amarchinthevines

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


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On higher ground

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En francais

The last article described the ongoing problems in the Languedoc with mildew spoiling vines and grapes. Last Saturday Jeff  invited me over to try and beat the blues a little. Steve from Besançon was staying with Jeff for a week to learn a bit more about being a vigneron. They had opened a bottle of La Vigne Haute 2013 on the previous evening and Jeff invited me over to try the last glass from the bottle.

When I arrived on the Saturday morning Jeff was spraying the Flower Power vineyard, Font D’Oulette. When he had finished we returned to his house and I had the remaining 2013, delicious it was too, still youthful but starting to add tertiary notes to the fruit. Jeff decided to open the 2010 to show how age helps La Vigne Haute to reveal its quality and depth; fruit, spice and leathery complexity. A bottle demonstrating perfectly why La Vigne Haute is my favourite wine of all. However, that was not the end. From his personal cellar emerged a 2001 LVH with no label. Still vibrant with fruit singing and yet more complexity of spice, classic black pepper notes. Simply excellent.

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So, was that the end? Not at all.  More Syrah from older vintages, 1998, 1997 and 1993. Each was still alive with black fruit and those spicy notes. The 91 was Jeff’s first solo bottling, a real privilege to taste it. He had added, all those years ago, a total of 5mg of SO2, pretty much absorbed now, and would certainly qualify as natural wine from a time when it was virtually unknown. A treasure trove of history as well as further proof of how well these wines do mature, there were no off notes at all.  Indeed, they were delicious.

A 1999 Cabernet Sauvignon showed the quality of that grape from the region and how well it aged. There were still currant flavours, violets and more spice. A fresh acidity cleansed the palate. I hadn’t known what to expect, I was bowled over.

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Legendary Roberta

And to finish the 5 hour lunch a bottle of Roberta, the 2003 white wine made from all three Grenache grapes, one of Jeff’s first no added sulphite wines, aged in a special barrel which gives the wine its name. It is a treat I have tasted on a handful of special occasions, its nutty, round fruit was a perfect ending to a special day. Whatever 2018 brings this was a reminder of the special Coutelou wines.

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Tasting the 2017s

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Version francaise

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

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

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These were my notes on the evening.

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

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

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


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Vendanges 17 – the finishing line

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Version francaise

I started my coverage of the 2017 vendanges with racing terminology and, so, I finish in the same way.

It’s definitely over. Vendanges 2017 with all its quality, with so little quantity.

On September 27th the final press of the grapes was completed. It was the turn of the Cabernet Sauvignon, two weeks after picking. The skins, pips and other solids had done their work in giving up flavour, colour, tannins and so much more. The yeasts had started their work of fermentation. Now it was time to press before that grape must started to be problematic rather than beneficial.

The must was pumped from the cuve by the powerful pompe à marc directly into the press. Julien ensured that the press was filled in all corners and then the press began. It inflates a membrane inside which gently presses the must to extract the juice without releasing the more bitter, astringent tannins left in the skins and pips.

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Sediment after the must has gone to press

The grape variety (cépage) will determine the amount of pressure applied, Cabernet has small berries and thicker skins so needs a little more pressure than juicier, thinner skinned Cinsault for example.

 

The juice flows and is sent to another cuve to continue its fermentation, then its malolactic fermentation (which removes the more acid flavours). Indeed the analyses of the 2017 wines show that fermentations have gone through quickly, without fuss or problem. There is no sign of volatility or any other problem, the wines look on course to be as high quality as the grapes themselves. Which, of course, is the goal. Jeff believes in letting the grapes express themselves with as little intervention as possible. This year interventions are minimal, the grapes have done the work.

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Sadly, the quantities do not reflect the quality and that will bring a financial blow to the domaine and to virtually all domaines in the region. When you are asked to pay a few euros for a bottle of 2017 Mas Coutelou, I hope that you will recall all the work which I have described, the stresses and strains, the love and care which has gone into that bottle and you will consider it money well spent.


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Fraternité – Vendanges 17

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Version francaise

Last Monday (September 11th) we were joined at Mas Coutelou by winemakers Charlotte and Louis Pérot and of their friends. You might recall that their Cahors domaine L’Ostal is one which has appeared on these pages before. I first met Louis in spring 2015 at La Remise in Arles where I was taken by his wines and was eager to spread the word of how good they were. Happily Jeff agreed with my judgement and a friendship grew between the winemakers.

