amarchinthevines

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


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Sparkling Coutelou

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Leon snaps, Jeff pops

Version francaise

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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Mas Coutelou 2015 (Part 2)

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En français

Thursday, August 11th was the last day before Jeff shut up shop for a few days as he does every year to celebrate the Béziers Féria. A few days of rest and recuperation before the preparations really start for the vendanges. As he had received a number of requests for visits Jeff decided to group them all together and have a tour of the vines and tasting with lunch.

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Visitors from Grenoble, Orléans and Nanterre assembled at the cave along with my friend and sommelier Sandra Martinez and we set off around some of the vineyards. Jeff explained his philosophy and vineyard work and it’s worth repeating a couple of points of note. I mentioned the problem of vers de la grappe a few weeks ago which Jeff treated with a spraying of clay to discourage the moth from laying its eggs. We found a bunch in La Garrigue which was affected and Jeff opened it up to reveal the cocoon of the larvae.

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Vers de la grappe cocoon

He also explained how bats are the ideal solution and why he provides shelters, each bat would eat around 2,000 insects a day including the moths responsible for vers de la grappe.

We also looked around at the majority of vineyards and their dark green colour at a time when the vine is putting its resources into the grapes to get them to maturity, as that is how they reproduce. So, in a natural state the leaves start to look pale and tired as the vine is not channelling energy into the leaves. The dark green, attractive vines are so coloured because of the nitrogen feeds and, in some cases, irrigation.

We returned to the domaine where we were joined by a group of wine professionals. In the garden we tasted a range of Mas Coutelou wines as well as some lovely salads and (for the carnivores) some charcuterie.

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Jeff leads the tasting accompanied by his sister and niece

The list of wines shared, all from 2015 except the last, was: Bibonade (rosé and white), Peilhan Blanc, Maccabeu, OW1, 5SO Simple, Sauvé De La Citerne, On Peut Pas Vraiment Dire Que, Classe, La Buvette À Paulette, Flower Power, Flambadou, L’Oublié, Devigne Qui Vient Diner, 5J

I missed the Bibonades and Peilhan as I was getting the Maccabeu from tank. I had a bottle of Peilhan at home recently though and it was lovely, really strong evidence of the quality of 2015. All apples and pears and fresh acidity with a long finish. Even by Coutelou standards it is an exceptional wine.

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Maccabeu

The Maccabeu is, if anything, even better. Cooked apple and cinnamon flavours, fresh acidity, almost smoky. There is so much going on here and, as the jug I collected the wine in was in front of me, I kept being drawn back to it through lunch. The wine changed and opened out with more fruit and spice. This will develop beautifully when it is bottled, a stunner, my new favourite.

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OW1 is Jeff’s first skin contact wine. He was reluctant to join the trend and didn’t want an orange wine but this spent plenty of time on skins, I remember Cameron and I carrying out a manual pigeage. Now bottled the wine has texture and tannins from that skin contact but there is plenty of fruit and remains balanced and fresh. Very good.

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Manual pigeage of OW1

5SO was on good form. The boisterous, chatty group became quiet for the first time, captured by its fruit profile and drinkability on a hot summer’s day, which essentially is what it was designed to do.

Citerne was one I didn’t have last week and it had been some time since I had tasted it. It showed well, the Mourvedre adding a real plummy depth. Another wine which will emerge in coming months, another to look forward to. OPPVDQ was on great form, another to quieten the crowd. It confirmed my opinion that this is a wine which will really benefit from some time in bottle, hang on to some if you have them. La Buvette À Paulette was last week’s big surprise and another bottle confirmed the pleasure, really showing its quality.

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Flower Power not yet properly labelled. What a colour!

Flower Power took some time to come around but now that it has done so I can confirm that this will strengthen the reputation which it earned in its first vintage in 2014. The vineyard is still young and will continue to improve the wine it delivers, if the snails leave it alone. The ten grape varieties give a complex story of light and shade, red and dark fruits, floral and sappy.

Flambadou was once again a star, showing the lightness of touch in this Carignan. Jeff describes it as like a Pinot Noir. There is depth and character packed into quite a light structure. The vineyard has a light layer of limestone beneath the fine clay and it is this limestone which adds the complexity to the wine. A grand cru of Carignan.

L’Oublié and its story once again captured the imagination of everyone, its secondary flavours beguiling the tastebuds. Devigne Qui Vient Diner is the wine which Jeff made in partnership with Christian Venier from the Loire, Gamay added to some Languedoc grapes such as Cinsault. My, this has improved with a few months in bottle (magnum), really delivering a rounder more harmonious blend with zappy fruit and lovely sweet fruit.

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Finally 5J the Grenache Gris from 2012 aged in barrel made to reflect a Spanish fino to accompany the best hams. Oxidised notes, barrique notes and a flash of clean fruit, quince and apple.

A great day, much longer than most were expecting but nobody showed any signs of fatigue or willingness to depart. Many joined us in the cave des soleras to taste some of the old wines there. And poignantly, some wine of Jean-Claude on what would have been his 80th birthday. His legacy will live on.

I enjoyed reading the Facebook post of one of the visitors Benoit who described Jeff as a magician and an artist. The day was a success.

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It’s A Kind Of Magic

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En français

Saturday June 4th was supposed to be the Festival De Magie in Puimisson, a family magic show. Sadly it had to be postponed until September as, around 5.30pm, a huge thunderstorm broke over the area. Booming thunder and heavy rain were the main features as Puimisson and the wider region were treated to an alternative fireworks display to that scheduled in the Festival. Yet 2 hours later the skies were clear, the streets were dry again.

