amarchinthevines

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


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Assemblage

Thierry measures proportions of the component wines

I am aware of publishing posts all too rarely this year. I don’t post unless I have something to say which I feel may be worthy of your time though you may argue that the quality assurance fails sometimes! The vast majority of posts are about my time working alongside Jeff Coutelou and relating what is happening at his Puimisson domaine. Indeed this is the first year I can recall when I will have spent not one minute in France. Restrictions around COVID-19 made it impossible to spend time with him in 2020 so I have posted updates from Jeff as well as more general posts.

So, what news from the Languedoc? After vendanges the wines complete fermentation and settle in the various tanks for 2-3 months before Jeff makes final decisions about what to do with each of them. The large cement tanks are filled with one grape variety and often from one vineyard, e.g. Syrah from Sainte Suzanne is separate from Syrah of Peilhan. Though Jeff makes some wines from one grape, known as monocépage (5SO Simple for example), he is best known for his wines made from different varieties, Classe, Le Vin Des Amis being the best known.

Bottling with the cement tanks in the background

In order to give these blended wines (assemblages) time to truly mix and marry their flavours and textures it is usually in November that Jeff will make the decisions about what to blend. Last week was the right time, fermentations completed, wines maturing. Thierry, his analyst, joined Jeff to try different blendings. They tasted the various wines, then mix together the typical assemblages for the wines, Classe for example will contain Grenache and Syrah. So they tried different percentages mixed and then judge whether the wine would benefit from another component, perhaps some Cinsault for freshness or some Mourvedre for body. Having played around with various blends they agreed upon the final blend.

An assemblage when I was there in 2016

Some wines will remain in tank, a new blend of those might be put together or they may be used for a small amount of single variety wine. I have been involved in these tastings and though it is fun it is also very important and serious as the decision is final, once the wines are put together there is no going back. Get it wrong and the customer may not like the wine. From there, of course, Jeff will have to physically move the wines, thousands of litres at a time from one tank to another and make the assemblage. There they will settle over winter and spring ready for bottling at some point next year. 2020 wines, a good harvest, promising well for a year which needs something to rescue it.

My Coutelou 2019 purchases

Meanwhile the wines of 2019 which were delayed by slow fermentations have reached the market. Bottling took place before vendanges in order to free up the tanks for the 2020 wines and during October thousands of bottles were habillées (labelled and capsuled). This is hard work, lots of carrying heavy boxes. It is also repetitive but an opportunity for the team to talk and joke together (as well as sampling the odd bottle, purely for more quality assurance of course). Jeff told me that over 32,000 bottles went out in one week and I acted quickly to snap some up from French suppliers as my usual source has been denied me this year. I noticed that the Coutelou wines remain amongst the cheapest on any website, below 10 euros in some cases. And today when I checked one site had already run out of 5SO Simple. I have opened a couple of the bottles so far but will give a fuller tasting when I have opened all of the different cuvées.

I will be posting more regularly this month with not just those tasting notes but also with my choices of recent wines and wines of the year. It has been a pleasant surprise to see reading figures actually go up in recent weeks and months, perhaps the less I write the better it is! But thank you.


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Back To The Future

Version francaise

I promised two updates from Puimisson with news with Jeff Coutelou but, first of all, a follow up from last time. Jeff tells me that fine weather has held back any outbreak of mildew though more rain is forecast this weekend. He cannot touch the soils and the grass and flowers which have grown around the vines as that would certainly trigger the mildew spores which live in the soil. This growth will compete with the vines for nutrients and, if Jeff has to leave it in place all year, for fear of triggering disease, then it will lower the yields.

All is not bleak however. Jeff was enjoying the sunshine last week and the vines’ lush growth. He has also assembled an interesting team to help work in the vines, local people who can work safely without travelling. There is an ex seminarian, a teacher, a young man wanting to learn about winemaking, a scientist and others. Sadly, not me.

Fermentations finishing, 2020

Last years’ wines stalled towards the end of their fermentations at the end of 2019 but the warmer temperatures of Spring rectified that, reawakening the fermentations and the wines are now completed and settled. The various wines have been assembled into the blends which Jeff wanted for the 2019 cuvées. They will rest, be bottled in the next few months but not for sale until much later in the year.

Part of the blending record, giving nothing away!

Most exciting though, there has been a lot of looking to the future. A new plantation of mainly Aramon and Mourvedre with smaller amounts of Aramon Blanc and Servant, an old Languedoc variety which is very little planted. Yet another addition to the Coutelou catalogue, reversing the long term decline in plantings of the grape (down to just 75 hectares in 2011.)

Other work has been done to put up the stakes and wires for plantations from the last couple of years, for example in the parcel next to Sainte Suzanne which had been fallow for years and in Segrairals, shown in the photo below.

And Jeff has been looking still further into the future. When he retires Jeff intends to move to St. Chinian where part of the Coutelou family had their traditional home. The 4 hectares of vines which were there have been grubbed up and replanted with the varieties of the area (and no doubt some typical Jeff extras) as well as trees such as oak and olive, shrubs and plants too. This was a major task and timed for Jeff’s birthday too as plants and vines are what excite him.