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Cabernet Sauvignon 2017

Sadly the spring of 2017 brought 3 nights of frost to the vines of L’Ostal damaging the young growth and buds, up to 80% of the vines were damaged meaning huge losses on the year. Jeff decided to help out and offered the Pérots the opportunity to come to Puimisson and take some Cabernet Sauvignon grapes to ensure they had more wine. I hasten to add that this was a gift, free of any charge, offered simply to help out a colleague and friend. I have heard of similar stories for other winemakers affected but it was humbling to see this fraternity in action for myself.

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Heading home

Louis and Charlotte picked around 60 cases and drove them back to Puy L’Evêque where I am sure they will make another very good wine. We actually opened one of their magnums the following day at lunch, and very good it was too. If you thought Cahors wines are too difficult I urge you to try and find one from L’Ostal, it will change your mind.

In a year when Jeff himself will lose up to 40% of his average production he showed no hesitation in helping out someone who was in a worse situation than himself. A mark of the man.


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…XYZ – Vendanges 17

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The last case of 2017, Julien looks happy!

In other words, the finish. Well, the finish of the picking. Tuesday September 12th was so much calmer than the previous day as the Cabernet Sauvignon from Segrairals arrived.

Thoughout the vendanges the grapes have been good, smaller than the norm because of the dryness, but in excellent health. The Cabernet was no exception. Sorting was all about snails and dry leaves rather than any problems with the grapes and the vat filled gradually, problem – free, as the day progressed. The stalks were brown showing the maturity of the bunches as the third érafloir of yesterday completed its job efficiently.

 

As we awaited the first cases Jeff and I went around some of the vats and took samples for analysis as well as tasting the wines. I wish that I could convey the bready aromas filling the cellar of the yeasts at work, they give such a sense of change, optimism, alchemy.

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Amongst the wines we tasted were two from 2016, Syrah and Grenache, which have been sparked back into fermentation by the very presence of this year’s grapes in the cellar. The process is truly amazing. The glass in the photo below shows the top Syrah from La Garrigue harvested two weeks ago, which just may become La Vigne Haute. It is a stunner.

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Quality across the board is undoubtedly high though Jeff is counting the cost of the quantity, his first estimates are that the overall yield will be around 39 hectolitres per hectare. Average years would give between 50 and 60 hl/ha.

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Joining us on the day was a  former student of Jeff and Vincent restaurateur Régis Lamazère and his wife and baby. Régis runs his autonymous restaurant in Berlin where Charles who was here for vendanges 2016 used to work.

After the grapes were in and the last cases sorted by Julien and Vincent it was time to start serious cleaning of all the equipment which will be put away for 2018. The picking may be over but the work never stops. A full programme of pressing, remontages etc is in place for the next week. Stay tuned.

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Selene and Matthie, remontage


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dRAW conclusions

Vionnet (RAW link)

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I had heard good reports about Karim Vionnet’s wines and I enjoyed the lighter non-oaked versions in particular. Du Beur Dans Les PInards 2015 had well balanced fruit and depth, very good Beaujolais. The light, straightforward Chiroubles ‘Vin De KaV’ 2015 would please anyone, though added sulfites seemed unnecessary.

Riberach (RAW link)

The Roussillon is home to many excellent winemakers and I had seen some rave reviews about Riberach so it was good to taste their wines at last. Riberach is a collection of grower, winemakers and others with 20ha of vines certified by Ecocert. I liked the wines in general especially the white wines. Hypothèse Rouge 2011 had good fruit and mineral mouthfeel but top for me was the Hypothèse Blanc 2014. The red is based on Carignan Noir, the white on Carignan Gris – a Carignan whitewash for me.

Château Massereau (RAW link)

The highlights of the Montpellier tastings in January included Chateau Meylet from St. Émilion and, perhaps, Bordeaux based wines are making a comeback in my affections as Chateau Massereau based in Barsac was a favourite here. Certainly the Sauternes wines were a real delight (La Pachère lighter than Cuvée M) but the reds were the core wines, I liked them all but especially the Cuvée Socrate 2009, picked early for freshness which shone in the glass. A word too for a really good Clairet 2015, weightier than a rosé with 48 hours of skin contact, fruity, light and delicious.

