amarchinthevines

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


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Vendanges 2016 #3 – Press review

En français

In the last vendanges update I wrote about stages 1-3 of harvest; picking, care in the cuve and pressing. Well, all three are moving on apace.

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More and more wines to analyse, Jeff can’t keep up!

Today (Sept. 9th) was the first pressing of the year. In the small basket press was the Grenaches from Rome vineyard picked earlier this morning. These were the same vines as the ones I picked last year for my special cuvée. By chance, or design, the younger barrel of that cuvée was given a soutirage this morning. It tasted very well just showing the influence of the barrel. As the other barrel and 27 litre glass bottle are much more fruity the eventual assemblage should be nicely balanced. Here is last year’s Grenache saying hello to its younger brother.

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In the big press was the white picked last week, Maccabeu, Muscat (Alexandrie and Petits Grains) and Grenache Gris. The press is big but the bladder inside lightly squeezes the grapes to release the juice, a gentle giant. The juice now goes into cuve and will ferment into the finished wine.

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Skins after pressing, the pinkish coloured ones are Grenache Gris

Meanwhile stage 2 continues apace with remontage and pigeage of the growing number of wines now in cuve. Stages 2&3 require increasing effort, there was very little picking today though tomorrow will be busy again.

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Jeff and Louis Pérot working on the cuves

Wednesday saw a full day of Syrah from Segrairals. The grapes were good and often very juicy. There are sections of the parcel which seem to retain moisture and help the grapes even in such a dry year as 2016.

Thursday was the busiest day so far. A morning of picking Peilhan white grapes, mostly Maccabeu, Grenache Gris and Muscat. These had suffered through the attack of mildew in spring time and some careful triage was necessary. Nevertheless, small in quantity but good quality.

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5SO 2015 greets this year’s grapes

In the afternoon arrived the Cinsault from Segrairals which makes 5SO Simple. Cinsault gives bigger berries with lots of juice. The juice came in at around 10.5%, Jeff said that it would be a ‘vin dangereux’ as it would be very easy to just keep drinking it.

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Team Coutelou

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Plus one sleepy dog


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Vendanges 2016 #2 – adolescence

En français

When I mention vendanges to most people they think of grape picking and, maybe, putting the grapes into a tank (cuve). However, vendanges means much more than that and we are now entering stage two of the process.

When the grapes have been picked and sorted they are stored in a cuve where the juice interacts with the skins extracting flavour, colour and also coming into contact with the yeasts which grow naturally on the skins. These yeasts then begin the process of fermentation which turns the sugars in the juice into an alcoholic wine. This mix of juice, skins, pips and flesh is known as must.

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Checking progress

So, whilst picking continues at Mas Coutelou Jeff must already plan what is happening to those cuves of grapes which were picked a few days ago, You will remember from #1 that we picked Grenache and Syrah on days 1 and 2 and that they were in cuves 2A and 2B. They are picking up colour and the fermentation means that the sweet grape juice of last Wednesday is already very different. Still plenty of raspberry and red fruit flavours but the sugar levels have fallen and the liquid is now more austere, a little acidic and with a weight of alcohol. It has turned from child into young adult.

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Today – Grenache and Syrah has matured

To ensure that the grape skins do not give unpleasant flavours, volatility etc., Jeff must ensure they do not dry out as they float on the juice, forming what is known as the cap (chapeau). Therefore, wine is pumped from the bottom of the cuve over the top of the chapeau to push it down a little and to moisten it. This is known as remontage.

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Carole carries out a remontage

Alternatively, an instrument or hand can be used to push the chapeau down into the juice, a process called pigeage.

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James performs a pigeage

When Jeff is satisfied that the juice is ready and has had optimal skin contact he will begin pressing the must to leave the final juice. We await the first press as yet but it will be in the next couple of days as the Grenache and Syrah are already showing their adolescence.

Meanwhile picking continues. Friday saw Sauvignon Blanc and Muscat À Petits Grains as the first white grapes of 2016 at the domaine. Monday saw the picking of the Merlot from Colombié which will, unusually, find its place in the Coutelou cuvées. I am no great fan of Merlot but the grapes were lovely and the juice tastes especially rich and full.

Today (Tuesday) was Flower Power day, sadly the snails won the battle this year. They ate so many of the buds in Spring that the vines struggled to produce much. The dryness merely confirmed Font D’Oulette would be low yielding in 2016. Around twenty cases is not much return for such a lovely parcel of vines. High quality grapes from the various cépages but very low quantity.

