amarchinthevines

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


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…XYZ – Vendanges 17

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The last case of 2017, Julien looks happy!

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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Selene and Matthie, remontage


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I can’t really say how good – Vendanges 17

 

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I don’t intend to record thoughts on every single day of the vendanges but there are some days which deserve a special mention. Yesterday, August 30th, was one of those days. And the reason was simply the quality of the grapes. These are my fourth vendanges and I do not recall such a consistently high standard of fruit coming from one parcel from the first case to the last.

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The grapes were Syrah and they came from La Garrigue vineyard. La Garrigue is interesting because it has a ridge running through the middle, west to east. The slope facing south is planted with Grenache as it is a cépage which loves the sun and heat. The slope facing north is planted with Syrah, which certainly likes sun and heat, for example in the Rhone Valley, but not so much as Grenache.

The Syrah of La Garrigue produces, in very good years, my favourite wine of all from Jeff Coutelou (and therefore, in effect, my favourite wine). That wine is La Vigne Haute which combines the warmth and fruit of the Languedoc with the serious, mineral complexity of the Rhone. Sadly there has been no Vigne Haute produced since 2013 as Jeff has felt that the quality was not quite high enough for such a cuvée. In the excellent vintage of 2015 the decision was marginal and instead he produced the excellent On Peut Pas Vraiment Dire Que, which you can read about here.

Perhaps its my bad influence since the 2014 vendanges but La Vigne Haute eludes me. This year when I took the photos of the Syrah in La Garrigue (above), Jeff was concerned that the very dry months of summer had spoiled the Syrah but recent humid days had allowed the vines to recover and put their energy into the grapes.Well, I really have my fingers crossed for 2017. The grapes came in firm bunches, healthy to the core. Classic Syrah bunches too, almost T shaped.

The cases smelled of spice and fruit, other than snails with good taste there was little to sort. The juice gave aromas of passion fruit – not something I would ever have imagined possible but tropical fruits for sure. Flavours of raspberry, wild strawberry with a lovely vivacity. This was exceptional. Now, a lot can happen in the next few days, weeks and months. Jeff will simply allow the juice to express itself and not intervene, Coutelou wines are what nature makes with a simple guiding hand.

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Making sure the workers look after these great grapes

There are many more days of the vendanges to come, and there are some exciting grapes on the vines still. However, these grapes motivated me to write, to cross my fingers and trust in nature and Jeff to, maybe, finally deliver my favourite wine. Whatever, it will be worth buying and drinking, I can hardly wait.


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Vendanges 2016 #5 – Bolts from the blue

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La foudre s’est abattue sur le cirque de Gavarnie, dans les Hautes-Pyrénées, dans la nuit du 13 au 14 septembre. (Photo : capture d’écran webcam Gîte Oxygène Gavarnie)

En français

Tuesday September 13th, the return of picking, with a little urgency in light of the weather forecast for heavy storms that night. The objective was to collect the Syrah from La Garrigue, the grapes which go into La Vigne Haute, my personal «cuvée mythique» of Mas Coutelou.

Last year the grapes were slightly swollen so Jeff decided to make another cuvée instead, On Peut Pas Vraiment Dire Que, and it is now 3 or 4 years since we saw LVH. It remains to be seen whether Jeff decides that the grapes were of high enough quality in 2016 for such a prestigious wine.

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Syrah in La Garrigue on Saturday 10th

The grapes started a little messy requiring some careful triage both in the vineyard and cellar.

However, the quality improved after the first few cases which had been picked in a lower part of the vineyard. Certainly by the end of the day we had sorted a good quantity and quality of fruit, my shirt can certainly testify to their juiciness.

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That night came the predicted thunderstorm, violent though not as long lasting as perhaps expected. I saw that some parts of the region saw over 200mm of rain, fortunately Puimisson did not reach those levels. However, there was enough to stop picking for the next few days. As I said last time wet grapes are not ideal. In addition the soft ground in the vineyards would be churned up by feet and wheels.

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James working hard as usual

In a way the storm came at a good time on a personal level. I developed a mild case of bronchitis out of the blue on Tuesday which would have prevented me from working on Wednesday and Thursday. So, I have left cellar work to the experts whilst I recharge my batteries for Saturday when we may get to the Grenache in La Garrigue which looks bountiful and ripe.

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Grenache in La Garrigue Sept. 10th

Meanwhile analysis of the grapes continues. There was the result of Ecocert’s evaluation showing that Mas Coutelou successfully retains its organic certification and also their analysis proving that no sulphites were or are added in the wines. And then there is the daily analysis from the oenologue which shows information such as alcohol levels, total acidity, pH levels, residual sugar etc. These help Jeff to think about how to look after the wines and which ones might blend together successfully in future.

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The weather is now set fair until we finish; Grenache, Carignan, Mourvèdre, Cabernet Sauvignon should arrive in good conditions with a light north wind and under blue skies.

