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


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From vine to wine – Vendanges 17

There are numerous different tasks during the vendanges, I thought I’d expand on a few as I reflect on the last two days. Both Thursday and Friday began with lovely sunrises over the vines as we picked, almost worth the early start to the day.

Picking was done by the half dozen Moroccan workers who work non-stop and chatter away even faster. This year there was a more stable team working with Jeff, on previous vendanges there has been a core of people with lots of others coming to spend a couple of days and then moving on. Many of these did sterling work, such as Thomas and Charles, but with an unchanging team for three weeks progress has been smooth.

In the vineyard Julien and Vincent took charge along with Selene, Max, Roxane, Ambroise and  Jeremy. Michel ferried the grapes to the cellar where Jeff controls the process of turning fruit into wine. The team (including myself) would also help out in the cellar as needed, Jeff aiming to give opportunities to learn about the winemaking process to everyone. Ever the teacher.

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This photo shows Roxane, Selene and Max picking Carignan. Roxane is cutting the bunches whilst Selene and Max carefully sort through their bunches to remove anything untoward such as insects, leaves, rotten or dried berries. On the other side of the vines are other pickers to ensure everything is taken. The bunches go into buckets and when they are filled they are emptied into the cases stored under the vine.

Michel arrives in the vineyard and drives between two rows to collect the cases, often supported by Julien. The grapes are returned to the cellar as quickly as speed limits allow, unloaded and subjected to further sorting.

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In the photo below Ambroise is checking for anything which escaped the pickers or fell into the cases whilst waiting to be collected. This year the grapes have been very healthy and so no need for the sorting table to be used. However, snails often sneak into the bunches and cases seeking some nourishment in the very dry weather.

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The bunches are either pressed immediately, eg for white wine or sent to vat. In the latter case they will be destemmed first or sent as whole bunches depending on the style of wine Jeff decided will be most suited to the grapes. They will spend a day or two there before the process of debourbing or délestage. The juice has now been sitting on the skins, flesh and pips which form a cap on the top of the juice or sink to the bottom of the vat. Délestage involves removing the juice from this mass when it has absorbed as much colour, flavour, tannin as Jeff deems optimal. The juice heads to a new tank to recover. In the video below you will see that it passes through a machine which cools down the juice. Fermentation produces a lot of heat, too much can bring problems which would spoil the wine. That is the main reason why Jeff also invested in new temperature controlled stainless steel tanks this year, especially for white wines.

The fermentation begins promptly, the healthy yeasts produced by the grapes themselves triggers the process of turning grape juice and its sugars into alcoholic wine. Odours of bread making and fresh fruits fill the cellar, hints of the pleasures of Mas Coutelou 2017 wines ahead.

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Skins after pressing

Meanwhile, after pressing the grapes skins are recovered from the press itself and put into a large container. There they will ferment and produce the base for brandy and spirits, nothing is wasted.

More interesting varieties were harvested these two days. Top left above is Muscat D’Alexandrie, large oval grapes tasting of pure grape juice. Carignan Blanc is one of my favourite white grapes from the region, it makes dry, complex wines. The middle row shows Carignan and Cinsault picked these days. Last but certainly not least, Castets is a rare red variety, less than 1 hectare in the world and much of that is in Peilhan. Sadly, it too has been hit by the dry summer, lovely quality but lacking in volume, a summary of this vintage.

And, after a hard day for some of us my T shirt shows the fruit of the day. Whilst Icare takes things at his own pace.


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Under starter’s orders

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Le patron earlier tending his vines

Version francaise

Other than wine my main interest is horse racing and I couldn’t help feeling a similarity as I toured the vineyards at Mas Coutelou this morning. The trainer has prepared his charges to the best of his ability throughout the year, faced up to problems of weather and disease, been up all night tending them and must now carefully select when they are at their peak for the big challenge ahead. Meanwhile his assistants and stable hands gather together, friends old and new to lend a hand to the master and to learn from him.

