amarchinthevines

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


Leave a comment

Loving Languedoc

After tasting wines from around the world at RAW I opened a bottle or two at home. By chance the bottles I reached for were from the Languedoc, my first love. And how richly I was rewarded.

First up was the Grenache Blanc, The Velvet Underschiste, from La Graine Sauvage in Faugères. The domaine is the work of Sybil Baldassarre and I have got to know her through Jeff Coutelou. Sybil is a trained oenologue who decided to show she can make wine as well as advise upon its making. This bottle had witty references to Velvet Underground all over the labels but the wine itself was What Goes On (sorry). Pure Grenache Blanc the 2016 had lovely tannins underpinning the apple and pear fruit. However, what made this wine stand out was how it evolved over the course of an evening. The last glass was the most delicious of all, the wine had opened out to reveal more fruit. This was a wine of real quality. I have been fortunate to taste other wines of Sybil and suggest that she is a real star to follow.

Next up was another white from Faugères, known more for its reds. Clos Fantine is a long time favourite of mine and I wrote an article about the Andrieu family and their work a few years ago after spending a couple of days with them. Their gobelet bush vines high in the Faugères hills provide clean, pure fruit. Valcabrières is their white wine from the rare Terret Blanc and Terret Gris grapes. More white fruit flavours, pears to the fore but with a clean, fresh acidity. Again this was a wine which opened up as we drank down the bottle, complex and delicious. This was a 2014 and I believe the wine would age much further but it was pretty perfect now.

And, for good measure, I opened a bottle of Jeff’s, Flambadou 2017. The pure Carignan has been a star of the Coutelou domaine for a number of years, certainly whilst I have been there in 2014. This bottle was very youthful, the wine bright purple in colour and full of fresh black and red fruits backed with soft tannins. I shall keep my other bottles for a few years to allow them to develop complexity but it is good to follow a wine’s progress. With every wine of 2017 I taste I become more convinced that it is an absolute peak vintage for Jeff, the fruit and freshness backed with tannin and depth of flavour, they are stunners. Flambadou is a great wine, this 2017 definitively so.

Make no mistake the Languedoc can produce top quality wine, these three bottles were absolute proof to me that it will always be the source of my favourite bottles. I urge you to try them and other wines from the region which is my other home.


2 Comments

More words about bottles and wine

IMG_20190209_232426437_HDR

This weekend I head down to London for RAW and will have lots of wine to report back so I thought I should mention some wines I have enjoyed over the last few weeks before they were forgotten amidst all those RAW discoveries.

IMG_20190209_203549968_HDR

Let’s start with my birthday which I spent in the company of family and friends, it doesn’t get better than that.  A number of bottles were opened of course. Let’s start with the Coutelou wines, how could I celebrate without Jeff? The Blanc 2016 is a blend of many white grapes such as Maccabeu, Grenache Gris, Grenache Blanc and Muscat which were aged in barrel for a year. That oak age gives a richness which is different to many of the previous Blanc/PM wines. There’s an unctuousness rather than a taste of wood but the wine remains clean and satisfying. Lovely.

IMG_20190209_232447562_HDR

The magnum of Flower Power 2015, a blend of Syrah with the Flower Power (Font D’Oulette) vineyard of so many varieties. Still youthful and fresh with bright red fruits there is also a growing power and complexity. The other bottles will be kept for a few years. And no celebration of mine would be complete without La Vigne Haute. This was 2017, turning into an exceptional vintage. The Syrah is generous with red fruit but has a streak of fine tannin and a firm edge still, hard to resist now but with discipline I shall keep some bottles for the future. My desert island wine.

Along with those gems other bottles went down well too, there were many of us! Jordi Llorens’ Blankafiorti 17 is a blend of Garnacha, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah in the Tarragona region. A definite sense of Spanish warmth with a richness but plenty of fresh dark and red fruits, however, maybe one to keep for a couple more years to be at its best. Valette Macon Villages 15 is a lovely wine, a lovely example of Chardonnay with a citric edge to the Chardonnay richness, well balanced and delicious. Tollot Beaut’s 2006 Chorey les Beaune was classic Burgundy, the age adding smoky, vegetal notes to good Pinot fruit.

