amarchinthevines

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


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Wine with friends, the 2017 Coutelou wines

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One of the highlights of the last few weeks of the 2018 vendanges was tasting the wines from 2017. A group of our friends gathered to enjoy bottles kindly given by Jeff and we tasted through them, scoring them as went. I am not a great fan of wine scores but it was a simple way of tracking our preferences, we revisited scores regularly to ensure there was some context for the earlier marks.

We started with the OW of 2016, so a different vintage but yet to be released. I have tasted it regularly in recent weeks at vendanges lunches and I really like it. Many orange wines are being made but often they are based on grapes which have fairly neutral skins. OW is made from Muscat D’Alexandrie and the skins have a lot of flavour which the long maceration brings out together with the tannins. This has real character, one of my wines of the night. It must be said that for some of my friends it was too much of a shock, unused to skin contact wines they found it too different. If you like orange wines though, believe me, this is excellent.

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On to the reds. 2017 was a vintage of low yields due to the long, dry summer. However, it must be said one of the consequences is a concentration of flavour and high quality. The six wines we shared were all very good and consistent in their length and full flavour. Perhaps the most consistent of any vintage I have been involved with since I started in 2014.

Vin De Table is a supposedly simple wine. Don’t be fooled, it is very good. Assembled from wines left over from the main cuvées with quite a large portion of Merlot for good measure. It received consistently good scores from everyone, it was simply enjoyable and very drinkable, belying its simple status with good fruit, freshness and length. A bargain at the price of well under 10€ seen in many caves.

Tête À Claques was a wine originally made for London restaurants but now sold from the cellars. It is based on Le Vin Des Amis (what was left) to which was added Mourvèdre and other remaining wine. The Mourvèdre boosts the wine with some crunchy, dark fruit flavours and this was one person’s favourite wine of the night.

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The natural successor was Le Vin Des Amis. For two of the group this was their favourite wine of the evening. The 2017 version is based on Cinsault, not the norm. Blended with Syrah and Grenache the Cinsault gives a real lift of red fruit and the result is a classic VDA, a bottle which will please anyone and disappear quickly.

On to the other headlining wine of the Coutelou range, Classe. Syrah, Grenache and more Mourvèdre (there was also a pure Mourvèdre released in 2017 under the name of On Peut Pas Vraiment Dire Que). Classe usually adds a depth and silkiness compared to VDA, it lives up to its name and label. This was no exception, it really is a very good wine and one I would love to age for a year or two even though it would be hard to resist now. One person chose it as their highlight.

Flambadou has been one of the best wines of the domaine for the last few years. Pure Carignan from a vineyard with complex geology the 2017 version is up to those high standards with dark fruits, freshness and ripe tannins. It needs time to mature before it reaches its peak but this is one of my favourite wines and, from experience of this wine, I can tell this will develop into a top class wine.

My absolute favourite Coutelou wine is La Vigne Haute, the pure Syrah from La Garrigue. North facing, villefranchien rock the wine is only released as La Vigne Haute when Jeff decides it is of the required quality, just seven of the last nineteen years. This is the first time I have been involved with making LVH and I am thrilled with it. The fruit is already evident, it is complex, has dark edges as well as the fruit. The flavours are long and fresh with more ripe tannins. It is a beauty, it could be mistaken for a wine from the Rhone or Ardèche. Previous examples of this wine have shown me that it needs 5 years or more to be at it best, 2009 is excellent at present. This will be a wine to treasure for years to come. Three of us chose it as wine of the night.

Overall, my friends showed great taste in selecting La Vigne Haute as the clear leader in scoring (I hope my influence wasn’t too strong!). Classe and Le Vin Des Amis followed on a few points behind. However, all agreed as we enjoyed a wonderful half bottle of Vieux Grenache that the wines were excellent, consistently so.

Thanks to May and Martin for being such great hosts and providing lovely food to accompany the wines. And to Pat, Afshin, Denise, Matt and Jonathan for joining in and making it so enjoyable.