Old Cinsault vines of Rome

OK, maybe I am getting carried away. However, there is a feeling on the eve of my 4th vendanges of excitement that the race is on to bring in the best possible harvest from the grapes. Through winter, spring and early summer all went well, the rain came, the sun shone, the vines grew well. Latterly there have been setbacks it must be said. There has been next to no rain since June and the ground is once more parched. Some of the vines are stressed and their sap has lowered. This means that instead of concentrating energy into the grapes and ripening them fully the vines are protecting themselves. That is a real shame as everything was set for a top class vintage, now we have to wait and see what the next few weeks bring along. Rain is currently absent from the weather forecast, let’s hope that the meteorologists are mistaken.

Flower Power and ‘friends’

That said as I toured the vines I was impressed by the quality of the grapes. Yes the vines look tired, they should at this time of year as they ought to be giving everything to the fruit rather than the plant.

The grapes though look healthy, big bunches in the Carignan vineyard (above) for example though there is still some greenness in the juice and the pips. The Muscat is yellow, orange and flecked with gold and tastes very characteristic with its floral, sweet notes. They will be harvested on Friday, the Carignan in weeks to come.

Ones to follow? Well, in Peilhan the Castets looked lovely and tasted even better. Flower Power has so much more fruit this year though the snails are still present. The Grenache of La Garrigue, Syrah of Sainte Suzanne and the splendid old Cinsault vines of Rome would be my tips for future winners. There will be others which will surprise and delight, and hopefully few will prove lame and disappointing. (That racing metaphor just won’t go away!)

 

Meanwhile back at the cellar; cleaning, checking the equipment (the large press being serviced above) and even bottling the skin contact Carignan Blanc which James took charge of last year.

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James served his time here in Puimisson, learned and has just completed his first vendanges with his own wines in the Adelaide hills in Australia. Vincent’s vines in the Béarn are easing towards maturity, Julien has his vines here in the Languedoc. The team are back in Puimisson though, together with Michel and myself. And joining us this year is Ambroise from the Loire, come to learn too (in the photo with Vincent).

And even Jeff will be learning as two new arrivals from Spain will mean a new form of vinification this year. They will take their place alongside the (much) smaller amphora dating back to Julius Caesar which was donated to Jeff during the winter.

So we are under starter’s orders, Jeff will press the button on Thursday morning and we’ll be off. Let’s hope for a classic year.


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Mas Coutelou 2016

Version francaise

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Tasting September 27th

It was a year of difficulties as I have reported on here many times. From a virtually arid winter and spring to a chilly early summer and then a very hot summer the vines had a struggle to cope with the bizarre climate. Add in a hail storm, snails eating away large numbers of grapes and mildew. No surprise then that the quantity of wine produced was much reduced, bottles will be much scarcer than previous years – so when you get the chance buy them. If quantity is down then what about quality?

I have had the good fortune to taste through the range of wines on two occasions. On September 27th the wines were in their infancy settling in tank, the team got together to gain first impressions. In late January and in February this year I tasted them again with a number of visitors. What I tasted was the wine from the different vineyards before it was then assembled into the various cuvées which Jeff will eventually put out. Therefore, my notes are about the ingredients rather than the finished dish.

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Tasting January 28th

I decided to simply publish my notes as I wrote them on the two occasions – no editing, just my personal impression at the time. Already these wines had changed a great deal after 4-5 months and they will have changed again even before being assembled into Le Vin Des Amis etc.  I have chosen only the main wines, there are several other cuves with other wines but these are the main wines of Mas Coutelou.

September 2016

January / February 17

  1. Muscat Petits Grains – 2 weeks maceration, fairly neutral nose but fresh Muscatty flavour with tannins / texture. Orange flavour in there – G

Nose is Muscatty and orange blossom. No real grapey Muscat flavours but a dry                   wine, fresh,  direct and clean. Little drying on finish but coming together well. – G

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  1. Carignan Blanc – little reduced on nose, nice fresh acidity and appley fruit. Still cloudy – G

This has improved, white flower aromas, fresh, white fruits, very long – VG

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  1. Maccabeu/Grenache Gris/ Muscat – Lovely pears and red apples. Fresh acidity, lovely. Full, nice texture – VG

Some residual sugar still but direct fresh fruit – pears and apples – G

  1. Cinsault (Segrairals) – assembled with marc from Syrah. Nice fresh acidity – OK

Not tasted 

5. Grenache Ste Suzanne – Little green, quite acid, some spicy after notes. A bit tart –             OK

 11.5%, light but fruity and grapey, lost its tartness, more round – QG

Lovely grenache

Grenache just picked

6. Syrah Ste Suzanne – Nice, perfumed, red fruits, good acidity and soft tannins – G

Very attractive red fruit nose, has some heft yet only 12%, rich and easy to drink – G