Clairette and Oeillade from Peilhan with some Grenache Gris and Muscat Noir was added to the mix. Also picked was the Cinsault from Rome which was in good condition with nice big berries. So my two favourite vineyards are already harvested.

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James models the lovely Segrairals Syrah

Finally, some lovely Syrah from Segrairals was picked and there will be much more of this tomorrow. This Syrah is such good quality that Jeff is already excited about what he can do with it. Segrairals is the biggest vineyard of the domaine and is also serving up some of its best fruit.

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Charles, Vincent and the new sorting table

A new sorting table was brought into play this week and it is certainly much more efficient than the previous method of sorting from the cases themselves. Triage of better quality but also much speedier too. The table is already paying for itself.

So, stage 1 (picking) is well under way, stage 2 (the must in cuve) is under way for some and stage 3 (pressing) will shortly begin. The jigsaw is already becoming more complicated for Jeff Coutelou.

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There really is a puzzle under there


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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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Update on my Grenaches wine

In September I published my 100th blog post. To celebrate Jeff gave me permission to make a special cuvée. My wife Pat, friends Martin, May, Céline and Delphine helped me to pick Grenache grapes from my favourite vineyard, Rome. An assemblage of Grenaches Noir, Gris and Blanc was made.

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Since that lovely day the wine has been gently maturing in a variety of containers. Some went into a 60l barrel, more into a 30l barrel and the rest went into a 27l glass bottle. We tasted the barrel wines in November as they were still fermenting and it was already clear that there were differences between them. Further tasting in February revealed the differences more clearly with surprising results.

I had expected that the newer oak barrel would have a more pronounced effect upon the wine than the older barrel. Take a look at the two glasses in the photo, clearly one of the wines is a darker colour than the other. So is the darker colour from the older or newer barrel? (Answer lower down the page).

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On April 7th we carried out a soutirage to remove the dead yeast cells and other material which had served its purpose in the fermentation process but might now hinder the wine. There was actually little of that material as the pressing I made in September was a small scale one using the vertical press, meaning that the wine which went into the containers was actually quite pure grape juice.

I expected the older barrel to produce the darker wine but it was actually the reverse. On reflection I should have realised. The older barrel is more seasoned and the staves of the barrel are more saturated from years of wine, creating an effective barrier to oxidation. The newer barrel certainly doesn’t leak (thankfully) but allows more oxygen into the wine, producing the darker colour.

As to flavour and aroma. Well both barrel wines are both very pleasing. The older barrel certainly had fresh raspberry aromas with other red fruits, also a sweet edge which carried into the taste. It still has residual sugar but there is lovely red fruit and great length. The newer barrel gave a rounder flavour, still some sugar but there was a hint of spice and darker fruits.

The glass bottle was actively fermenting when we opened it. Take a listen.

Naturally the wine contained a little gas when we tasted it, but had very fresh aromas and flavours of red fruit with the sugar obvious due to the fermentation.

Now they are back in their various containers, topped with a little surplus Muscat to fill them. They will continue to eat the sugar and to develop their flavours. As this is almost the 150th article I hope that it won’t be another 50 before I get to taste them again. Thanks again to Jeff for allowing me to make this wine and to learn about what influences a wine and its development.

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Little fish are sweet

En francais

How do you follow the Perfect Day? Apparently you just wait and, like the proverbial London bus, two come along together.

March 8th dawned chilly, just 2°C when I left Margon at 8am, bright and clear, a perfect day for the last Spring bottling. The biodynamic calendar was favourable too, last day of the descending moon and a flower day.

In fact we started with a morning of habillage (labelling and packaging). The start of a longer process of habillage to prepare wines to send to cavistes around the world, it’s time to earn some money! This morning palettes of ‘5SO Simple’ and ‘7, Rue De La Pompe’ were put together, a smooth enough process as Jeff, Michel, Vincent and I have all done this many times now (I’m getting to be an old hand!). One interesting feature is how different regions require different labels, customs stamps and even palettes, the USA different to Europe for example. So making sure you have the right matériel demands some time and attention.

So far, so good. The banter was enjoyable as ever, Icare provided some amusement when, hiding under the rollers, he gave himself a shock when a case of bottles passed over his head. The day improved with the arrival of Thomas, a sommelier who spent time with us at vendanges, excellent company.  However, the day then took an unexpected turn for the better with a phone call from Sylvain, one of Jeff’s myriad friends. He is a scientist, intellectual and fisherman and phoned to say he was on his way. With him was a cool-box full of sea urchins, sea bass and black mullet – all freshly caught.