So, the virus has undoubtedly altered the way that Jeff has had to do things but, happily, it hasn’t brought the domaine to a halt. The vines are growing well, there will be a 2020 vintage. And there is plenty to look forward to once we are past this.


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The Forgotten art of assemblage

 

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One of the more interesting wines at Mas Coutelou is L’Oublié. It is also one of my favourite wines. On Thursday, June 9th Jeff called in his oenologue, Thierry Toulouse, to help to decide on the blending (assemblage) of the new version of L’Oublié.

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So what is L’Oublié? It is a blend of grapes just like the vast majority of Languedoc wines and, indeed, Mas Coutelou wines. However, it is also a blend of wines from different years. For example the Carignan is a blend of wine from 2001, 2007 and 2010 which has been stored and aged in a barrel called a demi muid. Add in a similar blend of Grenache and Syrah from different years and then other wines to add even more complexity and depth. The name means ‘the forgotten one’ referring to the original barrel of wine which had been, well, forgotten.

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This is how I described L’Oublié in my article about the Coutelou cuvées:

“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.”

It is the mix of darker flavours with the hallmark Coutelou freshness which really appeals to me about this wine. So, how is it made?

Jeff had taken samples from the demi muid barrels of old Carignan, Grenache and Syrah and also samples of other wines which he had, for example Copains 2013. This is a pure Cinsault, from Rome vineyard, released in 2014 but Jeff had aged some of it in barrel too. Younger wines were on the table too, available to be used. We tasted these separately first to get a feel of the flavours which would be in the mix. Frankly, the barrel aged Copains was so good I’d have made a wine just of that!

Using the base wines of the old blends the oenologue measured out the proportions based on the quantities of each wine available for the final cuvée.

The wine was left to mix for a few minutes and then we tasted. The first was very good but, perhaps, edging a little too much towards the dark side of flavours. So, some 2015 wine was added to freshen it up and … voilà. The characteristics of previous versions of L’Oublié but made with newer wines on top of the base wines.

 

The decision on the blend made, Jeff then set about blending the components together in tank where it will sit for a while to marry together. This will be bottled at a future date, yet to be determined as it depends upon when the wine is ready. It will tell Jeff the right moment. Yet another wine to look forward to.

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The secret code of L’Oublié

If you don’t want to take my word for how good L’Oublié is then here are other reviews and tasting notes:

http://www.lsfinewines.co.uk/acatalog/Mas_Coutelou.html

http://www.leblogdolif.com/archive/2011/12/05/grain-grain-le-petit-raisin-gnan-gnan.html


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The Falling Leaves

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Vine leaves which will become compost in the vineyard

Version française

Autumn is often a melancholy time as the days shorten, temperatures drop and the first signs of winter approach. And yet 2015 in the Languedoc has seen a most untypical autumn. Last week the warmest November day ever was recorded and we have enjoyed blue skies, warm sunshine and hot afternoons, 26°C has been regularly seen on our garden thermometer. The resulting sunshine has produced the most breathtaking scenery, with colours across a wide spectrum of autumn. As I wrote on the Out And About page, every time you turn a corner there is another heart stopping view.

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The vines are now closing down, preparing for winter. Their fruit has gone except for a few overlooked grapes which the birds, wasps and insects have been enjoying. Their leaves are shedding and the skeleton of the vine stands out again for the first time since early May, their form revealed, cordon or guyot for example.

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       First taille of autumn 2015, guyot vines

Indeed, some vignerons have actually started to prune again ready for 2016. I suspect they are working to a pre-prepared timetable as the vines have been slow to lose their leaves and still show some life. At Mas Coutelou the taille will not take place until next year and most top vignerons will leave it until then, just before the growing season. The extra wood helps to protect against frosts for example. Some vignerons are starting to cavailloner, in other words to move earth from between the rows of vines towards the plants themselves, the extra soils will again act as a blanket against the frosts.

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       Puimisson basks in autumn sunshine

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Dew on some Grenache Blanc grapes left behind in Rome

Other jobs remain to be done. After the months of busy vineyard work and harvest it is a time for sending wine to be sold. Pallets have left Puimisson to cavistes and restaurants around the world. Last Friday, November 6th, they set off to Germany, Finland and various regions of France. More have already gone to New York, London, Melbourne amongst many cities.

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The season of salons has started in earnest too. This weekend I was in the Roussillon for La Bande De Latour, highlighting many of the best natural wines of the Roussillon and elsewhere.

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The following day I was in Autignac for a tasting of some of the best Faugères wines and also their fines or brandies. I shall post about these soon. I was talking to the excellent Hausherrs, vignerons who had driven to the Pyrenees from Alsace for La Bande, a long, long way. Hard work.

In the next few weeks Jeff will be starting to assemble the wines for the main cuvées of 2015, the likes of Classe and Vin Des Amis. Decisions to be made about what proportions of which cuves to blend for the wines. Sadly, I shall miss this process as we head back to the UK for a wedding. Into every life a little rain must fall.

It has been a beautiful autumn, the weather and the vendanges have made it a magical time. Thanks as ever to Jeff for allowing me to share the experiences and insights of the season.

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