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Syrah from Ste Suzanne

 7. Flower Power (plus others) – Round red fruits, lively, red fruit flavours – QG

Syrah and Cinsault in there too, nose is lovely, really attractive with red fruits and              floral. Nice round easy fruits – G

8. Syrah Segrairals – Still fermenting, quite a lot of residual sugar. Nice, fresh acidity,              red fruits – G

Not tasted

9. Syrah La Garrigue – Slight acetate nose, Round dark fruits. Nice texture and mouth             filling – G

Dark, ripe round fruits on nose and flavour, plummy, a little closed, good tannins –             G

10. Grenache La Garrigue – Nice ripe cherry aromas, good acidity and texture. Ripe –                G+

Very fresh and open, round ripe fruits. A little residual sugar still – G+

11. Mourvedre – Very attractive floral aromas, some sugar still, raspberry fruit – G

Improved a lot, a little reduced but liquorice flavours, dark and how it builds in                  the mouth, could be a surprise star – VG

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Mourvedre I picked

12. Carignan – lovely dark fruit, very fruity and fresh flavours. Very clean finish,                      almost slatey minerality – VG

Still working, a little spritz. Quite acidic as yet but there are dark ripe fruits and                  these are playing together on the palate, will develop well – G

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Still fermenting

Overall, the general impression is of good quality with plenty of freshness and fruit to balance. Mourvedre could provide the star wine of the year which would be a surprise, though the Carignan will no doubt improve and be a star once again. The whites, in various styles, are again showing how good white wines can be in this region.  After a very problematic year it is surprising that the wines emerged so well, testament to healthy vines and a skilled winemaker.

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Celebrating 2016 with a lovely Bibonade rosé

 


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Vendanges 2016 #9 – Days Like This

“When all the parts of the puzzle start to look like they fit
Then I must remember there’ll be days like this”               (Van Morrison, Days Like This)

As we approached the end of vendanges a number of the team were moving on. It was an inspired move to have a farewell day, picking, tasting and celebrating together, though we were already missing some like Charles, Carole and Maylis.

The morning dawned over Peilhan and the vineyard which we planted in March 2015. Rows of Terret Blanc and Noir, Riveyrenc Gris and Noir, Piquepoul Noir and Morastel produced grapes this year. They cannot be used in major cuvées sold to the public as they are too youthful. However, Jeff decided to pick them to make something for himself out of interest. So, on a bright, warm autumnal morning we gathered, picked, chatted and laughed.

Interesting to see how some varieties produce more than others already, more precocious perhaps, the Terret Noir being especially shy. Altogether we picked around six cases only but there was a real mix of colour and some nice looking fruit which went into a small cuve in whole bunches.

 

Later that day we gathered again, this time in the main cellar along with Thierry Toulouse, Jeff’s oenologue. We tasted through the whole range of 2016 wines in cuve before heading to a local restaurant for a meal. The results of the tasting were fascinating. Clearly, they are in a stage of transition, fermentations still progressing. Nonetheless the wines were already showing their character. I won’t go into too much detail here, though I did take notes to help me record how the wines change in coming months.

In summary though I was amazed. I have said many times on here how difficult this year has been. A very warm winter, drought, mildew, delayed summer being just some of the problems. Yet here we tasted some lovely fresh fruit, lively acidity and other promising signs. I would mention the Carignan Blanc, lovely Syrah and Grenache from La Garrigue, juicy Mourvèdre and in particular the wonderful Carignan Noir of Flambadou. All those puzzles which Jeff had to hold in his head about harvesting dates, moving wines, possible assemblages etc, well those puzzles were solved in the glass. I had expected some disappointments but somehow Jeff has conjured some potentially top quality wines.

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2003 Roberta

At the end of the current wines Jeff also shared a 2003 bottle of white wine based on Grenache Blanc, Noir and Gris, called Roberta (it’s a long story!). This was one of three cuvées which were the first that Jeff made sans sulfites. Yet it was complex; fresh, fruity, nutty. A wine which made my heart sing, proof that SO2 is not required for ageing wines as we are often told. Perhaps in 13 years time we shall be tasting the 2016 wines and marveling at them too.