 


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Vendanges 2016 #4 -cellar and weather

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En français

The weather has had its say and threatens to shout out loud in the next few days. Should we expect anything different in this most problematic of years? Saturday (Sept. 10th) was supposed to be a day for picking but a heavy shower fell in the morning and that was enough to stop the day in the vineyards. Grapes covered in rainwater would provide diluted juice, no good for quality producers though that did not stop some in the area.

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Some picked on Saturday

However, there was still work to do in the cellar, remontages and pressing. The previous day some of the team had been clearing space in the solera cave so that the Muscat and Grenache picked from Rome vineyard would have room.

Sunday was a day off though more remontage and cellar work was done. There is no rest. Today (Monday 12th) was a normal day for many vignerons but at Mas Coutelou a big part of the team are the Moroccan pickers and it is Eid Mubarak. Therefore Jeff decided that they deserved the opportunity to celebrate their holy day and so no major picking. An act of respect which deserves mention.

Sadly, that act seems unlikely to be rewarded by the weather. There is a major threat of a large storm on Wednesday which would halt work again and require a few days for the grapes to recover before they could be harvested. More careful triage will also be required. Let us hope that the storm weakens or diverts.

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Carignan Noir Saturday

Meanwhile Carole, James, Vincent and Charles were out picking Carignan Blanc this morning in Peilhan and the Grenache from Sainte Suzanne was pressed. Work continues despite everything this year throws at us. Tomorrow will see the harvest of Syrah from La Garrigue, the grapes which usually make La Vigne Haute.

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La Garrigue, Syrah on the left

 


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It’s A Kind Of Magic

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En français

Saturday June 4th was supposed to be the Festival De Magie in Puimisson, a family magic show. Sadly it had to be postponed until September as, around 5.30pm, a huge thunderstorm broke over the area. Booming thunder and heavy rain were the main features as Puimisson and the wider region were treated to an alternative fireworks display to that scheduled in the Festival. Yet 2 hours later the skies were clear, the streets were dry again.

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Flooded roads

Four of us though were treated to a magical evening. Jeff welcomed Cedric who runs the best website on French natural wines at vinsnaturels.fr (and I don’t say that because he chose one of my photographs on the opening page!) It gives great detail about vignerons, technical details about their wines and where they can be bought. His friend Ghislain was with him, another natural wine expert and promoter in the Grenoble area. Pat and I were invited along too and it was a real pleasure to meet up with them, they proved to be excellent company.

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We were treated to 7 hours of tasting with Jeff in the cellars and at his home. And there was no question that Jeff is a true magician, conjuring up an amazing range of wines and of such a consistently high standard. I may be biased as he is my friend but the demand for his wines proves I am not alone in thinking so.

We tasted all of the 2015 wines, those in bottle and already sold, those just bottled and those in tank and barrel. Whites, rosé, reds, sparkling and selection de grains nobles. Plus many wines from previous years in barrel and bottle. Before moving to the solera cave to taste, amongst others, the Grenaches wine I made. Hand on heart there was not one dud wine and there were many special wines.

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Amongst white wines the Maccabeu and the macerated wine we bottled the previous day were showing well. So too the Bibonade sparkling wines, white and rosé. 5SO Simple was on form from the early wines alongside Vin Des Amis.

Of the next wave of wines, Classe was outstanding, Jeff thinks maybe the star of 2015. Tête À Claques was good, a blend of VdA and Syrah; Buvette À Paulette too, a blend of Mourvèdre and Cabernet Sauvignon. Flambadou will be excellent, it needs time but has all the ingredients to be especially good, just as it has been the last few years.

One wine which was noteworthy was Flower Power. This is the red produced from the complanted Font D’Oulette vineyard with its Aramon, Clairette Musquée, Cinsault, Oeillade and six other cépages. Its first vintage in 2014 won plaudits even from the conventional press. The 2015 I had tasted on Thursday and it was in a dumb moment, Jeff actually carried out a soutirage on Friday and by this Saturday evening it was singing. For me, this could be the star of 2015.

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Flower Power’s complanted vineyard

Ghislain had brought some cheeses from Meilleur  Ouvrier De France Bernard Ravaud. They were superb cheeses including a truffled comté which shall live long in the memory. Jeff opened one of the 2012 barrel aged 5J which I wrote about recently, and it is a great marriage with cheeses.

We moved to the solera cellar where we tasted some of the old Muscats and Grenaches. However, it was also good to taste my Grenaches wine from all three of its containers, the new 60l barrel, the old 30l barrel and the 27l glass bottle. As before the older barrel has a sweeter, fruitier profile whilst the new barrel gives a slightly leaner, more complex wine. The glass bottle is all sweet fruit and still fermenting! It was good to hear Cedric, Ghislain and Pat all give their approval.

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My Grenaches from new barrel

The hours flew by, always the sign of a good night. Thirty wines or so, Jeff just keeps bringing them out from up his sleeve. Or have I just given away a magic secret?

