amarchinthevines

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


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Some recent Coutelou wines

In my last post I shared news from Jeff Coutelou about the vines and wines of the 2019 vintage. Following on from that I thought I would share some recent drinking updates of Jeff’s wines which, as you might expect, form a major part of my proverbial cellar. This might guide some of you with decisions about when to drink any Coutelou wines you may have.

Let’s start with an older wine, Le Vin Des Amis 2014. I know many people regard natural wines in general as wines to be drunk young when their fruit profile is high, wines for drinking for pleasure. However, my experience of years spent with Jeff is that many of his wines (and those of other natural producers) age very well, with more complex flavours replacing the overt fruitiness. Vin Des Amis is one of the headline wines of the domaine and is certainly very enjoyable young. This 2014 (40% Syrah, 40% Grenache, 20% Cinsault) was in prime condition, the freshness calmed down and darker fruit flavours to the fore rather than the bright red fruits of its youth. A lovely bottle.

2016 was a problematic vintage with drought and hail and much reduced yields especially for Grenache and Syrah, the main grapes of the domaine. It is by far the vintage least represented in my collection but I opened a couple recently. 5SO, a play on the single grape name Cinsault which makes the cuvee, was still fresh and fruity though had a little mousiness on the finish, just a hint nothing to spoil it overall. Some of the Grenache and Syrah which was produced in 2016 went into 7, Rue De La Pompe together with some Merlot to fill it out. This was still fresh with a spicy red fruit profile giving a nice lingering finish.

A good mix of wines here. Let’s start with 5SO again, this time the 2018. Notice the name change, it was 5SO Simple in 2016, but the 18 is so good that it became Formidable 5SO! The name change is justified, 2018 being an exceptional vintage. This wine took a little longer to come round than usual so bottling was later and the wine seems to have benefitted, cherry red fruits and almost flowery aromas. Lovely. The other 2018 was the new cuvee Couleurs Réunies. This is a blend from two parcels with the many different grapes from the Flower Power vineyard blended with Carignan and Castets from Peilhan. As I recall we only managed to harvest less than 10 cases from Flower Power in 2018 so the extra grapes were much needed. And it is well up to Coutelou standard with big, fresh fruit to the fore (still very young of course). I shall keep a bottle or two back to watch it age but it is a lovely addition to the range.

The two older bottles form that group were Classe 15 and La Vigne Haute 2017. Classe was highlighted by a UK wine expert as one of the best organic wines to drink, Olly Smith went on to say that he buys Jeff’s wines whenever possible. This Classe was 75% Syrah with Grenache and 5% Mourvedre making up the difference. Classic in its style, silky smooth flavours of red fruit, ridiculously drinkable for a wine which will age further. Very long lasting in the mouth it is hard to resist. Possibly in its peak time but it will develop complexity. Regular readers will know that La Vigne Haute is my favourite of all Jeff’s wines. This is still youthful, pure Syrah with more floral notes in its aroma, very silky tannins (which will allow it to age) and a combination of red and black fruits detectable in its huge fruit. There is also a slight smokiness in the finish to add even more complexity. A worthy example of my desert island wine.

Every year Jeff takes some of the best white grapes and ages them for special cuvées, sometimes in oak. Macabeu 2017 is a gorgeous example of the benefits of this vinification. The oak adds weight to the wine and just a very subtle hint of vanilla but the oak is very much in the background. More noticeable is a slickness in the wine, almost viscous in nature and this helps to coat the mouth with delicious apple and pear flavours helping to make them last even longer. Petits Grains 2017 is made from Muscat A Petits Grains and the Muscat flavours are there but this wine is not sweet, other than from the ripe fruit. From the old barrel the wine has taken a light oxygenation which adds dryness and complexity to the Muscat grape flavours. Two bottles showing off the quality of the grapes but also the deftness and talent of their winemaker.


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Coutelou 2019

A Coutelou update.

Every year Jeff sends out a New Year friendship card to regular clients and friends. The 2020 version highlights the ongoing protests in France about pensions, I particularly appreciated the mobility scooter with bottles in its basket. Inside is a résumé of 2019 and what happened in the vineyards and vendanges. Here’s a quick summary.