A fitting way to close the vendanges period, a team rightly proud of what it had achieved.

“When all the parts of the puzzle start to look like they fit
Then I must remember there’ll be days like this”

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Top ten tasting (Mas Coutelou)

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En français

Friends Ceredig and Lesley were staying with us in Margon and our neighbours Martin and May had relatives and guests staying too so I thought it was a good time to organise a Mas Coutelou tasting.

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Carignan during the tour with Cora and Brian

Brian and Cora had shown an interest in the vines and we had made a tour of the vineyards and cellar on Tuesday 2nd. Jeff kindly invited us to take a few bottles from the cave and I made up a series of ten bottles. They were served in the following order, nine from 2015, one from 2014 to show vintage difference:

2015: Carignan Blanc / Grenache Gris; PM Rosé; 5SO Simple; Buvette A Paulette; On Peut Pas Vraiment Dire Que; Le Vin Des Amis; Classe; Flambadou; Flambadou 2014; L’Oublié.

Martin initiated a scoring system and at the end of the evening the results showed some agreement about the top wines but some differences too. Wine is personal and that is one reason why I am becoming more sceptical about scores generally. However, this was in fun and here were the results of the Anglo-Irish jury.

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At number 10, the Carignan Blanc / Grenache Gris. My fault this, I had a bottle from the first six off the bottling line and it contained a little water so came across dilute. However, there were some lovely apple and pear characteristics and it was a hit with one guest who doesn’t usually like white wines. I know from other bottles that this is a lovely wine which wasn’t done justice on the night.

8=  PM Rosé An interesting result, perhaps showing that rosé finds it hard to be taken seriously (or just that people loved the reds). PM is so much more aromatic and punchy than most rosés that perhaps it confounded expectations. For me it is a cracking wine, with real character and heft as well as being bone dry and perfect on a summer’s evening.

8= 5SO Simple Another surprise for me as 5SO is really hitting its stride. I served it slightly chilled and everyone liked it though some found it too light for a red. I love the cherry bright fruits and clean finish, it is a great alternative to summer rosés.

7 On Peut Pas Vraiment Dire Que Liked by all, loved by some, a little austere for a couple of people. My opinion is changing on this wine. I thought it was a light Syrah which was for short term drinking but the last couple of bottles seem to suggest it is entering a phase of taking on weight and a serious side. Certainly I shall be keeping the rest of my bottles for a few years to see how it develops, I think it will become something special. It may not be La Vigne Haute but it is a serious Syrah of real quality.

6 Flambadou 15 Well liked though suffered by comparison with the 2014 which was more developed. There is an elegance to this, perhaps the best cuvée from Mas Coutelou in the last several vintages. Jeff likens it to Pinot Noir at time, there is a limestone layer beneath the fine clay soils of the vineyard and this seems to add the lightness and elegance. Red fruit aromas and flavours with a streak of tannins. This is very youthful and will develop with time, complexity is already there. A great wine from a great vintage.

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5 La Buvette À Paulette Round, blackcurranty, juicy, very enjoyable. This was popular because of its sheer drinkability though some found it a little green. No doubt the Cabernet Sauvignon will develop further but this was on song already. It won’t be released until January 2017 and it is definitely one to wait for, a cuvée I hadn’t realised could be so good.

4 Flambadou 14 The extra year added more roundness to the wine making it more enjoyable in the short term. The extra complexity appealed to many of us as well as the red fruits. It is lovely though I do think the 15 will become better, being such a good vintage.

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3 L’Oublié Another recently bottled wine which we assembled a few weeks ago. The aromas were immediately a sign of complexity, hints of tobacco, coffee, dark fruits, there are notes from the barrel and you can tell there is some older wine in here but there is also a freshness from the 2013 Cinsault. The story of the wine and its assemblage I wrote about recently and the air of mystery about L’Oublié added to its appeal at the tasting.

2 Classe No label on as this was another bottle recently put together and has not yet been prepared for sale. As soon as it was opened the exuberant fruits, blackcurrant and raspberry, almost leaped from the glass. There is a depth, richness and a darker profile in there too, this is one of the very best cuvées of Classe. Not hard to see why it appealed so strongly on the night with everybody.20160802_224234

1 Le Vin Des Amis Ever popular, ever first choice. When I serve Coutelou wines to friends it is almost always Vin Des Amis which is the most appreciated. The open, fruity nature makes it immediate and the complexity gives it a sense of being special. Which, of course, it is. It really was on good form here and a clear winner on the night.