Other wines on other occasions. Testalonga wines from South Africa are becoming a firm favourite with me as mentioned on here recently. Stay Brave 18 is a Chenin Blanc matured on skins for 11 days, a relatively light maceration, giving a golden colour and very fine texture but plenty of fruit and pleasure. This made a real impression on me, a wine I will remember for a long time. La Bufarella 17 from La Salada comes from further along the coast from Tarragona towards Barcelona in the Penedes region. The Xarel.Lo grape has good acidity (it’s the main Cava grape) so stands up well to the 6 months maceration here. Much more orange in colour than Stay Brave and with more complexity and tannin. Also from Xarel.Lo was the Clot De Les Soleres 15, light, fresh with a touch of sparkle, a good aperitif wine.

Red wines included Andrea Calek’s À Toi Nous, a lovely blend of Grenache and Syrah from the Ardeche. Rich fruit but plenty of freshness, this is one of my favourite domaines in France, the labels aren’t bad too. Domaine La Marfée Della Francesca 2007 comes from near Montpellier. The age has allowed the 80% Mourvèdre to develop plummy, leathery notes, the Syrah adding more direct fruit still. Certainly its age has made this biodynamic wine more complex, this was my wife’s favourite wine of recent weeks. By contrast the 2018 50-50 Gamay – Pinot Noir blend from the Auvergne producer Domaine Miolanne, Volcane Rouge, was light and fresh. The Gamay dominates, this is very like a young Beaujolais and the Pinot adds a little richness. I liked this a lot, a food wine for sure. La Paonnerie is in the Ancenis area of the Loire. Jacques and Agnès Carroget plant various crops such as oats and clover amongst the vines to add nitrogen to the soils amongst many other organic, environmentally sound practices. Simplement Gamay 16 is very enjoyable on a drinkability level but there is some complexity in the bottle with sharp raspberry fruit.

IMG_20190225_094617753_HDR

Different altogether was one of my favourite sherry wines, the Palo Cortado Cayetano Del Pino which offers the freshness of a manzanilla with the complex nutty notes of an amontillado. It is a great wine, I’d sneak some onto that desert island with La Vigne Haute.

There have been a couple of duds along the way but the last few weeks have provided some excellent wines, I hope you have enjoyed sharing my thoughts. On to RAW and more new wines.

 


4 Comments

The good, the very good and the ugly

Some recent wines. I was on a roll of good wine after good wine since the start of the year but that came to a stop on Saturday. The wine responsible for that was a Georgian amber wine from Pheasant’s Tears. I have had the good fortune to drink a number of similar Georgian wines from the Rkatsiteli grape and many were excellent. Sadly, this wine was full of volatile acidity. VA is caused by bacteria which create acetic acid (the acid which gives vinegar its taste). The bacteria could be produced during fermentation or by contamination by unclean equipment.

IMG_20190202_185606442_HDR

Sometimes a little VA adds something interesting to the flavour of the wine, Chateau Musar in Lebanon is famous for having  a little. It depends on individual preference whether you like it. I quite like it myself. However, this was way too tainted to be drinkable. Unfortunate.

IMG_20190202_144726367_HDR

As for the good wines. Unsurprisingly one was a Coutelou wine, Classe 2013, Grenache, Syrah and a little Carignan Jeff informed me. Still a lively purple colour with delicious red fruit flavours with soft tannins to support and add complexity. Classe ages so well, it is hard to resist when young but this showed the benefits of letting the wine knit together over a number of years.

From Sicily the Vino Rosso 2016 from Vino Di Anna was a fine example of how good the wines from this island are. I was fortunate to visit and taste many wines there a few years ago and met Anna Martens at a tasting a couple of years ago. This red made from 90% Nerello Mascalese and 10% Nerello Cappuccio had fresh, cherry flavours the clean acidity helping the red fruits. Lovely.

IMG_20190202_144806874_HDR

South African wines, on the other hand, are more of a mystery to me. Testalonga is the domaine of Craig and Carla Hawkins in the Swartland. Chin Up 2018 is pure Cinsault, one of my favourite grapes. This was very light in colour, almost a rosé or clairet. Yet Chin Up had power and plenty of light, juicy fruit. This was a genuine pleasure to drink and I am looking forward to trying more of the Testalonga wines.