The winter of 18-19 saw a healthy rainfall of 400mm in October and November which went a long way to replenish the water levels. Budding began at the start of April, a normal date. Spring was colder and drier than usual and that slowed down growth and the date of véraison, when the grapes change colour. However, there was little or no disease other than a little coulure, where bunches have gaps. The major problem of 2019 came in June with an exceptional period of heat and the start of a very dry summer. This meant that as harvest began the grapes were struggling to reach phenolic ripeness when tannins are ripe and supple. Harvest lasted just over two weeks after starting a little later than normal at the start of September. The grapes were exceptionally healthy and clean, and very concentrated. “The winemaker is more than satisfied with the results achieved.”

The lack of rain (100mm from January to August) and the exceptional heatwave of June serve as a warning to what faces us with climate change.

After harvest things seemed to be going very well thank you. Plenty of nitrogen, good yeasts and healthy grapes, meant fermentation started well. But, there’s always a but, the wines have struggled to finish those fermentations. This has been the story across the region from other winemakers. Theories abound, the most likely is that the heat and dryness encouraged an excess of potash in the grape must, raising pH levels and so stopping fermentation. Soutirages, moving wine from the bottom of the tank to the top, helps to keep the tank clean and healthy and winter will help tartar to develop which will boost the fermentation when temperatures start to rise again.

The above means that it has been difficult to plan blending as even Jeff cannot be certain of how each tank will taste. However, there will be a wine of white and gris (Grenache for example) in amphora, an orange wine of Muscat d’Alexandrie, a Spring red and a Carignan, Castets and Morastel red wine. Plus the classic Coutelou cuvées with Syrah and Grenache to the fore.

These days the domaine is known as Vins et Spiritueux Coutelou so a word on the spirits. Gin, eau de vie, Kina will be joined by new bottles of an aromatic spirit and a mint based drink.

New planting of Clairette (right) and Macabeu

And in the vines? 200 metres of new hedgerows to replace those destroyed by malicious fires a couple of years ago, new olive trees planted too. A new parcel of Cinsault and a white parcel near Sainte Suzanne of Macabeu and Clairette were planted. So no retiring just yet!


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Seeds

Seeds impregnated into the label

The subject of global warming should never be far from our minds. Extreme weather episodes and the massive fires in Australia over the last few months mean that it is a topic always in the news. Though we recycle, look to cut consumption of oil and plastics the world finds itself at a tipping point as people in lesser developed areas demand the same as we in the West have enjoyed for years. It is difficult not to be gloomy as politicians tinker rather than fix, whilst others deny the scientific evidence.

In the wine world there are a number of issues which need to be addressed regarding its contribution to the problems. Shipping wine across the world in heavy glass bottles, the use of pesticides and power are two factors to be faced. I also came across this chart which stopped me in my tracks.

In viticulture the concentration on a few grape varieties internationally is part of the same process. One reason why I have been so interested in the work of many to rediscover and plant older varieties, to diversify vineyards and offer more choice to the consumer. I have written many times about the work of Jeff Coutelou and how he has dozens of grape varieties, some very rare, how he plants fruit trees, shrubs and flowers to offer a more diverse plant life in the surrounding region of monoculture.

I also was given a port at Christmas, Graham’s Natura, which offered another opportunity. This new organic port, which was very good, had a collar with seeds integrated within, which the consumer can plant. An interesting, admittedly minor, idea. That Graham’s are producing an organic port is another step in the right direction, my visit to the Douro last year revealed a dearth of such production in one of the wine world’s great regions. Fonseca’s Terra Prima is the only other I know of.

As I said these are small steps at the start of a marathon race to combat the global crisis and bigger obstacles remain such as those I outlined above. We must find an alternative to heavy bottles, ways of reducing power and water usage and many other problematic issues. I don’t have the solutions but we need to be raising the debate.

On the subject of the Australian fires I heard from my friend James Madden in the Basket Range area of the Adelaide Hills that a couple of the vineyards he sources grapes from were damaged by fires but fortunately no more and has found other grapes. These will be harvested from Thursday to make the new vintage of his winery which has been renamed Scintilla Wines. Time for a UK importer to get busy!


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Grapes galore and Galet

Happy New Year to readers, we shall see what 2020 brings. Hopefully more excellent wines like those I described in my last posts on wines of the year.

The last year ended with one piece of sad news with the death of Pierre Galet on December 31st. Galet was the authority on grapes and ampelography. He pioneered means of identifying grape varieties, encouraged the collection and conservation of vines and wrote extensively on them. His Dictionnaire encyclopédique des cépages is authoritative and an endless source of information and fascination for me. Galet’s work will go on through his studies and students, a man who enhanced the world.