A great evening. Lovely people around a series of great bottles, how could it not be? And wow those wines are great, hopefully more people converted to natural wines and to Jeff’s in particular.

A word to for the 2015 vintage. I am, of course biased as this was my first full vintage, but it is proving to be top class, everything is drinking well and the bottles still to come will highlight its class still further.

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In  order of preference from right to left

For what it’s worth my own order read:

  1. L’Oublié
  2. Classe
  3. Flambadou 15
  4. La Buvette A Paulette
  5. Flambadou 14
  6. On Peut Pas Vraiment Dire Que
  7. PM Rosé
  8. Le Vin Des Amis
  9. 5So Simple
  10. Carignan Blanc / Grenache Gris

 


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Perfect Day

En francais

Any excuse to include some Bowie who is producer and piano player on the song which is also one of Jeff’s favourites.

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Michel on top form

March 3rd was the last full day of the Spring bottling period and it was pretty much a perfect day in Jeff’s own words. The day was clear with high(ish) air pressure which is better for bottling and in the biodynamic calendar it was a fruit day with a descending moon, perfect too.

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Checking the weather

The only snag was the late arrival of the magnum bottles despite being ordered some time ago. So, things started over an hour late, bottling magnums and jereboams of Vin Des Amis and a new Syrah cuvée.

I had always assumed that a magnum being simply 150cl as opposed to the single bottle 75cl would be cheaper to produce, a bulk saving. However, the bottles are naturally more expensive, being produced in smaller quantities and they are filled by a slower machine rather than the usual bottling line. This takes more manpower too. So a magnum and other large formats do cost more, jereboams also need a larger cork. I like these large bottles, not just because there is more wine (good for groups of friends) but also the wine ages more slowly.

We had a relaxed lunch in the cellar, cheese, canned fish and charcuterie, the latter for Jeff, Michel and Julien. Naturally a few bottles were opened for quality control!

In the afternoon it was back to the main bottling line, helped by Catherine, for the Syrah cuvée and the new white wine from Peilhan vineyard, made from Carignan Blanc and Grenache Gris. The Syrah is lovely, I remember during the vendanges that the tank caused some of us some concern but Jeff always believed in it and …. he was right. Lovely dark fruits, fresh, mineral and long – almost as good as La Vigne Haute which is praise indeed.

The Blanc was, perhaps, even better for me, bright apple and pear flavours, very mineral, clean and pure. I do believe 2015 will produce some great reds from Mas Coutelou but that the white wines, often in the shadow, will emerge to take their place as stars in their own right. Jeff is confident that the Maccabeu is even better, there’s a long maceration blanc too. I have tasted them both and they are lovely wines in the making.

We didn’t finish until after 8pm, it was a long day but we had great fun, lots of laughs, great teamwork as well as the hard work. The bottling has been a success, the 2015s are proving to be even better than we thought – a perfect day.

Then just as I thought days could hardly get much better, along came Tuesday, March 8th. But you’ll have to wait for that report in a couple of days.


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Case of 2015 – white wines

 

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After my everyday case it is time to select my case of wines representing my favourite wines tasted (and drunk) in 2015. It has been a fantastic year for me, I love my life in the Languedoc and the opportunity to spend time alongside someone I consider to be a truly great winemaker and, I am fortunate to say, my friend. Through various tastings, meals and purchases I have also been fortunate to discover many top class wines. So here is my final selection of twelve. I have omitted Jeff’s wines as that will form the next article and they would fill much of this case. It should also be said that my choice would probably vary day to day, I was torn between a number of great wines.

The Languedoc Roussillon is perhaps best known for its red wines and yet looking through my notes it was often white wines which excited me most in 2015. Indeed I will start with two wines from the region.

Mas Gabriel, Clos Des Papillons 2013. No surprises here, this also featured in my everyday case. It has been a favourite wine of mine for many years, I love the Carignan Blanc grape with its freshness and white fruits and Peter and Deborah Core have mastered a wine which brings out its best. Every vintage from 2010 to 2014 tasted at the Domaine’s tenth anniversary dinner was excellent but the 2013 stole the show for me.

