amarchinthevines

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


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Wine pairing and a mystery

Nothing to do with food I promise. That’s an avenue I never really venture into, drink whatever you like provided it doesn’t clash tends to be my motto. Reflecting on January wines consumed it occurred to me that the most interesting aspect came in pairs of bottles. After all, this of all years is not the time for Dry January.

Let’s start with Jeff Coutelou. I opened two bottles which I thought would form an interesting comparison. Both are Syrah, made in exactly the same way from the same vineyard. The principle difference is the vintage but that is also the point of the comparison. The two bottles are from vines on a north facing slope in La Garrigue. The soil is the ubiquitous argilo-calcaire, limestone with clay but this part of the vineyard has more complex geology with various types of soil as this, like Rome vineyard, was at the end of a moraine thousands of years ago and all kinds of rocks were left behind. The vines face north to protect from the direct Languedoc sunshine in afternoons, Syrah likes heat but not too much.

Syrah of La Garrigue

La Vigne Haute is the top wine made from the site, my own favourite wine too. This bottle was a 2013, the wine ages superbly with the vibrant fruit of youth settling and maturing into something gentler and much more complex. Natural wines don’t age without sulphur protection we used to be told, LVH is the perfect riposte to such nonsense. In some years Jeff feels that the fruit hasn’t been absolutely top quality. Perhaps the stream which runs well under the surface of the slope has been swollen by rain and the grapes become dilute. Or maybe a hot vintage stresses the vines, north facing or not. In those vintages Jeff makes a Syrah which is bottled under a different name so that LVH remains a guarantee of top quality. Nonetheless those bottles offer a really good wine, with fresh, fruity Syrah. In recent years Jeff has named this wine On Peut Pas Vraiment Dire Que. The bottle I opened was a 2017 and was pure pleasure.

Onto another pairing, Jeff and one of his best friends, Christian Venier. Christian’s vineyards and home are in the Loire in the Cheverny region. He and Jeff are firm friends with almost identical outlooks on how to tend their vines and make their wines. When Christian holds his annual weekend Portes Ouvertes event Jeff is always there, I have attended too and even hosted the Coutelou stand.

Les Couleurs Réunies 18 is a wine Jeff made for the first time in that vintage. The grapes come from over twenty varieties of vine, planted in Font D’Oulette which we commonly call Flower Power. The vines are still young and yields are tiny. Jeff fleshed them out with grapes such as Castets from Peilhan vineyard, blended in tank to ferment and mature and the result is LCR. The 2018 is on fine form just now, lovely fruit and complexity. To pair it up I chose one of Christian’s white wines, Les Perrières 2018.

With Christian and Jeff in Christian’s vines 2016

How is that a pairing? Well, just as LCR contains grapes of the most obscure varieties (see this article) Les Perrières is made of one I hardly recognise, Menu Pineau. This variety is also known as Arbois and Orbois, by 2011 only a hundred hectares grown around the world, mostly in the Jura and the area around Vouvray in the Loire. My copy of Galet’s Dictionnaire tells me that it is used mostly for adding alcohol and softening the acidity of other grapes by means of blending. Christian’s wine is made purely of Menu Pineau. There is a density to the wine, exotic fruit aromas and the wine tastes dry but it’s aromatic and almost musky. Two vignerons embracing old grapes, old ways of working and producing wines of character and authenticity.

Menu Pineau, Orbois, Arbois in Galet

Finally, to a less successful pairing. Last year one of my favourite wines was the Simplement Gamay from La Paonnerie in the Loire. I bought more and disaster struck. The corkscrew met little resistance, the cork was very soft and I knew what the wine would be like. Sure enough a slight mustiness in the glass and fungal, coarse woody flavours. Bad enough but then I turned to a wine which is a regular, a simple red from the excellent Valle Unite in Piedmont, Ottavio Rube 2018 made from Dolcetto and Croatina grapes. The first glass was exactly what I hoped for, fresh acidity, bright red fruit. A second brought disappointment. Mousey flavours were present at the end of the mouthful. By the third glass the mousiness couldn’t be ignored, I simply can’t drink mousey wine.

I had a second bottle so I opened that the following evening to see whether that too would be spoiled. Same wine, same vintage. No mousiness. I can’t explain it, please feel free to offer suggestions. Mouse is a natural wine issue, it disappears with added SO2. I have experienced it too many times and in various circumstances. It is not as simple as bacterial infection, I have known wines which are mousey when tasted after the bottles have travelled but not mousey in the cellar of the producer. This was a fascinating, frustrating pairing but leaves more questions than answers.