Appropriately I took delivery of a new Coutelou wine produced in 2018. It is made up of the many varieties which are planted in the Flower Power vineyard, Font D’Oulette. These include Clairette Musquée (originally the Hungarian Org Tokosi), Delizia Di Vaprio, Aramon Gris amongst the twenty plus varieties, red and white, planted in the parcel. The 2018 vintage was much reduced by the mildew outbreak across the region and this vineyard produced very small quantities, eight cases in total from a parcel of more than half a hectare in area. Consequently Jeff added two more varieties to the mix, Carignan and Castets from Peilhan vineyard to bulk out the quantities. Castets is another rare variety, only recently added to the list of permitted grapes in Bordeaux having almost completely vanished from wine production only ten years ago.

The resulting wine is bottled as Couleurs Réunies and has a most attractive label reflecting that name. The wine itself is youthful, a rich purple in colour with huge black fruit flavours and fresh acidity. It is lovely now but will keep for a few years. A triumph from a very difficult vintage, which is producing excellent wines despite the problems.

Grenache on the left

And, so, to my last recommended wine from 2019. I promised that I would include one Coutelou wine and though I enjoyed many, many great bottles I finally chose, ironically, a single variety wine. That wine is Mise De Printemps Grenache. Made for early drinking I enjoyed this wine through the year, its red label meaning it was the wine I drank to celebrate Liverpool’s Champions League triumph for example. Lovely red fruits, soft and with a lovely cherry finish. A true vin de plaisir.


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2019 – Favourite fortified and sparkling wines

I really like Champagne and whilst I had some good examples this year nothing stood out especially. Two sparkling wines made an impression however. I have enjoyed a number of PetNats but my favourite of the year was Les Vignes de Babass Brutal 17, made by Sébastien Dervieux in the natural wine hotspot of Anjou. Part of the pleasure of sparkling wine is sharing it and the circumstance in which it is consumed and this admittedly benefitted from being drunk at a vendanges lunch. I loved the fresh citrus flavours and a richness from the Chenin Blanc. Cleansing yet satisfying.

When I first moved to the Languedoc Crémant De Limoux wines always seemed to disappoint me. I discovered the very good sparkling Limoux wines of Monsieur S a few years ago and they changed my opinion of the are and this more favourable impression was confirmed by Gilles Azam’s Les Hautes Terres Crémant De Limoux Josephine. Lighter than the Babass with fresh citrus flavours this was a really successful wine.

Again the Crémant wine benefitted from being drunk between those of us who worked together with Jeff Coutelou in the vendanges.

A trip to the Douro in February was one of the year’s highlights and I tasted a number of lovely Port wines. A very good lunch at Graham’s lodge in Porto culminated in a splendid tasting of old tawny ports including this splendid 6l bottle of the 20 year old tawny. High in the hills of the Douro valley I was able to taste a magnificent Quinta do Beijo 1963 white port which was liquid gold, incredibly rich and fresh.

A real contestant for my wine of the year was from the magnificent Cota 45 range. These are sherries made without being fortified and I was unsure whether to include them in the white wine selection or in this post. They are made from Palomino grapes and aged in barrel and taste like a sherry but without fortification they are lighter and fresher and incredibly long. This is a traditional method of making sherry which has all but disappeared. I loved them, bought some and continue to love them. Agostado Palo Cortado 2016 was my favourite but it could be any of them.

However, even this magnificent bottle was surpassed by another wine shared at a vendanges lunch. My friend Steeve brought along a bottle of Michel Gahier’s Vin Jaune 2010 from his native Jura. It was truly amazing. Every drop had a fresh salinity to balance the rich oxidised notes. Golden in the glass, mouth filling with amazing complexity which grew on the palate for a long time. We were all stunned into silence as we drank it. When Jeff is blown away by a wine you know it is something special. A very special bottle, one I will remember vividly for a long time.


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2019 – favourite white wines

A year of classic regions for white wines. Let’s start outside of France with a wonderful Riesling from the Rheinhessen. I declare my bias as Rhine and Mosel wines were what sparked my first interest in and love of wines. Riesling would also be my white grape of choice for my desert island.