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The 5% Viognier adds a little mystery but it is the Carignan Blanc which gives the fruitiness, freshness and longevity. The reds of Mas Gabriel are lovely too but this remains my favourite and I’m also looking forward to the development of the new white wine Champ Des Bleuets. It is not just loyalty which earns Clos Des Papillons its place here though, the wine genuinely thrills me no matter how often I drink it. It claims first place ahead of another exciting Carignan Blanc from Caux, Lune Blanche of the Conte De Floris.

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Clos Du Rouge Gorge, Sisyphe 2014. Cyril Fhal produces great red wines especially his Carignans in Latour De France in the Roussillon. However, this year it was his white wine Sisyphe which really captured me. Grenache Gris is the cépage behind most of my favourite wines in the region and this wine adds a clean, fruity yet racy edge. A wine you could drink alone or with food and one which leaps out as something special from the first sniff to the last sip.

Domaine Montesquiou, Terre De France 2014. I could probably include every wine made by Montesquiou, so high is the quality of this Jurancon domaine. It was a thrill to visit Fabrice and Sébastien in Monein and to tour the vineyards and cellars, I had long been a great fan of their wines. The excitement and enjoyment found in the wines is so obviously a reflection of the land and the family, the brothers are passionate about their vines and restless in seeking to make their wines even better. The raciness of the dry wines, the skilful use of oak, the tightrope balance of the sweet wines, every bottle offers a treat. I chose this wine as it walks that fine tightrope with lime, lemon and white fruits just offset by a trace of sweetness. Masterful.

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With Olivier Humbrecht

Zind Humbrecht, Clos Windsbuhl Riesling 2011. I love Riesling, I love Alsace wines. Most of my favourite Rieslings are from the Mosel, others from Australia but this wine blew me away, apt on a day when gales were threatening the tent where the tasting took place near Montpellier for Biodyvin. I had tasted some Zind Humbrecht wines before and enjoyed them but this was one of those moments when the lightbulb lit above my head. Classic fresh aromas, so clean tasting and those flavours of fruit with a thrilling edge of acidity and, yes I know it makes no sense, minerality. There really is a texture and saltiness which reminds me of minerals. It is a very young wine, it will age for decades I would think but it is already packed with so much complexity and pleasure. It is everything I would ever want from a white wine.

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Domaine Huët, Clos Du Bourg Demi-Sec 2005. At the same tasting as the Zind Humbrecht I tasted this beauty. I admit to some bias as Vouvray was my first wine village visited in France and long a favourite. The sweeter style moelleux which I tasted that day were excellent, a 2008 Haut Lieu for example but I love the demi-sec style which balances the dry appley side of Chenin Blanc with its capacity to produce a sweet side with hints of honey balancing the zestiness. This Clos Du Bourg was so deep and complex and so long lasting, it was like tasting several different wines in one glass. This will again age for a long time, I’d imagine it will develop more sweetness but right now I love this balance of dry and sweet. I often resist the big names of a region but this Huët just stood out as an example of great winemaking.

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Pierre De Sisyphe of Joe Jefferies

Other dry white wines close to selection included Pierre De Sisyphe 2014 from Bories Jefferies (again from Caux!), the Greco 2013 from Giardino (Campania, Italy), Casa Pardet’s Chardonnay 2013 (Costers del Segre, Spain), Loin D’Oeil 2014 from De Brin (Gaillac) and a lovely Chenin Blanc from Testalonga (Swartland, Soith Africa), tasted on a beach in Marseillan, called El Bandito but no vintage noted whilst there I’m afraid.

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I’m including Champagne Franck Pascal Quintessence 2004. Long, yeasty, rich but with a great freshness which cleansed the palate and left me wanting more. Yet another biodynamic producer, I loved all the wines I tasted but this vintage champagne with its Pinot Noir dominance had the extra complexity and depth which marks great wine of any type. The 2005 was almost as good but this 2004 was extra clean and long. I tasted a lot of very good champagnes this year, Barbichon, Leclerc Briant, Drappier, Lassaigne being some, but Quintessence was special.

So, six white wines which have given me great pleasure in 2015. Next the reds.