So, just after noon, we repaired to 7, Rue De La Pompe, the house rather than the bottle. There Sylvain prepared a feast. The oursins, fresh with their delicate tongues of iodine, concentrated flavours of the ocean; a sea urchin butter spread on fresh bread; sashimi of bass and mullet; sea bass marinated in olive oil and Jeff’s white wine vinegar; sea bass chips (little fried nuggets of flesh and skin); chunks of bass and mullet fried lightly in a tempura beer batter; fish egg omelette; barbecued sea bass; black mullet grilled with broccoli, then coated in a Japanese sauce. Totally delicious, everything was a delight, every morsel.

The freshness of the fish and Sylvain’s imagination and skill provided us with a 3 hour banquet, conversation around the role of fish and wine in religions, lighter topics too. Sometimes I have to pinch myself.

 

And, of course, wines.

Snow Balls 14, that curious cuvée of Sauvignon Blanc, Grenache Gris, Muscat and others, it shouldn’t work but it always does – so fresh, clean, dry and fruity, a perfect match with the sashimi for example.

5SO Simple 15, ( the best 5SO ever?), perfumed cherry Cinsault, dangerously fruity and moreish but with a little more texture this year. A good match for the cooked fish with its cleansing acidity.

La Vigne Haute 2010. Oh my word. This is my favourite Coutelou cuvée and the 2010 is stunning. Pure, pure Syrah, bottled joy. Deep brambly red fruit scents, as you sniff the wine you are drawn in to the luscious aromas. Rich, smooth texture with the softest of tannins supporting it, cassis and red fruit flavours and soooo long with flavours of chocolate and coffee emerging. OK I’m sounding poncey but seriously, this is fantastic wine. It will improve for a few years yet and I have some in my ‘cellar’, happy man.

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2010 La Vigne Haute and its maker

An indulgence, the whole meal. The kind of life affirming meal which everyone should enjoy from time to time.

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And yet, back to bottling on this clear, fresh day. A special cuvee, one of the little cuvées. A barrel of Maccabeu and Grenache Gris from 2012 which will be named after the top Spanish ham, 5J. The aim was to produce a wine like a light Fino, slightly oxidised but concentrated and fresh to match those hams. The barrel was formerly used for making cognac (adding more flavour) and the wine succeeds in its ambition.

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Vincent, Sylvain (standing centre), Thomas (kneeling) and Jeff

It resembles a light fino, it is dry and the slight oxidation adds complexity but it is the clear fruit which lingers, lifted by that barrel influence. I was reminded of the Jura white wines I love, a Ganévat for example, but the fino / light amontillado sherry reference rings true. It is utterly delicious. A special cuvée demands a special bottle, so 50cl flute bottles were used with a glass stopper rather than a cork. Just a few hundred bottles of something very special.

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The Maccabeu / Grenache Gris pressed in 2012 (photo by Jeff)

The barrel was then refilled with some of the top quality Maccabeu of 2015, ready for another delight in a few years. The treats continued though. Little fish are sweet. These were the words used by one of my heroes, WA (Arthur) Stephenson. He was a hugely successful horse racing trainer from my home area in County Durham and when his horse won the Cheltenham Gold Cup (jump racing’s top race) in 1987 he explained why he was at his local track instead of at the big meeting, “little fish are sweet”. As I had referenced Bowie last time I thought it was an apt and indulgent reference to the great man, who shared his time and thoughts generously whenever I spoke with him.

 

There was time to taste the Grenache wine which I made for my 100th blog post with the help of my friends. I intend to write a little more about this, suffice to say that the wine is developing very well in two different sized barrels and one super-sized glass bottle.

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Tasting the grenache

A tasting too of the 2015 Grenache Sélection De Grains Nobles, quietly maturing. Dark plummy colour, rich and round but it was black grapes that I could taste believe it or not with a sweet, raisin edge. A wine to wait for, and it will repay the patience I am sure.

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SGN Grenache

Finally, a 40 year old Muscat. Figgy aromas, black olive and molasses. No sign at all of tiredness just intense, thick, sweet nectar yet still an acidity to keep it in balance. Liquid sunshine, a long past summer captured in a bottle, revived in the glass for us. A perfect end to (another) perfect day.

