amarchinthevines

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


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Little fish are sweet

En francais

How do you follow the Perfect Day? Apparently you just wait and, like the proverbial London bus, two come along together.

March 8th dawned chilly, just 2°C when I left Margon at 8am, bright and clear, a perfect day for the last Spring bottling. The biodynamic calendar was favourable too, last day of the descending moon and a flower day.

In fact we started with a morning of habillage (labelling and packaging). The start of a longer process of habillage to prepare wines to send to cavistes around the world, it’s time to earn some money! This morning palettes of ‘5SO Simple’ and ‘7, Rue De La Pompe’ were put together, a smooth enough process as Jeff, Michel, Vincent and I have all done this many times now (I’m getting to be an old hand!). One interesting feature is how different regions require different labels, customs stamps and even palettes, the USA different to Europe for example. So making sure you have the right matériel demands some time and attention.

So far, so good. The banter was enjoyable as ever, Icare provided some amusement when, hiding under the rollers, he gave himself a shock when a case of bottles passed over his head. The day improved with the arrival of Thomas, a sommelier who spent time with us at vendanges, excellent company.  However, the day then took an unexpected turn for the better with a phone call from Sylvain, one of Jeff’s myriad friends. He is a scientist, intellectual and fisherman and phoned to say he was on his way. With him was a cool-box full of sea urchins, sea bass and black mullet – all freshly caught.

So, just after noon, we repaired to 7, Rue De La Pompe, the house rather than the bottle. There Sylvain prepared a feast. The oursins, fresh with their delicate tongues of iodine, concentrated flavours of the ocean; a sea urchin butter spread on fresh bread; sashimi of bass and mullet; sea bass marinated in olive oil and Jeff’s white wine vinegar; sea bass chips (little fried nuggets of flesh and skin); chunks of bass and mullet fried lightly in a tempura beer batter; fish egg omelette; barbecued sea bass; black mullet grilled with broccoli, then coated in a Japanese sauce. Totally delicious, everything was a delight, every morsel.

The freshness of the fish and Sylvain’s imagination and skill provided us with a 3 hour banquet, conversation around the role of fish and wine in religions, lighter topics too. Sometimes I have to pinch myself.

 

And, of course, wines.

Snow Balls 14, that curious cuvée of Sauvignon Blanc, Grenache Gris, Muscat and others, it shouldn’t work but it always does – so fresh, clean, dry and fruity, a perfect match with the sashimi for example.

5SO Simple 15, ( the best 5SO ever?), perfumed cherry Cinsault, dangerously fruity and moreish but with a little more texture this year. A good match for the cooked fish with its cleansing acidity.

La Vigne Haute 2010. Oh my word. This is my favourite Coutelou cuvée and the 2010 is stunning. Pure, pure Syrah, bottled joy. Deep brambly red fruit scents, as you sniff the wine you are drawn in to the luscious aromas. Rich, smooth texture with the softest of tannins supporting it, cassis and red fruit flavours and soooo long with flavours of chocolate and coffee emerging. OK I’m sounding poncey but seriously, this is fantastic wine. It will improve for a few years yet and I have some in my ‘cellar’, happy man.

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2010 La Vigne Haute and its maker

An indulgence, the whole meal. The kind of life affirming meal which everyone should enjoy from time to time.

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And yet, back to bottling on this clear, fresh day. A special cuvee, one of the little cuvées. A barrel of Maccabeu and Grenache Gris from 2012 which will be named after the top Spanish ham, 5J. The aim was to produce a wine like a light Fino, slightly oxidised but concentrated and fresh to match those hams. The barrel was formerly used for making cognac (adding more flavour) and the wine succeeds in its ambition.

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Vincent, Sylvain (standing centre), Thomas (kneeling) and Jeff

It resembles a light fino, it is dry and the slight oxidation adds complexity but it is the clear fruit which lingers, lifted by that barrel influence. I was reminded of the Jura white wines I love, a Ganévat for example, but the fino / light amontillado sherry reference rings true. It is utterly delicious. A special cuvée demands a special bottle, so 50cl flute bottles were used with a glass stopper rather than a cork. Just a few hundred bottles of something very special.