Gut Oggau (RAW link)

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Another Austrian producer makes my list, it really is a source of some of the best wines at present. I presume Eduard Tscheppe is somehow related to the excellent Andreas whose wines I have praised so often on here. Together with his partner Stephanie they make very attractive and drinkable wines. So popular that they ran out of wine early on the Sunday so I made a bee line for them on Monday morning. The Theodora (weiss) 2015 was very mineral but plenty of fruit too, complex and good. my other favourite was Emmeram 2015 made from Gewurztraminer, not everybody’s favourite grape but this was long, fruity, exotic and just a touch of residual sugar to add a pleasurable finish.

Meinklang (RAW link)

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Tasting with my good friend David Crossley

More from Austria and amongst the best of its producers, another to run out of wine early. Delicious Foam White 2015, a petnat with superb freshness and depth after 15 months on lees. Graupert Pinot Gris 2015 had chewy fruit (2 weeks on skins) and a lovely clean finish. The two Konkret wines (raised in concrete eggs) were particularly good, proof that ageing wines in this style does work well. The white had lovely peachy aromas and long fruit, the red was clear, direct and long. The Zweigelt 2015 was a highlight, beautiful precise fruit and a mineral, clean finish. I should also praise the delicious Foam Cider.

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So much did I like the wines and cider from Meinklang that I immediately ordered some.

Batic (RAW link)

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I tried wines from quite a few East European producers and was a bit disappointed by them. However, Batic, a Slovenian producer, was outstanding. A lovely 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon but the real star was Angel 2011 a blend of 7 varieties complanted in the vineyard, 31 days on skins and 4 years in barrel. How does that make such a light, fruity, pleasurable wine? I don’t know but it was a terrific wine.

I Mandorli (RAW link)

Excellent Italian wine based on Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon. Freshness was the hallmark of the wines. Particular favourites were Vigna Alla Sughera Rosso 2013, lovely sharp cherry flavours. The Vigna Al Mare 2013 had real Cabernet profiles of blackcurrant. Vino Rosso Base 2014 was a light blend of the 2 grapes and very drinkable.

Conclusions

A very good tasting offering the opportunity to taste wines from many countries. Natural wines are on the up, producers emerging not just in the traditional hotspots of France and Italy. One well-known wine writer recently suggested in a description of one wine that natural wine is a fashion. Apparently she is unaware that they have been made for almost 40 years, they are no fad. More producers, more customers, more restaurants – the demand for natural grows every month.

I remain unconvinced by amphorae, some producers are mastering the technique but there is a lot of clumsy, inexperienced use at present. Concrete eggs on the other hand do seem to be more sympathetic to the wine.

Most producers at RAW were certified organic or biodynamic. It is important that consumers should be confident that their wine is really natural. The wine described by the critic was made SO2 free but not organic, to my mind (and in RAW’s charter) that would not be a natural wine. I also did wonder why some producers continue to feel the need to add sulfites to the wine.

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Natural wines are here to stay, they will hopefully become known as simply very good wines. The wines described in the last 3 articles should help to provide many examples of such very good wines. And that is without covering the wines of such illuminati as Cornelissen, Gravner and Texier.


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RAW too

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And so to the wines at RAW which contain sulfites above 20mg/l, in other words sulfites added. Reading Alice Feiring’s book ‘Naked Wine’ she tells of how the founding father of natural wine Jules Chauvet used SO2 as do some of the movement’s well-known figures such as Foillard and Puzelat if they feel they need to do so in order to protect that particular wine. Natural wine is about more than just sulfites though its reputation seems to be bound with that additive. RAW’s own charter is worth reading on the subject.

I did enjoy many wines at RAW which are above my artificial 20mg/l mark. There are a dozen domaines worthy of mention so I shall be brief in describing them. Again I refer you to the RAW website for more information (via links) and also to David Crossley’s website for more detailed descriptions on some.

Vinca Minor (RAW link)

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Sonoma Chardonnay (from domaine website)

Confounding all my prejudices about big, sweet California wines this domaine’s hallmark was freshness and a light touch. Whether a peach aroma Sonoma Valley Chardonnay 2016 or a juicy, red fruit Redwood Valley Carignan 2015 and even a Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 Santa Cruz Mountains – all these wines delivered everything you’d want in flavour and drinkability together with some complexity. Together with The Scholium Project I am converted to West Coast wines.