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40 year old Muscat (and bottle)


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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.

 


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Centiment de Grenache

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Version française

No excuses for using a  French title and a misspelling too. This is the hundredth article on my blog and so a play on the word cent is justified. I mentioned to Jeff Coutelou that this post would be a landmark and he decided that it should be celebrated with something special. I had thought about a review of the previous ninety nine, a greatest hits if you will, but Jeff had something much more spectacular lined up; I should make a special cuvée from the Coutelou vines, and not just any parcel but my absolute favourite vineyard, Rome.

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This was such a lovely gift, in the middle of the harvest, a time of increasing pressure and stress, Jeff allowed me to take up time, grapes and equipment to make a special wine. How generous is that?

So it was decided to use the Grenache grapes from Rome a complanted vineyard of traditional, gobelet vines. The Grenaches were planted back in 1962 by Jean Claude Coutelou, Jeff’s father who told me about them at lunch on Friday, the day of the harvest and pressing. There are approximately 4 rows of Grenache Noir but mixed in there are quite a few Grenache Blanc vines and a smaller number of Grenache Gris. These would make a true assemblage of Grenache, a real feeling for Grenache, “sentiment de Grenache”.

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My wife Pat was persuaded to come along and do some picking along with our friends Martin and May Colfer, neighbours in Margon, and great people. They had expressed interest in finding out about the harvest and were to get first hand experience! I was also delighted that we were joined by Céline and Delphine, two nurses from Bordeaux who had come down to Puimisson to take part in harvest. It is a mark of how highly Jeff is valued by his friends that many come along to help out and I shall mention more in the next vendanges diaries. Céline had done some picking in the first week of harvest when she and her family were staying with Jeff and had clearly enjoyed it, returning with Delphine.

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It has to be said that none of us were the most experienced pickers and it took us around two and a half hours to harvest the four rows. One issue proved to be the complantation as mixed in with the Grenache Blanc were some Muscat vines and the Cinsault and Muscat Noir vines were easily mistaken for Grenache Noir. Fortunately my recent articles on ampelography meant that I was able to guide us into collecting the sought after Grenaches with just a few extras. It was made easier by the grapes themselves which were in excellent condition, really healthy. Mixed with Queen tunes and chatter we worked hard to pick and the first grapes were transported back to the cellar along with myself, there to start the pressing.

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As this was a small quantity of grapes they would be pressed in one of the small hydraulic presses and so I had to tread them first so that they would not burst in the press, squirting juice everywhere. Then into the cage and the juice began to flow, sweet, clear and weighing in at over 15º of potential alcohol.

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Back to the vineyards to rejoin my friends in order to complete the picking. At 11.45 we had completed all the Grenache vines. I have said before in this blog that I call the vines of Rome vineyard ‘centurions’, as they stand tall and proud. Roman centurions were older, were trained and gave everything for each other. These vines are exactly the same and making an assemblage of the different Grenaches seems appropriate, centurions stand together.

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Lunch beckoned and it was good to share together and enjoy some of the bottles of Mas Coutelou, coincidentally including a magnum of ‘Grenache, Mise De Printemps 2014’. As this is the 100th article it also made me think of a year ago when I sat around that table and Jeff told me his story of the <Chaud Doudou>, a fairytale with a moral of sharing and love, very much Jeff’s philosophy. Looking around the table with Jeff, Jean-Claude, Michel from Puimisson with visitors from the Loire, Bordeaux, UK, Ireland and Australia it was hard not to think that this was exactly what that philosophy is all about.

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In the afternoon I pressed the grapes three times in total. Between each one I carried out a rebeche, dismantling the gateau of grapes made by the press and rearranging them for the next pressing. The contrast between the black, pink and white grapes was beautiful to look at.

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The end product was only around 125 litres of wine after all that effort, this will be a true collectors item so send your bids in now! Jeff thought it would be interesting to see how the wine will develop in different containers, so some went into a 60 litre barrel, more into two, older 15 litre barrels and the rest into a big 27 litre bottle.

First pressing

First pressing

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Second pressing, slightly darker in colour

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Delphine and Karim checking my work

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During the whole process other parts of the cellar were busy as more Grenache from Sainte Suzanne were brought in. Yet Jeff gave me his time, advice and encouragement through it all. What can I say? I am a very lucky man to have been able to share my experiences with you all through this blog and I am grateful to very one of the 10,000 people who have read my words in just over a year. It has been an exciting and hugely enjoyable time and hopefully this cuvée will embody the sentiment of sharing and love and represent the beautiful Rome vineyard and the amazing generosity and talents of its owner.