5J maccabeu Grengris

The Maccabeu / Grenache Gris pressed in 2012 (photo by Jeff)

The barrel was then refilled with some of the top quality Maccabeu of 2015, ready for another delight in a few years. The treats continued though. Little fish are sweet. These were the words used by one of my heroes, WA (Arthur) Stephenson. He was a hugely successful horse racing trainer from my home area in County Durham and when his horse won the Cheltenham Gold Cup (jump racing’s top race) in 1987 he explained why he was at his local track instead of at the big meeting, “little fish are sweet”. As I had referenced Bowie last time I thought it was an apt and indulgent reference to the great man, who shared his time and thoughts generously whenever I spoke with him.

 

There was time to taste the Grenache wine which I made for my 100th blog post with the help of my friends. I intend to write a little more about this, suffice to say that the wine is developing very well in two different sized barrels and one super-sized glass bottle.

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Tasting the grenache

A tasting too of the 2015 Grenache Sélection De Grains Nobles, quietly maturing. Dark plummy colour, rich and round but it was black grapes that I could taste believe it or not with a sweet, raisin edge. A wine to wait for, and it will repay the patience I am sure.

SGN Grenache 15

SGN Grenache

Finally, a 40 year old Muscat. Figgy aromas, black olive and molasses. No sign at all of tiredness just intense, thick, sweet nectar yet still an acidity to keep it in balance. Liquid sunshine, a long past summer captured in a bottle, revived in the glass for us. A perfect end to (another) perfect day.

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40 year old Muscat (and bottle)


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Coutelou cuvées

cuvees map

En francais

Jeff Coutelou produces a large range of different wines, or cuvées, every year. There are a number which are made every year, les incontournables. These are the biggest production wines, the breadwinners and, probably, his best known cuvées, Classe and Vin Des Amis. Depending upon the vintage Jeff will then decide what to do with the grapes he has left and which cuvées to produce. Some of these extra cuvées reappear regularly, others very occasionally and some will be new.

So, let’s start with the more celebrated wines.

Classe

This is the wine which was described in The Guardian by wine writer David Williams like this in April 2015:

Mas Coutelou Classe, Languedoc 2013
For the natural wine-sceptic, it’s hard to think of a better place to start than the wines of Jeff Coutelou: full of vivid, finger-staining blackberry fruit, this carignan is explosively juicy and succulent: pure pleasure.

Usually a blend of 40% Grenache, 40% Syrah from Segrairals and Sainte Suzanne vineyards. In older years the remainder was Carignan, more recently Cinsault and a little Mourvèdre. Around 13,000 bottles of Classe are made with their distinctive pink labels showing a diamond. I always think of Classe as having a slightly darker fruit profile than Vin Des Amis whilst retaining its charm and drinkability.

Le Vin Des Amis

VdA

The wine which was my first experience of Jeff’s wines and which blew away my preconceptions of good wine. It was the sheer vitality and energy of this Syrah and Grenache wine which impressed me. From the Metaierie or Sainte Suzanne vineyard it is made in similar quantity to Classe. The wine writer Jamie Goode described the 2012 as:

Rich, dense, vivid and pure. Quite backward with real grip under the vivid black fruits. Powerful and structure with amazing fruit quality, dominated by fresh blackberry and black cherries. 93/100

Whenever I share Vin Des Amis with people they always sing its praises and ask for it next time, it is well named. Another striking and unusual label gets it noticed but the fruity freshness are what makes people love it.

7, Rue De La Pompe

rue de la pompe

from wine anorak website

More Syrah from Segrairals with just a little Grenache from the same vineyard blended in. The different cuvées are based around different vinification methods as well as different parcels. The 2010 of Rue De La Pompe was a wine of the week for Jancis Robinson who also considered the 2012 as being like a northern Rhone wine with a bone dry profile. There are raspberry  and pepper notes and the trademark freshness and vivacity. 

Another large production in most years, around 10,000 bottles or so, it didn’t appear in 2014 because the Syrah was very low yielding that year and was used for the two big cuvées. The wine is called after Jeff’s address incidentally.