Weingut Schmitt Riesling M 2017 I tasted at The Real Wine Fair in May and it made a lasting impression. This is how I described it at the time, “Bianka Schmitt explained to me that this was picked slightly later than their other Rieslings and spends a year in old oak. It was a stunner. Aromas ranging from floral to citrus, initial flavours of zest, yellow and green fruitgums. However, what made the wine stand out was what happened next. The wine continued to release flavours even after I had swallowed the liquid (some wines you just do not spit). Lingering melon, grapefruit and even tropical fruits grew and developed for a full minute. I love Riesling and this was a truly special example of its complexity and generosity.”

Another Riesling, this time from just across the border in Alsace. Christian Binner is a long established natural producer and I enjoyed tasting through his whole range of wines, including some lovely Pinot Noir. However, my favourite was the Riesling Grand Cru Schlossburg 2016, lean, steely fresh but with a lovely apple and pear fruit on top. Superb example of the grape and also the value of a great vineyard site and its terroir.

Riesling GC Schlossburg centre

Whilst tasting the Schmitt’s Riesling I was alongside Alice De Moor and one of her wines comes next. Chablis 1er Cru Mont De Milieu 2017 was everything you would want from a Chablis. This outlying area of Burgundy is renowned for its steely, flinty Chardonnay and this wine provided all of those elements but wrapped around with fruit and a creamy nuttiness. Right at the top of my favourite white wines of recent years, showing again how good natural producers bring out the best of their vineyards and grapes.

Two other Burgundy whites reignited my love of that region. A basic Bourgogne Blanc 2016 from Fanny Sabre punched well above its humble label, classic Burgundy with freshness and generous fruit. I must seek out some of the domaine’s more celebrated wines as this showed great winemaking talent. As did AMI is a newish domaine which buys in organic grapes. I liked all their wines but best for me was another more humble label, St. Romain Blanc 2017. Citrus, creaminess, freshness and a hazelnut note – more classic Burgundy Chardonnay. These two show that excellent wine is still available at good prices in Burgundy.

The Jura has become a very fashionable wine region in recent years, very different to when I first visited 20 years ago. I love the wines though their popularity makes them increasingly expensive and difficult to find. I came across the wines of Domaine De La Touraize at RAW and they were a highlight of the year. Bets of all was the Savagnin 2015 which spent 2 years ‘sous voile’ i.e. under the yeast flor. The wine is nutty, stony and had lovely apricot flavours – all of which lingered long in the mouth. Exciting wine.

Jura stars

Two wines from outside of France merit mention here as I enjoyed them greatly. Patrick Sullivan makes wine in Victoria, Australia. I tasted some of his excellent wines in Australia last year and sought some out upon my return to the UK. His Baw-Baw Chardonnay 2018 had great concentration and power and, whilst still very much in its infancy, offers good fruit and drinkability already.

One of my favourite producers in recent years is Casa Pardet from the Costers Del Segre region in Catalonia. One of their Cabernet Sauvignons tasted 4 years ago was one of the greatest wines I have ever had. This year I revelled in their Chardonnay Amfora 2016. Almost an orange wine (perhaps it ought to have been in that section) it has lovely grip and dry, stone fruit flavours with almost liquorice afternotes. Great.

Finally to the Languedoc and the only domaine in Faugères producing only white wines. La Graine Sauvage is the domaine of Sybil Baldassarre. Sybil is an oenologue by profession but now has her vineyards and works with her partner Alexandre Durand whose red Dynamite I chose amongst my red wines of the year. A talented couple as well as being great people. Sybil’s The Velvet Underschiste 2016 shows off Grenache Blanc with apple and pear fruit flavours and a freshness from the schist soils of the Faugères. Lovely now but with long life ahead of it if I can resist drinking my remaining bottle for a few years. Excellent wine.

Reviewing my selections the predominance of Chardonnay and Riesling came as something of a surprise, the predominance of France perhaps less so. I found this the most difficult of all the categories to select a final list. There were so many great white wines which I was fortunate enough to taste this year and apologies to many other producers whose talents I could easily have highlighted on another day.


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2019 – favourite orange wines

One of the key features of the wine world in recent years has been the rise to prominence of orange or amber wines. What was a traditional method of making wines on skins, for example in amphorae, in places like Georgia and Slovakia has become a trend around the world. Orange wines do not have to be based on organic grapes though that is often the idea many people have. Orange wines are simply wines made from white grapes but where the juice is left in contact with the skins to extract colour and tannin, they are sometimes referred to as skin contact wines.

