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


My wines of 2017


I was fortunate to taste many excellent sparkling wines this year. Excellent PetNats such as Éxilé from Domaine Jousset in the Loire, Jeff’s Bibonade rosé and the excellent Restons Nature from Kumpf et Meyer in Alsace. However, I have to admit that champagne always comes out as my favourite sparkling wine. From Boulard, Pascal, Jacquesson and others I was able to appreciate some lovely wines.

Top of my class this year though was Jacques Lassaigne, who I was very happy to meet at Chai Christine Cannac in Bédarieux. His vintage 2008 was sheer delight, a top class champagne with freshness, complexity and sheer pleasure.


So many good white wines this year. The unexpectedly good Georgian amphora wine from Marks and Spencer was a late favourite. Alexandre Bain’s excellent Pouilly Fumés are always a joy, especially Pierre Précieuse 2015, proving that Sauvignon Blanc can be a wine of true quality. Okanagan Crush Pad from Canada was another source of excellent Sauvignon Blanc, Free Form 2015 which had nine months of skin contact. Austria provided many highlights, the wines of the Rennersistas, Koppitsch, Gut Oggau, Meinklang and the brilliant Andreas Tscheppe.

Alsace, however, was the star of the year. I visited the region in May and had the great pleasure to spend time with the inspirational Patrick Meyer and the rising star Julien Albertus. The quality of wines, typicity of grape, freshness and pleasure provided were remarkable. Patrick’s wines astonished me, even many days after opening they were precise, fresh and stunning.

Special mention to the orange wine from Languedoc producers Régis and Christine Pichon of Domaine Ribiera, Orange sur les Canilles a wine which more than any other persuaded me of the benefit of skin contact wines.



From the Languedoc Maxime Magnon’s Métisse 2016 readily springs to mind along with some older vintages of Barral’s Faugères. Olivier Cohen and Mas D’Alezon were other Languedoc producers whose wines I enjoyed.

Italy’s I Mandorli and Azienda Vitivinicola Selve made an impact at RAW in London. I enjoyed the Pinot Noirs from the aforementioned Patrick Meyer and Julien Albertus. This was a year when white wine provided most of the memorable moments however. Highlight of reds will be described in the next post.

Sweet and fortified

A lovely Banyuls Cuvée Méditeranée 2005 from Piétri-Géraud was a highlight but the most memorable was the 1959 Muscat De Frontignan which Jeff opened for me on my birthday. Not often you get to drink a wine from your birth year, especially as the years slip by! It was sticky, sweet and very rich, a real taste of history.



My Christmas wine



I was recently honoured to be asked to contribute to the blog of well known Irish wine expert Frankie Cook in a series of posts about wines people would choose for Christmas. Naturally I chose a Mas Coutelou and, in particular, my favourite wine of all from Jeff.

Here is the article but I recommend a visit to Frankie’s website and reading articles from other contributors too, there is a rich variety of wine selected from all around the world as well as lots of other good reading.

“Christmas is about family and friends, sharing and reflection on the year which is fading. My choice of wine reflects these. I have lived most of the last 3 years in the Languedoc and spent much of the time helping at and writing about Mas Coutelou. Jean-Francois (Jeff) Coutelou makes a series of excellent natural wines but for this special occasion I shall choose La Vigne Haute 2013.

The wine is pure Syrah, it is labelled as a Vin De France because Jeff chooses to avoid the rules of appellation status which would, for example, mean that a single grape wine would not be allowed. Syrah is one of the main five Languedoc red grapes along with Grenache, Carignan, Cinsault and Mourvèdre. The grapes which make La Vigne Haute are grown in a vineyard called La Garrigue planted on two sides of a ridge, Grenache facing the southerly sun and Syrah, more sheltered and cool, facing north.

2013 was the last vintage of La Vigne Haute, if the grapes and quality are not high enough they will be used in other wines. (Happily, 2017 will see a new vintage!). The 2013 offers warmth, long flavours of red fruits and soft tannins, great with Christmas food. Made by my friend, shared with family and a reminder of so many happy days in Puimisson.”