Sauvé De La Citerne

citerne

Citerne was another well known cuvée which did not appear in 2014. Largely Mourvèdre with some Grenache, again from Segrairals, this is wine which was originally made from grapes which Jeff didn’t use elsewhere, hence the name of the cuvée meaning saved from the tank. This was always one of my favourites with blackberry and blackcurrant flavours and an earthiness from the Mourvèdre. That cépage has done very well recently and was bottled as a single variety wine in 2014. Jeff has other plans for the Mourvèdre of 2015 with another cuvée planned mixed with Syrah and Cinsault, I have tasted it and it is lovely, very elegant and precise.

Sauvé De La Citerne will reappear with a 2015 however. It fits with the idea of making the cuvée from otherwise unused grapes that this year will see a blend of Grenache with a little Syrah. It will therefore be different but again my early tasting of it suggests a very attractive wine.

La Vigne Haute

This is probably my favourite cuvée of all and sadly it hasn’t appeared since 2013 and nor will it this year. Made purely from Syrah from the La Garrigue vineyard where the vines face northwards, this might explain the fresh acidity and vitality of La Vigne Haute. That acidity means that Vigne Haute ages extremely well and gains even more complexity. It is classic Syrah, red fruits and spice with great length and balance and beautiful aromas.  It would be my desert island wine.

There was a pure Syrah in 2014 and another is planned for 2015 but under a different name, it is lovely but I do miss Vigne Haute, fortunately I have quite a few bottles tucked away until it reappears (please).

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Jeff surveys the Vigne Haute vines

5SO Simple

 

5SO has quickly become established as a Coutelou favourite, around 7,000 bottles are made. Its name is a play on Cinsault and the wine is indeed pure Cinsault from the Segrairals vineyard. Designed as a light red, easy to drink it is delicious in summer slightly chilled and a great wine for drinking without food. Fresh cherry and raspberry flavours and a light structure make for a lovely wine. 

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Cinsault vine in Segrairals

 

Flambadou

 

Named after a barbecue tool Flambadou is pure Carignan from the vineyard Rec D’Oulette. It reappeared in 2013 and was also made in 2014 and 2015, made in smallish quantities as this is a small, low yielding vineyard. Jeff considered the 2013 as the star wine of that vintage and the 2014 is also amongst the best.

More full bodied than some of the other wines the Carignan brings dark fruit flavours and aromas. There is a brooding undertone of spice and plenty of red fruit freshness on the finish. Another wine which ages well. The vines are on an open parcel of ground so well exposed to the sun, the freshness a reflection of the healthy soils and skilled winemaking. Carignan is making a comeback in the Languedoc Roussillon and this is one of the best examples of why. Carignan enthusiast Michel Smith in his series on Carignan bottles praised Flambadou as follows, ” La bouteille a été vite vidée, ce qui est un bon signe”.

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The Rec D’Oulette vineyard

Flower Power

A relatively new addition to the Coutelou cannon. Flower Power is a true expression of terroir as this is a wine made from a variety of grapes from one parcel, Font D’Oulette (as the name suggests not far from where Flambadou originates). Jeff has begun to complant grape varieties more and more and to produce wine made from that mix of grapes. This is the first wine to show the results and it is a winner.  

Aramon and Oeillade Noir are just some of the grapes in the mix of Flower Power. Aramon was once one of the most planted of all grapes in the Languedoc but went out of fashion as it was often overcropped and dilute. Now vignerons are realising that when it is grown with lower yields Aramon produces flavoursome wine. Oeillade is also interesting, a grape related to Cinsault, another old Languedoc variety which Jeff wants to bring back. Just to add some mystery there are some Clairette Musquée grapes in here, a white grape.

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Font D’Oulette

Flower Power is lightly structured but packs a punch with flavours of black cherries and red fruits, and, appropriately, it is very aromatic, perhaps from the influence of the Clairette. As the vines age this will become more structured I would imagine but it is already a favourite.

In the last week La Revue Du Vin De France selected Flower Power as one of their top 50 Languedoc wines, an accolade from a source which does not usually favour natural wines.

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L’Oublié

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Now here is a fascinating wine. L’Oublié is a blend of cépages AND vintages. The wines are aged in old barrels, not the usual practice of the domaine. Carignan was the forerunner with some 2001 and then more Carignan 2007 and 2010 were added. Then Syrah joins the assemblage, grapes from 09, 10, 12 and 13. This blend forms L’Oublié, the forgotten one. I imagine this refers to the original 2001 Carignan barrel. 