Okanagan Crush Pad (RAW link)

And Canada too. This is an interesting project where as well as making their own wine new winemakers are helped to make theirs too. Read more at the link above. Their Haywire wines were very good, providing an interesting contrast for me. As stated before I am not the biggest fan of extended skin contact wines, but here was a Free Form Sauvignon Blanc 2015 of 9 months maceration which was fruity as well as having texture, very good. I preferred it to a more traditionally made Pinot Gris. On the other hand the red skin contact was outshone by a beautifully fresh Water And Banks Pinot Noir 2015, classic grape character with red fruits and an earthy crunch. Lovely.

Vins Du Jura Thill (RAW link)

Jura wines are very on trend and with good reason, there are many excellent wines being produced there. I visited the region 20 years ago when Jura wines were hard to find because nobody was interested, now they are hard to find because they are in demand. I have had the good fortune to taste many excellent producers before including La Pinte, present at RAW. This domaine was new to me however, and another name to add to my list of must buys.

The Crémant Cuvée Adrian 2014 would certainly fit nicely into any occasion, refreshing tasty sparkling Chardonnay. The Chardonnay Sur Montboucon 2015 was even better with round , green and yellow fruits, great character. Perhaps my favourite wine was the Poulsard 2014, very light like a rosé in colour but packing dense rose and red fruit aromas and long red fruit flavours. One of my wines of the event. A word too for Vinum Paléas 2015, Éric’s straw wine with a slight honey note but dry and refreshing. Skilled winemaking.

Yves Duport (RAW link)

I don’t recall drinking wines from Bugey before. I will again. Again wines marked by a freshness and pure fruit . A lovely, fresh Chardonnay les Côtes 2016– more direct and zesty than the Jura style but a good food wine. The Pinot Noir Tradition 2016 made another comparison with the Jura and again it was more direct, good red fruits, ripe and clean. My favourite was the Altesse De Montagnieu “en Chinvre” 2016 which is quite a mouthful! Roussette is the grape and there was a grapefruit, citrus attack with a soft finish, really good.

It really is good to see a region fighting back led by a producer who lets nature speak.

Le Vignoble Du Rêveur (RAW link)

I was delighted to bump into Mathieu Deiss again. I have met him at a couple of tastings before when he was showing the wines of the family domaine with his father at the helm. I love those wines and their philosophy of place rather than grape. He is a passionate young winemaker and I am happy, but not surprised, to say that his own wines are crackers too.

Singulier is a blend of various white grapes, mostly Riesling made by carbonic maceration. The 13 was nice but the 15 was even better, singing with zesty fruit and character with mo SO2 either. It was another skin contact wine which made sense adding that characteristic texture to the fruit. Vibration 2013 was a Riesling with quite the best aromas of any wine at the Fair. Classic Riesling, zesty and long fresh flavours which grew in the mouth. Pierres Sauvages 2013 is a blend of Pinots; Blanc, Gris and Noir but made as a white wine so no long skin contact with the Noir grapes. This filled the senses, it is still developing in bottle I would say, lovely.

Hauts Baigneux et les Tètes (RAW link)

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To the Loire, that hotbed of natural wine and another new domaine to me based in Azay Le Rideau. I liked the reds but Loire reds are often a blindspot for me and it was the white wines which really stuck out, based on Chenin Blanc. The Azay Le Rideau ‘Les Chênes’ 2015 was a classic Loire white with zest and minerality, textured and fruity. I also liked the Blanc Chenin 2015 made in concrete eggs which seemed to have a richer depth. More young winemakers making an impact, the future looks good.

Chandon de Briailles (RAW link)

I have bought wines from this domaine in the past and was pleased to see them here at RAW. This is a classic Burgundy domaine and I love good Burgundy. No disappointments here, lovely Savigny and Pernand Vergelesses but there were two stand out wines. Corton Blanc 14 was a reminder of why Chardonnay in Burgundy can be just about perfect. The aromas and flavours seemed to have limitless depth, from apple and green fruits to rich, round hazelnuts. A stunner. And the Corton Bressandes Grand Cru 2014, just makes me smile thinking of it. Still a baby, but delivering forest aromas, dark red fruits, earthy notes – it’s one of those Pinot Noirs which just says this is as good as red wine gets. Tannins aplenty still but in a few years? I would love a supply of these to follow the wine’s progress. Top class biodynamic wine with producers cutting back on sulfites too. Love it.

Wines from classic old world regions and new world upcoming areas too. The world of wine is embracing natural wine.

Final selections soon.