Mas Coutelou in the UK



After an absence of two to three years I am delighted to say that Mas Coutelou wines are available once more in the UK. I won’t go over the reasons for the absence but instead celebrate their return.

Leon Stolarski will be the main source of the wines for UK customers from his online store. There is a real cross section of the range with whites, reds and, a true treasure, the Vieux Grenache. This is the page where you will find the wines. I am delighted to have been the connection between Jeff and Leon and I have already placed an order to restock some wines in my collection and add some that have been recently bottled like the excellent Flambadou 2016.


Leon tasting in Puimisson in June

I know that Jeff was also keen to send wines to Noble Rot wine bar in London as one of the owners, Mark Andrew, was the man who first imported his wines into the UK when he worked with his former company. Noble Rot garners rave reviews for its food and wine list as well as its wine magazine. I really must make a visit soon.

So, no excuses. It’s time for the UK to embrace Mas Coutelou.




In September I gave a talk to The Tuesday Club in Pézenas about the 2017 vendanges. Jeff bottled some Cinsault and Cabernet Sauvignon for me, the latter still fermenting. When I opened a bottle at the talk it overflowed because of the CO2 being produced. Well, on Saturday I opened the other bottle and I did say it might produce a lot of foam so I opened it over the sink. In fact all but about 5cm of the bottle flew out of the bottle and went everywhere. The power of fermentation! Thank you to Linda and Iain for helping to clean up. I can say that the wine which survived was very good!!


On a cleaner note. I don’t often buy wine from the high street these days. However, I read a report about a Georgian white vinified in amphorae or qvevri as they are called in Georgia. As orange wines have been one of my highlights of 2017 I decided to buy a bottle. Well, it was really good. Made from the Rkatsiteli grape it had a lovely long flavour of pear and apple with nice tannins and real character. Hats off to Marks & Spencer, I went back and bought some more bottles.





Version francaise

I may be away from the action of the Coutelou vineyards but my fascination with wine, and particularly natural wine, continues to grow. I have recently read two things which I thought were worth sharing on here.

Firstly from Bibendum came this piece of information about the UK.

bibendum report

This growth of interest in natural wines is, of course, very pleasing to me, a long time advocate of the style. Not all these wines are natural but the interest in this sector shows a shift in demand and, also, realisation from merchants that the demand is there.

Caveat emptor! Not all wines labelled as ‘natural’ are that, a consequence of the lack of regulation. In particular beware high street retailers with wines from big companies. Artisans who practice natural methods in the vineyard and cellar are what matter to me. To identify such producers you could do worse than look at the website ‘vinsnaturels’ which is in French and English. The app Raisin is another useful way to locate producers and retailers.


The most interesting article I have read though was from The Wine Enthusiast, written by Anne Krebiehl MW. In it she describes what we are learning about soils and the life which is in there. The rhizosphere is the soil immediately surrounding the vine roots and research is revealing the microbial and fungal life in there. This is something which Jeff has described to me over the years and it is fascinating to look at soils with small white fungal fibres which form a network around the vines, supporting them with nutrition and chemicals whilst benefiting themselves from the vines in a symbiotic relationship. Encouraging life in the soils is, therefore, hugely important; reducing their compaction from tractors etc as much as possible, composting them, avoiding chemicals where possible.

Mycorrhizae in Rome vineyard

There is much research still to be done and we are in the early days of understanding how the soils influence the vine and, consequently, the wine. However, early research supports the careful management of soils and vines by vignerons such as Jeff Coutelou. Respect the environment, encourage life. As he said after the recent damage done to his vineyards the best response is to plant. Trees, bushes, flowers, any plants. Encourage ecosystems and they will repay our guardianship.


Tasting the 2017s

Vigne Haute

Version francaise

Last weekend I should have been in the Languedoc with Jeff and attending a wine tasting at Latour De France. Sadly, a 48 hour bug put a stop to that.

Instead I reflected on a tasting we did at Jeff’s on October 3rd of all the 2017 wines in cuve. Regular readers will recall that they vintage is of high quality but low quantity. Quantities will be in short supply of what will be seriously good wines. There was a tinge of sadness about that as we tasted through the range.