IMG_20190129_220808802_HDR

Finally a port, Quinta Da Noval 2003. There was a lovely balance in this wine, the alcohol had blended perfectly with the Touriga Nacional grapes, there was no alcohol aftertaste that often happens with lesser ports. Apparently the vines are at high altitude and there was a lightness and freshness to this wine, full fruit which was long, long lasting. A reminder of how good port can be.

IMG_20190202_144817156_HDR

 

 

 


Leave a comment

Wines of 2018

case2018

I described my wine related highlights of 2018 in the last article. Not surprisingly some of my favourite wines of the year are related to those highlights, orange wine and Australian wine.

Let me start with orange wine, the focus of the excellent ‘Amber Revolution’ by Simon J Woolf. I could include Jeff Coutelou’s OW 2016 which we drank regularly through the vendanges. However, I have limited myself to just one of Jeff’s wines as part of this case. That is made from Muscat and my favourite orange wine which I drank in 2018 was made from Viognier, not often my favourite grape. It does reinforce a theory that some of the best orange wines are made from aromatic, characterful grapes which add to the sensation of texture created by skin contact. So, the first bottle into my case is by Australian producer Kalleske, Plenarius Viognier 2017. I described it in Brisbane where I came across it as having “aromas of, well, oranges. Lavender too. It was delicious with tangy zesty fruit and lovely texture”. Seven days skin contact only for the biodynamically grown grapes, enough to add tannins without overpowering the fruit. Lovely.

Red wines next.

I drank Patrick Rols’ Les Anciens 2016 late in the year and it jumped straight into this case. I loved the iron filings like aroma and deep red fruit flavours of this wine made from Merlot and the Cabernets, Sauvignon and Franc. To make wine that good from some of my least favourite grapes, real talent and healthy grapes!

That lunch!

My Coutelou wine comes next. There were so many highlights, including 1998 Cabernet and Syrah still brimming with life. However, everyone knows my favourite wine, the one I would choose above any other is La Vigne Haute 2010. The 2017 is a beauty and the 2018 promises to be special too. However, Jeff opened the 2010 one July day over lunch with our friend Steeve. The years add a complexity and depth to the fruit and acidity to make a dream wine. Just stunning.

In New Zealand I was a little disappointed with some of the vaunted Pinot Noirs of Otago but some of the Syrahs were excellent, often from Gimblett Gravels on the North Island. However my favourites were from Hans Herzog in Marlborough, another biodynamic producer next to the Wairau River. I liked everything I tasted there whites and reds such as the Pinot Noir, Tempranillo but my favourite was the outstanding Herzog Nebbiolo 2013. Concentrated fruit flavours including peach and apricot surprisingly, light and fresh. Memorable. (shown in the photos above where Petra poured it)

My final red is Little Things, Joy’s Wild Fruits Field Blend 2017. This was one of the wines in made by James Madden in his first vintage, unbelievable that it could be so good so soon. I described it like this when I was there, “The vineyard is next to the sea at Fleurieu Peninsula and most of the grapes are technically white, eg Pinot Gris, Savagnin, Chardonnay, but they are picked with the Pinot Noir, Merlot and Cabernet from the same vineyard, pressed together and left on skins for more than a week. This is heady wine; bright, light and mighty good. Fresh and zesty from the whites, fruity and spicy from the reds.” I am going to choose this as my wine of the year, the single wine I enjoyed most of all.

Another field blend, another Basket Range wine. Basket Range Vineyard Blend 2016 is made by the Broderick brothers Sholto and Louis. Made from Petit Verdot, Merlot and the Georgian grape Saperavi, fermented and made together. Bright fruits, spice and appealing tannins this was a wine of pleasure but with added complexity too.

White wines provided most of my 2018 highlights, here are the final picks.

Little Things again, no apologies. I am sure some will accuse me of bias but these are genuine picks based on quality. Little Things Sweet Child Of Mine 2017 which I described as “Chardonnay is from 28 year old vines, whole bunch pressed, tank fermented and then aged in old barrels. It is a delight. There is a creamy note but a clean acidity runs through with lemon and spice notes.” Basket Range Chardonnay was a true highlight of my trip Down Under, other fine examples came from James Erskine of Jauma and Alex Schulkin of The Other Right. Interestingly their wines were from the same vineyard as another of my picks.

Gentle Folk Scary White 2017. Named after the vineyard Scary Gulley this blends the Chardonnay with Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc with lovely acidity, a creamy fruit profile and a sense of the area – friendly and classy. Gareth Belton is a very talented producer, excellent Pinot Noir too. One of a very talented bunch of winemakers in Basket Range.