It has aromas of dark fruits and leathery, spicy notes too. It is dark flavoured too, blackberries, liquorice and even coffee are just some of the many complex flavours. It benefits from decanting to allow that complexity to resolve itself a little, and it will stay fresh for days after opening. There are not many wines like this around and I honestly don’t know why. It is unusual and one of my favourite wines because of its complexity, its balance of older and more youthful flavours. Terrific.

Les Copains

coutelou_copains

roumegaire.com

 

This was a wine which used to be a regular but disappeared after the 2003 vintage. It reappeared in 2013 and became my favourite wine (or have I already chosen another?!). Cinsault is the grape but it is a more complex wine than 5SO Simple, richer, darker and more structured. The grapes come from the beautiful Rome vineyard and are from 40 – 50 year old gobelet vines which bring low yielding fruit, rich and elegant. The wine is recognisably Cinsault with cherry notes but it has attractive depth and power, very long flavours of red fruit and peppery / spicy too. Sadly 2015 did not bring enough fruit to make Copains so enjoy what is available, it is worth ageing a couple of years but difficult to resist now.

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Rome’s Cinsault vines

Other red cuvées are made for restaurants and and as one offs. A lovely pure Grenache was made in 2014 for example whilst Tete A Claques and Buvette A Paulette are others which appear from time to time.

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It is fair to say that Mas Coutelou is best known for its red wines but there are some very good white wines too. They make up around 15% of the vineyards made up of a multitude of white grape varieties.

PM Blanc

PM

vinogusto.com

The most regular of the white bottles though Jeff has started to experiment with various other blends and single variety wines. Most of the white grapes are grown in La Garrigue and Peilhan vineyards. PM usually contains Sauvignon Blanc from La Garrigue but assembled with other white grapes which are available such as Grenache Blanc, Macabeu, Muscat and Carignan Blanc. Dry, clean and full of flavour PM has texture and white fruits galore.

Single variety white wines in recent years have included, for example, Carignan Blanc from Peilhan. If Jeff feels that the grapes are of particularly high quality he will make a single variety wine. They always wear the mark of fresh acidity and the grape brings different fruit profiles, the Macabeu with aromatic yellow fruit for example. The Macabeu will appear from the 2015 vintage. I am a particular fan of Carignan Blanc and Jeff’s version was very clean, mineral and long lasting in flavour. This year he is combining it with Grenache Gris which did well in 2015 in Peilhan. Most of these white wines come in small quantities.

Car Blanc

Roberson Wines

Muscat grapes grow in Peilhan and Rome and appear in some white blends as well as PM RoséThe rosé is very aromatic and a dry wine, good with food and also on those hot, Languedoc summer days. It usually has juice from Syrah and Cinsault, pressed after a short time on skins. 

pm rose

Bibonade

Sparkling wines are also made at Mas Coutelou. Bibonade (think lemonade) has appeared in various forms, white and rosé and sometimes sweet! The dry version is fresh, clean and appley, a perfect quaffing wine and disappears very quickly after opening. There is usually Sauvignon Blanc, Muscat and some Grenache Blanc in there but again Jeff will play around with what he has available. This is my wife’s favourite wine!

Another sparkling wine which was popular in the 2013 vintage was Blanc Frisant. Macabeu and Grenache Gris grapes were bottled with a small quantity (8g) of sugar to encourage a second fermentation in the bottle. This produces a small quantity of CO2 bringing a light fizz when the bottle is opened.  It was wonderfully refreshing with citrus and spice flavours. It is another example of Jeff’s inventiveness and experimental nature.

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Carignan Blanc grapes in Peilhan

Sweet wines are made too, have a look at my article on the solera system.

So there we are, a huge array of different bottles, something for everyone. Fruit, freshness and drinkability are the hallmarks of Coutelou cuvées, they all contain those three qualities and many more. Jeff’s restless search for better wines means that the cuvées change every year (with two main exceptions). As he develops the cellar with more cuves available he will no doubt continue to produce new wines. As new plantations of grapes such as Riveyrenc, Terret, Morastel and Piquepoul Noir mature there will be even more variety. However, buy with confidence whatever is available is very good.

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