These were my notes on the evening.

  • Maccabeu / Grenache Gris – still some residual sugar. Fresh nose, Fruity, pears. Slight sweetness which will disappear. Clean and lovely.
  • Sauvignon Blanc – fresh apple, bright and zesty. A true Sauvignon character, refreshing.
  • Carignan Blanc – lovely, full, clean, direct – fresh and fruity. Very good.
  • Rosé – very pale, flowery aroma, fresh and clean, exactly what you’d want from a rosé.
  • Syrah (Ste Suzanne) – whole bunch, red fruit, round tannins, good finish, full, very good.
  • Cinsault – lovely, fresh and juicy red fruit, cherry, 13,5% but tastes lighter. Good.
  • Syrah (Segrairals) – amazing passion fruit nose which carries into taste. Fresh, citrus and lovely red fruit, a real star.
  • Syrah (La Garrigue) – La Vigne Haute (fingers crossed). Terrific, direct full tannnins, splendid fruit, full, long – stunner.
  • Flower Power – Maccabeu, Syrah (St Suz), Grenache (St Suz), Grenache Gris, Cinsault, Terret Noir and Flower Power – Despite the different assemblage this has the character of previous Flower Power – fruity, silky tannin and very appealing. Lovely.
  • Grenache – blend of Ste Suzanne / La Garrigue – 2015 St Suz provided 80hl, this year the 2 vineyards made 60hl. Lovely, fresh cherry flavours with a spicy finish.
  • Mourvėdre – crunchy, spicy good tannins and dark fruits. Very true to the grape. Good.
  • Carignan – top of the class. Lovely fresh red and black fruits, excellent balance of freshness and complexity. Star yet again.
  • Merlot – lovely fruit nose, fresh, touch of wildness which should settle. Nice.
  • Cabernet Sauvignon – still some sugar, plenty of fruit, easy to drink with classic blackcurrant notes.

We went on to drink a couple of the 2016 wines which were still in cuve, a very floral and spicy Syrah and an assemblage of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre which had good fruits with a soft tannin finish.

Reflections on the evening? The quality of 2017 is clear it is up there with the 2015s, just such a shame that fewer people will get to drink them. The whites are very good but the reds shine especially the future La Vigne Haute and Flambadou. The wines had all fermented beautifully causing few worries. A vintage to cherish, can’t wait until it is in bottle.

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The wine lottery


So much of wine enjoyment is personal taste, but chance plays a role too. It is often ignored but some recent wine experiences brought the issue to mind.

A dinner with friends. I took one of my favourite wines, a chance to share it with others. Remove the cork, pour, swirl … alarm bells. There’s a dry, musty aroma. Sip, and yes, there it is: the wretched mushroom, wet cardboard taste of a corked wine. Previous bottles of this wine and vintage have been excellent, this was a one off. Sadly, it spoiled my evening, such a disappointment, expectations dashed by TCA.


Two bottles opened in successive nights, a 1990 Chateau D’Angludet and a 2005 Cahors, Chateau de Cayrou. The last bottle of the Angludet I opened had been disappointing, showing its age, brown in colour and dried out. This one was dark red with a brown edge, fruit still to the fore coupled with interesting notes of nuts and dark plums. It was a lovely surprise, expectations had been low based on the previous bottle. These two bottles had been stored together, the bottle variation like chalk and cheese. If I had only tasted the first I would have a bad impression of this venerable wine. How many times must that have happened to me?

The second bottle comes from a stellar vintage in Cahors and a domaine with a good reputation. The result? Meh. It was OK, nothing more. Little character, no charm. A food wine some would call it. Which to me is a wine lacking fruit and personality. I bought that bottle many years ago on recommendation, was it a disappointing bottle like that first Angludet? Or was it just a dull wine? Would I spend my money to buy another and find out the answer, certainly not. There are Cahors wines which appeal far more, notable from Charlotte and Louis Pérot’s Domaine L’Ostal.


Wine drinking is personal taste, this bottle of 2009 Faugères was one my wife enjoyed but I found dull. However, before being definitive let us admit that sometimes fortune can influence our wine experience.