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                                             Santé

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Vendanges Diaries (3)

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Grenache Gris waiting to be collected

Version française

September 3rd began with further picking at the southern quarter of the vineyards of Mas Coutelou, Peilhan and Font D’Oulette, followed by an afternoon of picking in the northern end in Segrairals.

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Peilhan and Font D’Oulette are both complanted, ie they have lots of different grape varieties being grown and often in the same rows. However it was the Grenache Gris in Peilhan which was being picked first to provide the juice for a rosé wine. Grenache Gris is, in my opinion, one of the most interesting cépages in the Languedoc Roussillon providing many of its best white wines. It also has a grey, pink skin which can provide a little colour to the wine if the juice is allowed to stay in contact with those skins for a few hours. In this case it would provide a very pale rosé wine, I heard the style described recently as a gris de gris. How this turns out we shall see, it could yet make a white wine.

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Cameron loading the press with the Grenache Gris

When the Grenache Gris was through the press it was time to bring in the grapes from Font D’Oulette. This has a whole variety of cépages from the traditional Aramon Noir to the more unusual Oeillade Muscat, Clairette Blanche and Aramon Gris along with many others.

Clairette Blanche

          Clairette Blanche

Clairette Musquée

         Clairette Musquée

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                Aramon Gris

Oeillade Muscat

                   Oeillade Muscat

Oeillade Noir

              Oeillade Noir

This assemblage will be added to some Cinsault (perhaps from Rome vineyard, perhaps not) to make Flower Power which was made for the first time in 2014 and has proved to be a big success. Indeed we shared a magnum on Friday at lunch and it was excellent, starting to really open up.

Syrah from Segrairals

                 Syrah from Segrairals

Then onto Syrah, some lovely bunches from Segriarals and Caraillet, the biggest of the Coutelou vineyards. The rich juice provided plenty of colour as you might see!

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And then, of course….

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 Cameron and Michel are becoming a true double act

This was a long day, we finished around 7.15 pm, the day starts at 7.30am. I slept well that night.

September 4th brought a whole day of Syrah grapes from Segrairals and Caraillet again. It was also the last day we had the superb Carole with us for the harvest as she heads to Champagne for picking there. Carole is a true expert in all aspects of the vineyard and cellar and she is always willing to teach and to share, she will be a big miss.

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Boxes of Syrah waiting for destemming on Friday (Sept. 4th)

Whilst we worked on the sorting of the Syrah Jeff and Cameron set about testing and remontage (pumping over the grapes already in the tanks).

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          Remontage of Flower Power grapes

We also tasted samples from the various tanks. The Syrah shows real fruit and is already developing different characteristics. Segrairals was gaining weight and power, Sainte Suzanne much more floral and elegant. The white juice from the complanted Peilhan, still in contact with skins, is beginning to ferment quickly as the yeasts get to work, perhaps because the yeasts are on those skins.  It is a treat to watch the development of these wines from infancy as they take their first steps towards the final wine.

And of course….

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We finished around 6.15 and then went to Jeff’s for a special treat to send off Carole in some style. Oysters and mussels together with some Chardonnay from the brilliant Spanish domaine, Casa Pardet, lovely. Even the sky responded.

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Meanwhile Icare fans, your hero was guarding his favourite toy, a plastic, squeaky sandwich. And sleeping, it is fun to watch him as he dreams because his tail wags furiously.

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Saturday September 5th was a day off for me but not for the rest as they continued to process the Syrah form Segrairals, I did say it is a big parcel. The Grenache and Cinsault are still not quite ready and they will dictate when the team can start to harvest them but that will not be before Tuesday. The weather forecast is good for next week so conditions should be right.

I did call round however and the work had certainly been going on as you can see from the bacs of the stalks (rafle) .

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And of course….

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I did manage to sneak into lunch however. These are a highlight of the harvest season, with food prepared by Marie France from Puimisson and bottles opened including a terrific bottle of Castets, that rare grape I have described before. We sit at a big table int he garden of Jeff’s father, right next to the cellar.