Yet another Australian Chardonnay makes the list. Luke Lambert Chardonnay 2016 is made in the Yarra Valley near Melbourne where I drank it. There is a lovely apple and pear fruit, a touch of citrus and great length. Not Burgundy but similar in profile yet clearly Australian in its ripeness. All class.

Talking of Burgundy. Domaine Valette Macon Chaintré Vieilles Vignes 2016. I drank this from magnum at lunch during vendanges and again in single bottle from the excellent Chai Christine Cannac in Bédarieux. It may not be the most celebrated Burgundy but this relatively humble area produces a pure, creamy but citrus, hazelnut and white fruit flavoured delight. A producer I hope to find out more about.

Four Chardonnays and a Merlot/Cabernet blend so far. What is the world coming to? Well, let’s add some exoticism. Bacchus, Ortega, Huxulrebbe and Segerebbe to be exact. From England. French readers think I have gone mad! Davenport Limney Horsmonden 2016 is the work of a very talented producer in East Sussex whose PetNat is another favourite. This wine has a distinct floral note to the aroma profile, fresh and fruity. English wines are really on the move.

No sparkling wines to add this year, I had some nice ones but nothing which made me go wow. Only eleven wines though. Well to make the case I am adding another bottle of the Little Things Field Blend as my favourite of the year. Or maybe the 2010 La Vigne Haute.

Please would someone bring in some of the Australian wines to the UK market. I am missing them already.

 

 

 

 


Leave a comment

300

 

20170209_000255

Tasting the older barrel in 2017

 

En francais

Back in September 2015 I wrote my 100th blog post about a great day. Jeff had suggested I do something special to celebrate the event and offered me the chance to pick grapes from my favourite vineyard, Rome. The grapes were a mix of all three Grenaches, Blanc, Gris and Noir as well as a few Muscat grapes. To make it even more special our great friends Martin and May came along to help pick the grapes, it was a day when I was truly blessed to be surrounded by friendship, a day when the Coutelou motto of ‘Grapes, work and love’ was evident.

 

I trod the grapes, pressed them and stored the juice in two barrels and two large 27l bottles. I even used airlocks provided by my friend Barry back in the UK. One of the those bottles was used to top up the barrels over the intervening three years before the wines were ready to be bottled. The wine was racked occasionally to separate the juice from the sediment and dead lees. From time to time we tasted from all three containers and it was fascinating to monitor their development and how they matured differently according to the container they were in.

The newer 60l barrel allowed more oxygen into the wine and this added a drier note to the wine which aged quicker than the other two. The smaller, older 30l barrel had been used for more wines and the wood staves had sealed more as a result. The wine was fruitier, tasted younger and fresher. That was the reverse of what I had expected from the barrels at first but it is logical. Meanwhile the large glass bottle produced a wine like imprisoned fruit, almost as grapey and fruity as the day the juice first went in.

After three years it was time to assemble and bottle the wine. That was supposed to happen in the week before I left France in October but climatic conditions were unfriendly for bottling, heavy atmospheric conditions. Jeff, Michel and Julien kindly did the bottling when conditions were more suitable. I can’t wait to see them, and open one in January when I return.

24

 

I am a winemaker! It has been one of the great experiences of my life. That it is the result of the generosity and kinship of my friends made it even more so. In particular Jeff’s kindness and inspiration is something I appreciate more than he can know.

This is the 300th blog article. I have been delighted and amazed that people from 118 countries have turned to these pages over the last four years, often several thousand a day. Thank you for doing so, it means a lot. I started simply to occupy time and keep my own personal record, your readership has helped it become so much more. I hope that my love for wine, the Languedoc, real wines and, especially, the Coutelou team and wines have brought you some pleasure. And who knows, we may get to share a glass of the century wine.

4

A March in the vines (photo by Flora Rey)


1 Comment

Recent wine highlights

I have had some cracking wines in recent weeks. Let me share some of them with you before I get to my wines of the year in a future article.