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Flooded roads

Four of us though were treated to a magical evening. Jeff welcomed Cedric who runs the best website on French natural wines at vinsnaturels.fr (and I don’t say that because he chose one of my photographs on the opening page!) It gives great detail about vignerons, technical details about their wines and where they can be bought. His friend Ghislain was with him, another natural wine expert and promoter in the Grenoble area. Pat and I were invited along too and it was a real pleasure to meet up with them, they proved to be excellent company.

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We were treated to 7 hours of tasting with Jeff in the cellars and at his home. And there was no question that Jeff is a true magician, conjuring up an amazing range of wines and of such a consistently high standard. I may be biased as he is my friend but the demand for his wines proves I am not alone in thinking so.

We tasted all of the 2015 wines, those in bottle and already sold, those just bottled and those in tank and barrel. Whites, rosé, reds, sparkling and selection de grains nobles. Plus many wines from previous years in barrel and bottle. Before moving to the solera cave to taste, amongst others, the Grenaches wine I made. Hand on heart there was not one dud wine and there were many special wines.

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Amongst white wines the Maccabeu and the macerated wine we bottled the previous day were showing well. So too the Bibonade sparkling wines, white and rosé. 5SO Simple was on form from the early wines alongside Vin Des Amis.

Of the next wave of wines, Classe was outstanding, Jeff thinks maybe the star of 2015. Tête À Claques was good, a blend of VdA and Syrah; Buvette À Paulette too, a blend of Mourvèdre and Cabernet Sauvignon. Flambadou will be excellent, it needs time but has all the ingredients to be especially good, just as it has been the last few years.

One wine which was noteworthy was Flower Power. This is the red produced from the complanted Font D’Oulette vineyard with its Aramon, Clairette Musquée, Cinsault, Oeillade and six other cépages. Its first vintage in 2014 won plaudits even from the conventional press. The 2015 I had tasted on Thursday and it was in a dumb moment, Jeff actually carried out a soutirage on Friday and by this Saturday evening it was singing. For me, this could be the star of 2015.

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Flower Power’s complanted vineyard

Ghislain had brought some cheeses from Meilleur  Ouvrier De France Bernard Ravaud. They were superb cheeses including a truffled comté which shall live long in the memory. Jeff opened one of the 2012 barrel aged 5J which I wrote about recently, and it is a great marriage with cheeses.

We moved to the solera cellar where we tasted some of the old Muscats and Grenaches. However, it was also good to taste my Grenaches wine from all three of its containers, the new 60l barrel, the old 30l barrel and the 27l glass bottle. As before the older barrel has a sweeter, fruitier profile whilst the new barrel gives a slightly leaner, more complex wine. The glass bottle is all sweet fruit and still fermenting! It was good to hear Cedric, Ghislain and Pat all give their approval.

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My Grenaches from new barrel

The hours flew by, always the sign of a good night. Thirty wines or so, Jeff just keeps bringing them out from up his sleeve. Or have I just given away a magic secret?

On Wednesday June 8th more visitors to the cellar. Paco Mora of La Cave D’Ivry and a friend of his Charlotte, a caviste in Montpellier, visited. I have mentioned Paco before on here and I would love to visit his Cave. He takes time and trouble to visit the winemakers whose wines he stocks and to offer his support. He’s passionate about wine and good fun as well as having a keen social conscience. We shared wines, laughs and lunch and two more great wines.

La Vigne Haute 2010 was lovely, showing maturity, the Syrah fruit now brooding and dark with great length and depth. LVH has always been my favourite cuvée but even this had to bow down before Flambadou 2007. Pure Carignan, more leathery and plummy notes with a smooth as silk chocolate finish. If anyone tells you natural wines cannot age then I would ask you to quote this bottle as proof that not only can they age but they can become truly great! Spellbinding.

And even time for a little levitation. Told you it was magic.

 

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A la cave

En français

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I even set my mother and sister to work picking off snails last week

Snails and vandals aside there have been plenty of positives at Mas Coutelou in recent weeks, not least in the cellar. The beams in the photograph below have been strengthened with iron as some of the wood beams were no longer in contact with the wall!

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Before the changes

 

We saw recently the removal of the large, old press which used to dominate the top end of the cellar next to the cement tanks. Jeff has also removed a huge fibre glass tank which took up a lot of space. 145 hectolitres in size, it was now redundant as Jeff prefers to use smaller tanks for fermentation and maturation. Incidentally 145hl is almost 20,000 bottles of wine!

The photograph shows the number of doors in the cement tanks which have been divided to allow smaller amounts of wine. These two empty spaces now leave much more room in the cellar for all the machinery needed, during the vendanges for example. Jeff told me that the cellar had taken shape in 1956 so these are the first major changes in 60 years.

 

The floor has also been renovated with drains updated too. The surface you see in the photos from last week will be covered with resin, more practical in a wine cellar.

One of the more popular cuvées has also been the focus of work. Bibonade is a sparkling wine, white and rosé. This PetNat style is very refreshing but requires work just as any sparkling wine.

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The fermentation in the bottle creates some residue which needs to be removed. The residue can be seen in the neck of the bottle as they are placed in these wooden frames known as pupitres (desks). Once the lees have gathered next to the capsule the bottle is opened so that they explode out with the force of the carbon dioxide made from fermentation. The bottle is then topped up and resealed.

Definitely a cuvée to enjoy, my wife’s favourite Coutelou wine for example.

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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

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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

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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. 

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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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