A healthy glass of the wine

If you can, try to find pairs of bottles, they do add another layer of interest to the whole wine experience.


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Open Up Your Door

En français

The weekend of Pentecost was spent in the Loire. Christian Venier hosted a Portes Ouvertes at his domaine in Madon, Touraine along with his partner Marie-Julienne.

It was an opportunity for winemakers and friends to get together and there was a lot of fun, food and frolics. Jeff Coutelou and most of his team were present including Michel, Vincent and many of the people who spent time in Puimisson during the vendanges such as Céline, Carole and Karim.

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Michel struts his stuff

I know that Jeff and some others did not get to bed much before 4am on those three mornings. It was also quite amusing to see a lot of French people dancing to ‘Waterloo’ of all songs! Good to know that history is safely in the past. It was easy to make new friends too, as always there is a real energy and friendliness in the natural wine crowd.

The Veniers were great hosts, many thanks to them for their generosity.

To mark the event Christian and Jeff Coutelou made a special cuvée, ‘Devigne Qui Vient Dîner’ (a play on Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner). Gamay and Pinot Noir from Christian assembled with Grenache, Syrah and Cinsault from Jeff and made only in magnums. Very nice too.

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Christian’s wines are a great combination of fruit and complexity with plenty of texture. His La Roche 2011 in magnum was a true highlight of the year’s  wines for me, a great Gamay which I wrote about as Wine Of The Week. I will be coming back to this later in the article.

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A number of winemakers joined the event and having just written an article about how there was a promising new wave of young producers it was good to see my statement supported by yet more up and coming talent.

One of those was a friend from the Languedoc, Sébastien Benoit-Poujad of Domaine de la Banjoulière. Sébastien bottles his wines at Jeff’s cellar and his wines are starting to show real quality, his light, fresh Aramon 15 and, especially, his lovely Carignan 13 were on great form. Sébastien’s partner Tina is also a familiar figure on these pages as she worked at Jeff’s during the 2014 vendanges, that’s where the pair met.

Of the Loire new wave there was:

Noella Morantin whose old vine 2014 Sauvignon Blanc ‘LBL’ was especially good

Benoit Courault, very good reds especially the Grolleau 2014 ‘La Couléé’.

Laurent Saillard, whose wines spoke of their grape and terroir. ‘Scarlett’ (Gamay and Pinot d’Aunis) and the Sauvignon Blanc ‘Lucky You’ 15 were especially good.

Finally there was Cédric Bernard who has worked with Christian and is now venturing out on his own. In an act of incredible support and  generosity Christian has given his La Roche vineyard to Cédric to help him. This is the parcel of Gamay whose 2011 I so enjoyed. What a spirit of sharing and humanity. And the first Gamay from that parcel was lovely, named ‘La Cabane À Marcel’. After the 2011 it was my favourite wine of the weekend and as a bonus it comes in a litre bottle! I look forward to drinking the bottles I bought. I very much liked the Chenin Blanc ‘Brin De Chèvre’ too. If this was Cédric’s debut year as a winemaker he is definitely a talent to watch.

It was interesting to compare notes with Vincent and find out that La Roche and the Gamay of Cédric were his two favourite wines. Every one of these winemakers is someone whose wines I would gladly buy and recommend.

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My friend Vincent

A sad postscript was the news that the April frosts hit La Roche vineyard hard and unfortunately there will be no wine from there this year. The vicissitudes of life as a vigneron, a tough break for a man starting out.

Christian took Jeff and myself out to look at his vineyards on the Sunday morning. His passion for his land and vines was evident. It was interesting to see the vines surrounded by parcels of wheat and other crops such as asparagus which grows well in the more sandy areas of the land. Christian showed us some of the frost damage on his parcels though happily he has not been too badly affected.

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Frost damaged

Ironically a parcel more prone to frost was left untouched this time. He showed a few rows that were touched because they were next to the wheat which created humidity which in turn encouraged the frost. However, the positives shone through and it was a great experience to spend time with Christian.

Finally, it was also good to be left in charge of the Coutelou stand and share wines with the people who wanted to try them out. I even completed some sales. My education continues.

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A lovely weekend, shared with great people in a relaxed and spirited environment. Christian, I hope I’ll be coming to dinner next year too.

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