Pouilly in the Loire is another firm favourite. His Pouilly Fumé wines are brilliant proof of how Sauvignon Blanc is a noble grape. It is mad that the authorities there make life difficult for him to get the Pouilly Fumé label because he doesn’t meet strict guidelines. The wines are superior to virtually anything else in the area. 2017 Terre d’Obus from young vines gives a real taste of the region, sharp, flinty (yes I use that word deliberately). The Pierre Précieuse 17 from older vines has more concentration and elegance whilst keeping the freshness, precious indeed. Mademoiselle M 2015 has a hint of sweetness even, very ripe, very fruity and just lovely.

Bain

Sometimes the wine world rushes to the new and more established figures such as Christian and Alexandre can be overlooked. Do not make that mistake. These men are making wines with love and precision based on experience. Buy, buy, buy.

Other Bs were new to me but well worth sharing with you.

Social media and a mutual friend in the Languedoc, Guillaume Deschamps, meant that I have got to ‘know’ Emma Bentley without ever meeting her. It was a pleasure to finally do so along with her partner Alessandro. He now manages La Biancara after the retirement of his father Angiolino Maule, running it with his 3 brothers. The range of wines was excellent including the main Masieri white and red wines. The Garganega grape is to the fore in the whites, showing its quality in the 2017 Sassaia and Pico Bianco, the latter with oak age. Both fresh, fruity and lingering. Star of the show for me though was So San 2016, made from Tocai Rosso grapes, the local name for Grenache. Aged in barrel for 15 months this was a big wine with lovely fruit up front backed by ripe tannins which will surely allow the wine to age for many years. It was perfectly balanced, a terrific wine from one of my favourite grapes.

Gareth Belton (it begins with a B!!) and his wife Rainbo make Gentle Folk wines in the Adelaide Hills and I wrote about them last year after visiting with my friend James Madden of Little Things winery. Indeed, it was exciting to taste some of the wines because they were the very 2018s which I saw being made during my visit as harvest came to an end there. There is a terrific range of juicy, fruity and complex wines from classic Riesling (Clouds) to fresh Sauvignon Blanc (Schist), smashable rosé (Blossoms) and serious reds. Tiersman Syrah 18 from bought in fruit was one of my favourite wines tasted all weekend. Round, characterful, Rhone like rather than typical Aussie Shiraz. Lovely wine. Favourite of all though was the 2018 Village Pinot Noir with classic Pinot flavours, lovely freshness and deceivingly complex for such a joyful wine.

Bencze Birtok wines come from Hungary and left me eager to try more wines from there. Clean, fresh whites such as Riesling 17 (the 18 was even better), Kek 17 made from Bokator grapes. A lovely amphora raised wine called Keknyelu 18 with fresh stone fruit flavours. Round, enjoyable and lingering Pinot Noir 18, even better Pinot Atlas 18 from higher vineyards with more complexity, drier and purer. Best of all 2018 Rozsako (a local grape), an amber or orange wine with full, round apricot and stone fruit flavours. One of the best orange/amber wines I have tasted. This was a real discovery for me, great wines from a lovely couple.

Finally, Serbia (there’s a stressed b in the middle!). I had never tasted wines from there before but I am glad that was rectified at RWF. Oszkar Maurer is a 4th generation winemaker and I really took to his wines, highlighting 3 which was just about the highest number of any range at the Fair. The 2017 Furmint was cracking, balancing generous fruit with clean acidity, one of the best white wines of the tasting. Kadarka is one of the local grapes which Maurer specialises in tending and it provided 3 excellent wines. The oldest vines are 138 years in age, and the Kadorka 1880 was structured, fruity and generous. However, perversely enough the other two Kadarka wines were my favourites on this occasion. the 2017 Kadarka was fresh, fruity, round and just very drinkable, really good. Even better was 2017 Kadarka Nagy Krisztus, giving strawberry aromas and more fruit. There was a hint of medicinal tonic in there, it makes no sense but it’s true, which highlighted the fruit profile and added to a very successful wine.

So many great wines, believe me.

 


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April, not the cruellest month

T.S. Eliot believed it was the cruellest month but my selection of April wines proved to be generous and pleasing. Here are my thoughts, including my early front runner for wine of the year.

My first real wine tasting was in a small village in the Rhine Valley called Bacharach, in 1982 I think. It is therefore a doffing of my proverbial wine hat to open a bottle from that village. Toni Jost is one of the biggest producers there, this 2009 Kabinett was a classic Riesling, dry with a nice streak of acidity but a sweet fruit finish. I do love German Riesling, my fondness steming from that first experience 37 years ago of how diverse wine could be. In truth this was fairly routine wine, nice enough without being noteworthy. The nostalgia quotient is my only reason for its inclusion here.

 

Compare that to the 2016 Bourgogne from Fanny Sabre. I often forget how good Burgundy can thrill the tastebuds like very few other regions. There is a reason why prices have gone through the roof and my hopes of tasting Romanée-Conti have sailed off into a horizon never to be reached. My brother in law was amazed that this was natural, it was a pure Chardonnay, classic buttery and hazelnut flavours and, quite simply, very satisfying. This is a basic regional wine, nothing special about the vineyards or terroir, yet it was very well made and I am on the hunt for more of the Sabre wines.