On Wednesday June 8th more visitors to the cellar. Paco Mora of La Cave D’Ivry and a friend of his Charlotte, a caviste in Montpellier, visited. I have mentioned Paco before on here and I would love to visit his Cave. He takes time and trouble to visit the winemakers whose wines he stocks and to offer his support. He’s passionate about wine and good fun as well as having a keen social conscience. We shared wines, laughs and lunch and two more great wines.

La Vigne Haute 2010 was lovely, showing maturity, the Syrah fruit now brooding and dark with great length and depth. LVH has always been my favourite cuvée but even this had to bow down before Flambadou 2007. Pure Carignan, more leathery and plummy notes with a smooth as silk chocolate finish. If anyone tells you natural wines cannot age then I would ask you to quote this bottle as proof that not only can they age but they can become truly great! Spellbinding.

And even time for a little levitation. Told you it was magic.

 

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The story of a wine – we can’t really say

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En francais

On Peut Pas Vraiment Dire Que * is a new cuvée from Mas Coutelou in 2015. So how is a new cuvée born? This is its story.

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My favourite Jeff  wine over the years has been La Vigne Haute, a pure Syrah coming from the vineyard La Garrigue. This vineyard has a small ridge running west to east meaning that part of it faces north and part faces south. Jeff planted Grenache on the southward side as Grenache is a Mediterranean grape and likes the heat. On the north side is Syrah, a grape from the Rhone, which likes heat but not too much if it is to reveal its best.

La Vigne Haute is a wine of subtle Syrah. Perfumed with red fruits and tasting of silky smooth red and black fruits it carries elegance and restraint. However, in 2015 Jeff took the decision at the last minute not to make La Vigne Haute but rather to change the whole vinification of the grapes which were harvested. Here is the story in his own words, as told to Paco Mora a caviste in Ivry sur Seine. Jeff kindly gave me permission to reproduce it here.

“To thank you [for a generous comment on Facebook], I’d like to take a few minutes to tell you the story of “On Peut Pas Vraiment Dire Que.” A story which confirms that to make wine, we must first know, love and pamper both vineyards and grapes.

It comes from the parcel “La Garrigue”, my only parcel on villafranchien soil, which I planted:
 On the north side: Syrah (planted north / south) to be always caressed but never assaulted by the sun.
 On the south side: Grenache as it is not afraid of the heat.

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The buffer zones in Garrigue

This decision made me lose 10 vine stocks per row of vines (300 in total) to leave a buffer zone between the two varieties but it was a decision which seemed most suited to making the Syrah I dreamed of. It normally makes “La Vigne Haute” but also produced “PAF La Syrah” in 2012. This plot has a vein of water running underneath which the presence of horsetail fern confirms. This year, even during the heat wave, it never suffered and continued to push …. It was the most beautiful vineyard at harvest time.

The day of the harvest, we had planned to make Vigne Haute by implementing the classic method; destemmed grapes, putting it into tank, maceration of 2 to 3 weeks with little pumping, to encourage infusion and not to seek extraction.

The vineyard was beautiful, beautiful grapes, everyone at the winery was excited that this would be a great vintage. The first grapes arrived, and as son as I saw them, I thought I had to change everything … ..
The fact that they had not suffered from the July heat wave but instead had profited from it (because of the sun caressing that north facing slope, the heat effect lessened because of that vein of water). It had produced berries more swollen than usual … and I could really see that when they arrived in the cellar.

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After an hour, I said to myself “if you do as usual, you will not get to do what you want.” The fact that the liquid / solid ratio is different, if I had made a classic wine, I would have to extend the maceration time to extract enough material relative to the juice and in that case, there is also the risk of extracting good but also the less good.

So within 10 minutes I decided to change everything.

We continued by putting whole bunches into tank with the idea of making a short vinification. On that day, everyone was down in the mouth in the cellar because I had told them that there would be no Vigne Haute …. But I trusted my grapes and they told me that they would repay my faith in them .

We just left the grapes in vats for 7 days without any intervention and then pressed. So there was almost no exchange between the skins and juice in tank. The tannins and colour were extracted because of pressing the skins, which were ripe, and released them after their short stay in the vat.

In the end, it’s just the juice of the vine and the terroir that you have in the bottle ….
Nothing technical, just grapes that were cared for and nursed from their birth to their maturity ….”

So that is the story of On Peut Pas Vraiment Dire Que. I was one of those who was ‘down in the mouth’ on that day when Jeff changed everything. Yet it was, of course, the right thing to do. The wine is very like the Paf of 2012, fruity but with a lovely vein of soft tannin and bite running through it. It is elegant above all, a Syrah worthy of the great Rhone appelations but with Languedoc warmth and fruit.

And OPPVDQ is a tribute to the talent, intuition and knowledge of Jeff Coutelou. He knows his vines, his grapes and how to help them to express themselves to maximum advantage. I can’t really tell you how he does it… it’s natural.

A phrase which can be translated as ‘we can’t really say’.


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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)