So widespread are orange wines that I have decided to split up my long list of white wines of the year to post a fourth article focussed on orange wines. I tasted many such wines this year including Jeff Coutelou’s OW which is great. That is based on Muscat grapes and I often prefer orange wines based on aromatic grapes. One such is the Hungarian grape Rozsako and I was really impressed by the 2018 Rozsako of Bencze Birtok when I tasted it at The Real Wine Fair. The domaine of a young Hungarian couple produces a wine with great stone fruit character, apricots for example. Fresh, clean and with a little bite from the tannins. Very good indeed.

Still in central Europe but this time from the Franken region of Germany was another excellent wine, this time based on the often derided Sylvaner grape. In Germany and Alsace this grape often used to make dilute, flavourless wines but modern winemaking and climate change have helped to improve its reputation. I described Andi Weigand’s Skin 15 like this after tasting it at RAW in London, “Fermented in whole bunches for 8 weeks, kept in old barrels for 3 years then refermented using 20l of juice from 2018’s harvest. The result was a perfumed, peachy and clean, fresh wine, a real joy.”

I mentioned in the post on red wines of the year how much I liked Testalonga‘s range this year and Stay Brave 18 was another great wine. Chenin Blanc macerated for a shortish period of 11 days. Golden in colour with a fine texture of tannin this was my favourite orange wine this year because of its fruit and balance. Chenin is forging a new identity in South Africa, wines like Stay Brave suggest it has become the equal of its traditional Loire home.

Finally, closer to home. Ancre Hill is based in the Wye Valley in Wales, close to the English border. Its Orange Wine 2017 is predominantly based on Albarino grapes, traditionally from northern Spain. They are macerated in whole bunches for up to 50 days and aged for a minimum of 10 months on lees with no SO2 added. This is very much orange in colour but was fresh and full of flavour and lingered long in the mouth. Da iawn Cymru. It is good to see English and Welsh biodynamic wines emerging in such style.


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2019 – my favourite wines

Three posts to celebrate the great wines I have enjoyed in 2019 which I would recommend without hesitation. Obviously I could include lots of Jeff Coutelou’s wines but I will restrict myself to just one, I shall keep that choice for the last of the posts.

I shall start with red wines and a classic region. Bordeaux and Burgundy are still the benchmarks for world wines, steeped in tradition. However, Chateau Le Puy is in the Cotes De Francs, east of Pomerol and Saint Emilion, not one of the higher regarded regions. Being right bank Merlot is the dominant grape and my choice of wine is an example of that. Barthélémy 2016 showed great fruit as well as classic Bordeaux weight and depth boosted by the 15% of Cabernet Sauvignon. Where this wine differs from classic Bordeaux is that this long established biodynamic domaine used no sulphites.

To Italy, more specifically Gambellara between Verona and Vicenza. Angiolino Maule was one of the pioneers of natural winemakers in Italy and his La Biancara domaine is now run by his three sons. I met Alessandro and his partner Emma Bentley in London and loved their wines but one stood out to me. This was what I wrote at the time, “Star of the show for me 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.”. Congratulations to them too on their first child in 2019.

Around the world again, this time to South Africa whose wines are starting to make a big impact. Testalonga is the domaine of Craig Hawkins and I have had their wines before but the 2018s really were a breakthrough. Chin Up is a Cinsault wine and this example was full of lovely fruit with a nice fresh acidity and light tannins. Very pleasurable and very drinkable. On similar lines was Dynamite 2018 from Peira Levada the domaine of Alexandre Durand in Faugeres. Pure Cinsault too but this time grown in soils with an unusually high percentage of marble. I loved this, a wine to simply enjoy but also with a serious side. Definitely the year of Cinsault for me.

Staying in the Languedoc, Gregory White is based in Aspiran, one of a number of very good producers there. His White Is Rouge 2017 was my favourite red wine this year for sheer pleasure. A blend of Grenache and Syrah the wine is fruity with a lovely aroma of blueberries and strawberries too. There is a depth with hints of liquorice and more red fruits. Just lovely.

One more light red which carries more weight than might be expected. Gamay from Beaujolais is famous for its light, fruity juice. The region is a hotbed of natural winemaking and one such is Charly Thévenet, son of one of the original Gang Of Four producers Jean-Paul Thévenet. His Régnié Grain et Granit 2017 was classic Beaujolais, fun but with a serious side, good tannins and well structured.