Catherine Riss is another winemaker attracting attention in recent years, this time in the Alsace region. This 2016 Riesling De Grès Ou De Force was a bright, zesty, joyful wine. Catherine’s vineyards are spread around northern Alsace including Nothalten home to Patrick Meyer (and another of my early holiday bases). Made from vines on sandstone (grès) it delivers pleasure and has a serious side too from the acidity, a winning combination. Last time I was in Nothalten talking to Patrick Meyer he praised Catherine Riss and bemoaned that there were not more young winemakers starting out in the region because of the high price of land. On this evidence his faith is being well repaid. I’d choose this every time over the Jost. Great labels too.

By contrast the wines of Jean Foillard are well established, he is one of natural wine’s pioneers and greats, one of the major factors in the renaissance of Beaujolais as one the world’s greatest wine regions. This 2014 Morgon epitomises those points. Foillard wines imprive over several years in my experience and this was at a peak. Delicious Gamay fruit supported by fine acidity and light tannins. This is classic Beaujolais made naturally as it used to be generations ago. Classic wine.

Two other great red wines need to be saluted on here. Louis and Charlotte Pérot make wines in Cahors and (disclaimer) are personal friends whom I admire greatly. I first met them in 2015 at La Remise in Arles, one of their first big wine tasting events and, proudly, I was one of the first to praise them. Understandably they have received many plaudits since and their wines get better and better as their vineyards respond to their care. The labels change annually based on book prints, a reminder of their previous work in Paris. L’Ostal is able to make Cahors’ Malbec (or Côt) into approachable, fruity, delicious wine but with the typical backbone and structure of that region. I love these wines, this was another April success.

Sylvain Bock’s wines from the Ardèche are one of my ‘go to’ picks for enjoyment and reliability. Neck is pure Grenache, ripe but with a serious side. I have seen reports that this 2016 was the best vintage of this cuvee and I can believe it because, like all the wines I have lauded in here, there is a combination of pleasure and reflection. By that I mean, there is a serious side which makes you look closely at the wine, and think about its making not just drink it unthinkingly. Lovely bottle.

The pleasures which April wines showered upon me were greatest from one bottle however. La Paonnerie is based in the Coteaux D’Ancenis in the western Loire. The Carrogets work naturally and I have enjoyed their wines in the past. However, the 2017 Vegyes was on another level for me. Golden in colour I was convinced that there must be extended skin contact but no. The colour is the result of vines over 100 years old which provide Chenin Blanc of great purity. The vineyards have been organic since 1997, the wines are made without anything added. The result was complex. Quince flavours certainly, other fruits too but with texture and classic Loire Chenin acidity. This was a great bottle of wine.

IMG_20190408_203825349


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Loving Languedoc

After tasting wines from around the world at RAW I opened a bottle or two at home. By chance the bottles I reached for were from the Languedoc, my first love. And how richly I was rewarded.

First up was the Grenache Blanc, The Velvet Underschiste, from La Graine Sauvage in Faugères. The domaine is the work of Sybil Baldassarre and I have got to know her through Jeff Coutelou. Sybil is a trained oenologue who decided to show she can make wine as well as advise upon its making. This bottle had witty references to Velvet Underground all over the labels but the wine itself was What Goes On (sorry). Pure Grenache Blanc the 2016 had lovely tannins underpinning the apple and pear fruit. However, what made this wine stand out was how it evolved over the course of an evening. The last glass was the most delicious of all, the wine had opened out to reveal more fruit. This was a wine of real quality. I have been fortunate to taste other wines of Sybil and suggest that she is a real star to follow.

Next up was another white from Faugères, known more for its reds. Clos Fantine is a long time favourite of mine and I wrote an article about the Andrieu family and their work a few years ago after spending a couple of days with them. Their gobelet bush vines high in the Faugères hills provide clean, pure fruit. Valcabrières is their white wine from the rare Terret Blanc and Terret Gris grapes. More white fruit flavours, pears to the fore but with a clean, fresh acidity. Again this was a wine which opened up as we drank down the bottle, complex and delicious. This was a 2014 and I believe the wine would age much further but it was pretty perfect now.

And, for good measure, I opened a bottle of Jeff’s, Flambadou 2017. The pure Carignan has been a star of the Coutelou domaine for a number of years, certainly whilst I have been there in 2014. This bottle was very youthful, the wine bright purple in colour and full of fresh black and red fruits backed with soft tannins. I shall keep my other bottles for a few years to allow them to develop complexity but it is good to follow a wine’s progress. With every wine of 2017 I taste I become more convinced that it is an absolute peak vintage for Jeff, the fruit and freshness backed with tannin and depth of flavour, they are stunners. Flambadou is a great wine, this 2017 definitively so.

Make no mistake the Languedoc can produce top quality wine, these three bottles were absolute proof to me that it will always be the source of my favourite bottles. I urge you to try them and other wines from the region which is my other home.