 

Jeff Coutelou always provides me with memorable wines and these two from 2017 underline what a great vintage that was from him. Classe is one of the headline acts of the domaine and the 17 is as good as any I recall. Syrah (50%), Grenache (40%) and Mourvedre (10%) with ripe red and black fruit flavours and a depth of flavour indicating many, many years of life ahead if you can resist drinking it now. The Vin De Table (Syrah and Grenache again but this time with Merlot) is made from what was left after the main cuvées were assembled. But, it is no leftover. Ripe, concentrated and very drinkable. Jeff’s wines gets better and better and that is the highest praise I can give him as I have long considered him an exceptional winemaker as well as a friend.

From the same stable comes my good friend Julien Banville who took some of Jeff’s grapes in 2017 to produce his Chateau Des Gueux. A light red wine of intense red fruit aromas and lingering flavours it shows Julien’s talents for stamping his won personality on his wines. Delicious but sadly unavailable commercially.

From Spain two excellent wines. Jordi Llorens‘ wines have long been a source of pleasure and the Blan 5.7 2017 of Macabeo and Parellada was a joy, refreshing but full of creamy, white fruit. Partida Creus XL 2016 made from Xarel.lo was equally good with perhaps a little more acidity. I preferred that to the red VN though that was still good.

Back to France and two eastern regions. Alsace has long been one of my favourite wine regions in the world and the biodynamic Zind Humbrecht domaine one of my favourite producers. This Riesling 2009 was classic of the grape, petrol nose, citrus fruit, dry but with just a slight suggestion of sweetness. Savoie is becoming ultra fashionable and the Altesse from Domaine Giachino was a clear example of why its reputation is high. Floral, fruity, complex and dry, it really convinced me that Savoie and the grape Altesse are top quality.

I mentioned how much I enjoyed Patrick RolsLes Anciens 2016 in the last article with its Merlot and Cabernets from the Auvergne region. There’s an iron edge to the complex red fruit flavours, a wine showing the promise of a region only starting to develop its wines. From the Gard department came the Va Nu Pieds 2016 of the Frères Soulier. Classic Languedoc/Rhone Syrah and Grenache with plenty of black fruits as well as good tannins.

Finally and certainly not least. From England, yes you read that right. Davenport winery in East Sussex produces one of my favourite PetNats but this was the first still wine of theirs I had tasted, the Limney Horsmonden 2017. If Savoie shows promise then this is equally the case for English wine. Ortega, Bacchus, Huxulrebbe and Segerebbe are not grapes I know particularly but this blend had tremendous floral notes and a dry, clear expression of the place and grape. One of the best wines I have tasted this year.

davenport_horsmorden


Leave a comment

Vermouth, Kina

En francais

It was interesting to see Oz Clarke* on James Martin’s Saturday morning TV show this week looking at the topic of vermouth. I wrote earlier in the year about the vermouth which Jeff Coutelou is now making and selling, Kina.


Oz

Screenshot from the TV programme

The Languedoc is associated with vermouth since one of the most famous brands, Noilly Prat, is made in the lovely port of Marseillan. Vermouth was never a drink I enjoyed but Kina is changing that.

noilly

According to specialist website The Fine Spirits Corner, “The Kina is a type of fortified wine that is made ​​from dry and sweet wines of high quality to which are added extracts of quinine. Produced mainly in Andalusia, was formerly used as a tonic, invigorating and during the appetizer to open the food.”

After mixing various herbs and spices with the base wine back in July Jeff left the kina to macerate in the cellar for a few weeks. Time for an update.

During vendanges he also prepared some more wine to be mixed with the kina. The wine was mixed with pure alcohol to stop fermentation (mutage) and retain some of the sugars from the grapes. This was then blended with the macerated wine to make Kina.

As the quote above says, supported by Clarke’s introduction, vermouth should be a drink with plenty of flavour and sweetness from the herbs and spices but with a bitter finish to cleanse the palate. I have tried other examples of kina drinks from the commercial, e.g. Lillet or Martini as well as another artisan vermouth from Carcassonne. I liked the latter though it was certainly sweeter than Coutelou Kina. I like the bitter twang of Kina though Jeff is also making a sweeter version if that is your preference.

With Christmas and New Year celebrations on the horizon Kina will definitely be featuring as my aperitif of choice. Vermouth may be the new gin (also made in Puimisson!) and, to my surprise, I welcome its return to the spotlight.

P1040107

Taking its place in the Coutelou range

*Oz Clarke is an English wine writer and broadcaster who certainly did a lot to spark my passion for wine