I shall finish with a wine from the Adelaide Hills. I first encountered Gentle Folk’s 2018 Village Pinot Noir when I visited Gareth Bolton’s domaine in the Hills and this very wine was newly harvested and fermenting away. This Spring I tasted the wine in London and was hugely impressed. Pinot Noir is my favourite red grape and this showed that Aussie producers can rival any in making the most of it. You will have noticed that I like red wines with a serious, contemplative side but also with pleasing fruit to make the wine enjoyable. The best Pinots have red and black fruit flavours, lots of rich aroma but also have tannins and a minerality. Gareth’s wine is all that is good about Pinot Noir.

Next time, on to the white wines.


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Natural news

As a result of my interest in wine, natural wine in particular, I read lots of articles, tweets and other media sources. Quite often these include attacks on the whole idea of natural wine, clichés about it being a fashion rather than serious wine and generalisations about faults. There are some writers and wine industry people who get very worked up about the idea of people enjoying wine and dismissing such people and their ability to appreciate good wine.

One issue which regularly upsets such critics is the very term ‘natural wine’. It involves human activity, vines don’t grow naturally in rows, fermenting in vats or barrels – all are not natural processes so the term is misleading they cry. Recently I read about one Chilean minimal intervention producer criticising the term because it diminishes the role of the winemaker.

It was interesting, therefore, to read a tweet from wine writer Simon J. Woolf about an Australian article on the term natural wine. In it writers Sue Dyson and Roger McShane outline their research which shows that the term ‘natural wine’ has been used for centuries. They found it used at the end of the 17thC by a Swiss writer who abhorred the ‘abuse’ of wine by adding things to it or ‘refinement’. In 1731 an English Dictionary defined “Natural wine is such that it comes from the grape without any mixture or sophistication”. By 1869 the article shows a French description, “Natural wine is the term applied to the product which contains no other matter than the grape when fermented produces“.

These definitions could apply today and show, to my mind, that modern natural wines are simply a return to classic winemaking. The lack of definition of what constitutes a natural wine leaves them open to criticism and abuse. And, this point was further highlighted in a recent article by Alice Feiring entitled ‘Is Natural Wine Dead?’.

In this New Yorker article Feiring expresses regret that many have jumped on the natural wine bandwagon and how many of those are taking shortcuts to cash in. Bigger companies seeing marketing opportunities sell wines labelled natural since they contain no added sulphites though the base wine may be machine harvested, artificial yeasts added etc. Other winemakers are trying to make wine without experience and the results are often faulty which adds to the generalisations mentioned above.

I think Feiring has a point. I see wines on UK retail shelves promoted as natural which I would not consider to be so. I have tasted faulty wines at fairs events but then I have done at conventional wine fairs and far more dull, characterless wines. However, the lack of definition does facilitate this usurping of the natural wine label.

That said there are waves of new winemakers who are producing great wines. Just this week I had a terrific Cinsault from Alexandre Durand of Peira Levada in Faugeres, Dynamite. Fruity, enjoyable but with a lovely mineral streak of freshness and complexity. With this new wave in France and around the world those of us who enjoy natural wine are still in safe hands.


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Oddities 3

En francais

Fabrice disappearing through the floor. What is going on?

Carbonic maceration is a winemaking method most associated with Beaujolais where it has long been the traditional technique. Its ability to draw out fruity, fresh flavours helped make the name of the region especially when railways carried the wines to Paris in the late 19thC. In the 1960s Jules Chauvet carried out research into the technique and his scientific studies showed that Gamay and Grenache were especially suited to carbonic maceration. (He was, incidentally, also the man who pioneered no sulphur or natural wines).

The tank is filled with carbon dioxide

And, Grenache was the grape which had Fabrice climbing down through the floor. Underneath the top floor of the cellar is the top of the wine tanks. The yellow funnel is where the grapes are placed after being sorted, falling through into the tanks. When the tank is filled carbon dioxide gas is added to it. As well as creating an oxygen free atmosphere the CO2 seeps into the grapes and encourages them to start to ferment inside their skins rather than on the skins in traditional winemaking. Some grapes at the bottom of the tank will be crushed by the weight of the others so there is some conventional fermentation.

If the grapes are removed and pressed before fermentation is complete this is known as semi carbonic maceration, a method which Chauvet identified as suitable for grapes such as Mourvedre, Pinot Noir and Syrah.

The popularity and spread of natural wines has brought a renaissance in interest in carbonic maceration because of its ability to produce very drinkable wines, ‘glou glou’ as they are often described. Search any wine bar or merchant list and you will find many such wines listed.

So, Fabrice was checking on how much the tank was filled.