Sunday will be a day of rest except for Jeff and Cameron who will do a round of the tanks to check on their progress and carry out more remontage. There is already a lot for Jeff to be thinking about, which wines are where, how are they progressing, have the remontages been done, are the analyses done. Plus all the options about which grapes to blend, what cuvées to make and, for example, whether the Grenache Gris will be white or rosé. Then off to the vineyards to check on the grapes and their readiness for harvest. Pressure, worries, and hard work – spare a thought for the vigneron.

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Even during lunch Jeff is up and down checking on things in the cellar


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Vendanges Diaries (2)

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Version française

Aug 30th was a Sunday so no picking but Jeff was still in the cellar working. The early wines needed to be checked and moved as necessary.

Monday 31st dawned cloudy again and it was time to tackle the biggest of the vineyards at Mas Coutelou, Segrairals. The Syrah was ready to be picked and Jeff had decided to use carbonic maceration to ferment the grapes which are probably not of the same top quality as those from La Garrigue or Sainte Suzanne which were picked last week.

Grapes which are pressed like those described last week ferment in tank as yeasts react with the juice to change the sugar to ethanol, ie alcohol. The yeasts are natural from the skins of the grapes and the atmosphere of the cellar. In the case of Mas Coutelou and many artisanal winemakers this is the case though other winemakers will buy yeasts some of which are designed to add particular flavours to the wine. None of that in Puimisson, these are natural wines.

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        Carbon dioxide pumped into the tank

Carbonic maceration means that the whole bunches go into the tanks, grapes and stalks alike. The tank is filled with carbon dioxide which permeates the grape skins and starts the fermentation within the cells of the berry. Some of the berries at the bottom of the tank will be crushed by the weight of the grapes and so there will be some conventional fermentation too.

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Whole bunches in the tank

All the grapes are given a light crushing later by which time ethanol will have formed inside the skins and so the resultant juice is ready made wine. The result is often more fruity and juicy wine.

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Grapes arrive through the little back door above the cement tanks

To achieve this the tanks are filled from above so we worked in the space above the cement tank with the grapes arriving at the back door which is a level higher than the front door. The space is smaller and the heat from the grapes was high. It was hard work, believe me. Sorting still had to be done before the grapes could go into the tank, quality comes first.

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                 Some of the rejected bits

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 The pipe carries the CO2 into the tank

And after 9 hours of back breaking lifting, carrying and sifting it was, as ever, time to clean everything from top of the cellar to bottom as we see here with Jeff and Michel.

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        One visitor from the vineyard

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The boss letting us know we should get a move on

The night of the 31st brought a big storm with lots of rain, not the ideal conditions for harvest at all. Rain can cause rot and problems. However, it could have been much worse as news arrived of huge damage caused by hail in the Chablis region. For all the forecasts of how the harvest might turn out it is only when the grapes are safely in the tank that a vigneron can be assured of the quality of wine they might make. Commiserations to the Chablis producers.

September 1st was a quiet day as the rains from the storms meant the grapes were too wet to harvest. In the cellar more checking and remontage, the process of pumping the wine over the cap of skins and must. Further analysis of the wines showed that the yeasts are acting quickly and the fermentation is progressing very well.

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      Hard work!

Today, September 2nd, the remaining white grapes, Grenache Blanc, from La Garrigue. Then on to Peilhan to gather some of the white grapes there, Maccabeu, Grenache Gris, Carignan blanc and Clairette Musquée.

Grenache Gris

                                  Grenache Gris

Carignan Blanc

                                  Clairette Musquée

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      Michel

The core team of Jeff, Carole, Michel, Cameron and myself were joined by Matthieu who has worked the harvest before here. There were some lovely bunches though the wet weather has caused some rot inside some of them, Careful sorting took place in the vineyard to take only the best grapes which tasted really sweet and juicy, the Clairette was especially tasty.

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Cameron especially pleased with this bunch of Clairette

The white grapes were taken back to the cellar and placed in tank after being destemmed. It is possible that Jeff will make his first orange wine with them. An orange wine is a white wine made like a red wine, ir the wine is fermented on the skins thus extracting more colour, texture and flavour from them and giving the wine an orange tint. However, analysis and the next few days will be needed before the final decision is made.

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In tank and the future might be orange

In the afternoon, Matthieu, Jeff and myself did more remontage of the Syrah grapes harvested in the last week, which is already tasting well, with very healthy technical analysis and beautiful aromas. And, then, as ever, the cleaning.

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              Matthieu carrying out remontage

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  Remontage, the juice flows over the cap of must

Syrah from Ste Suzanne

    Beautiful colour of the Syrah from Ste Suzanne

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