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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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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Brief return to Mas Coutelou

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After my sojourn in Alsace it was great to return to the Languedoc. Sadly I was already aware that due to a bereavement I would have to leave within a couple of days to return to the UK. However, I was able to spend one of my two days there with Jeff and amongst those vines which I had missed so much.

It was a great time to be there, the vines were in full flower, many already past that stage showing the new grapes, firstly with their brown hoods and then just the green baby berry itself.

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The vines were looking very healthy, plentiful rain in the winter and a sharp frost in early spring had allowed the vines to rest, to gather their strength for the season ahead – a sharp contrast to 2016. Greenery aplenty, wild flowers blooming and, during my visit to Peilhan, I saw a young deer running through the vines and a pheasant. Clearly the Coutelou vines attract wildlife to its oasis amongst the surrounding desert of chemically treated soils.

During the previous weeks the soils of Peilhan had been ploughed, by a horse. Gentler on the soils Jeff asked a local man to till.

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He himself was giving the soil a light rotivation that afternoon, turning the plants and flowers amongst the vines into the soil, a natural composting. Icare, with an injured paw, and I watched on in the sunshine.

 

The only real problem this year has been the return of the snails. Last year they ravaged Font D’Oulette (the Flower Power vineyard) so that only a few cases of grapes could be picked. Fortunately, that vineyard has been spared this year but they are out in force in the largest vineyard, Segrairals. It was there that I also found Michel, Julien and Vincent working, tightening the wires of the palissage and removing side shoots etc from the vines.

In the afternoon we tasted through the 2016 vines and, they are so different even from February when I tasted them last. The whites are splendid, highlight a hugely successful long maceration Muscat. The reds such as the Carignan were very good and the top wine of the year will be the Mourvèdre, a silky, complex wine with huge depth of flavour – a treat for the short and long term. 2016 was a difficult year but Jeff has still produced some great wines.

So, I look forward to getting back to Puimisson as soon as possible, to follow the vintage further and see the latest progress. There is bottling to be done and plenty more besides.

The cellar is transformed, painted with the new office and floor and the stainless steel cuves plumbed in for temperature control. And perhaps, most interesting of all, there is an amphora. This is the trendy method of vinification around the world. However, very few winemakers have an amphora dating from the time of Julius Caesar with which to make wine. Jeff plans to use it this year, connecting his wine to those made 2,000 years ago. Wines with links to the past, present and future, Mas Coutelou has soul!

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Natural Alsace

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My last article explained the many virtues of Alsace as well as a slight misgiving about some vignerons though, it must be said, Alsace has the highest % of organic producers in France. There are some great winemakers amongst them and I was able to visit two of them during my visit.

The first was Patrick Meyer of Domaine Julien Meyer in Nothalten. This was a step back in time for me as Patrick is based just two doors away from a house where I stayed on holiday many years ago. Indeed it was around the same time as Patrick made his first natural wines in 1992, one of the pioneers. He has improved the soils of his vineyards growing plants and flowers which are rolled into the soil when they reach 30cm in height. The soils are fine, full of life and even smell fresh.

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Patrick showed us around hos cellars and we tasted many excellent wines. Some were collaborations with vignerons from around the country including Axel Prufer in the Languedoc, very good they were too. However, it was when we tasted the 2016 Alsace wines in the cellar and older vintages from bottle that the wines reached another level. Varietal wines were excellent, the Crémants too. The jump to Grand Cru however, brought amazing results. Layers of flavour, texture and complexity in every bottle.

The real surprise came with bottles which Patrick had opened not just days before but 2-3 weeks before. They were still fresh, still full of life – amazing. Despite having few wines to sell Patrick kindly found some bottles for me, I shall cherish them.

We moved on to Rosheim to meet Julien Albertus who runs the vineyards and winery of Kumpf-Meyer. I met Julien at Les Affranchis in Montpellier and was keen to meet him again and taste the wines once more.

Julien has moved the domaine on to producing some natural wines alongside the organic wines. They are in their early days and will improve on coming years but they are already full of flavour and life. The Pinot Noir and Crémants were the stars but these are serious wines and Julien is a real talent, an example of the the next generation after Patrick taking up the mantle.

Patrick spoke to me about the difficulty for young winemakers buying vineyards due to the high price of land in Alsace, so it is difficult for that generation to come through. However, Julien and  Catherine Riss, also based in Nothalten, are showing that natural wines of real quality will be made for a long time to come. Patrick and Julien are certainly producers to seek out alongside Binner, Schueller etc.

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