A special night. Jeff told me from the beginning that he makes his wines to be shared with friends and loved ones. This was a night to prove the wisdom of those words as well as the immense talent and passion of Jeff Coutelou.

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Vendanges 2018 – Part 6 (Grapes, work and love)

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2018 will be remembered by team Coutelou for mildew, hail, mechanical breakdowns and successive problems. Yet as we reached the end of the vendanges the habitual feelings of pride, camaraderie and friendship were to the fore.

Though the harvest of Mourvèdre the previous week was the last of the major parcels Jeff had left grapes in Peilhan to pick. The reason was a visit by a film crew from Netflix making a programme (or series) about different ways of making wine in the region from cave co-ops to big scale producers and négotiants like Bertrand to the natural producer which is Jeff Coutelou.

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Some of the camera equipment

Carignan Blanc and Muscat D’Alexandrie was picked in the morning, even I did 4.5 hours of picking. Over the final harvest lunch (my favourite Fideua plus jeroboams of the first Amphora wine) the crew joined us and then filmed the afternoon picking of the new plantation of Peilhan with its Piquepoul Gris and Riveyrenc Gris. They shot scenes in the cellar as we sorted and then carried out a long interview with Jeff. I am not really allowed to say much more until the broadcast and shall update when we get the date.

And that was it. The last grapes. There remains much work to do with the processes I described here needing to continue for all the wines in tank, from the first to these last. The Muscat will go to make a maceration orange wine as in 2016, a wine I truly love and which has featured regularly through harvest lunches.

Carignan Blanc, Riveyrenc Gris, sorting the last cases

It is time for Jeff to count the costs of these vendanges in terms of actual production and I shall feedback when things settle down. Suffice to say we had a big drop in quantity, the Coutelou wines will be even harder to find. Having tasted most, if not all, as they ferment steadily I can say that quality remains high, Flower Power, Carignan, La Garrigue Syrah and Mourvedre especially.

Muscat and the new plantation grapes in cuve

Jeff’s motto of “grapes, work and love” is never more true than at this time of year. We have worked hard, we have formed friendships and made the best of what nature gave.

Amphora jeroboam poured by our resident sommelier Louis, Michel shows his team loyalty


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From vine to wine – Vendanges 17

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Skins after pressing

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

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

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


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Vendanges Diary #7 – London Cab

Version française

This was the final big week of harvest and it centred around Cabernet Sauvignon. There is a big parcel (around 1.5ha) of the grape in Segrairals and it is not a variety which really excites Jeff for a Mas Coutelou wine. It has done especially well in 2015 though the small berries have swollen with the rains and the alcohol levels had therefore fallen a little to around 14%. They taste sweet and juicy and came in fantastic bunches, not the same size as the Cinsault and Mourvèdre from this vineyard, but small and healthy nonetheless.

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Cabernet Sauvignon on the vine in Segrairals

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                              Cabernet Sauvignon

Part of it was picked on Monday 21st September which will be used by Jeff, purpose as yet unknown though Cameron may be flexing his winemaking muscles with some. The other major work on Monday was to use the Muscat d’Alexandrie grapes from Peilhan which were also in good health.

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         Muscat d’Alexandrie

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They have very thick skins so the pressing took longer than usual to extract the juice. They were mixed with some Muscat À Petits Grains grapes. I will come back to these grapes and the juice later in this article.

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      Michel loads the Muscat into the press

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               Muscat juice after pressing

Tuesday 22nd was the big day for the Cabernet Sauvignon. I have explained before that Jeff sells most of these grapes to London Cru, an English winery as the name suggests. London Cru buy grapes from around Europe, eg Chardonnay from Limoux, Albarino from Rias Baxas, Grenache from Spain. This is the third vintage of the project and the grapes were ready at last. In 2014 they had been ready on September 4th, my first day at Mas Coutelou after our move to the Languedoc. This year the rain had delayed them so Gavin and Alex flew into Béziers on Monday evening. They had been in Italy on Saturday and only just got back to London before flying here. The refrigerated wagon was in situ as I arrived on Tuesday morning, waiting to be loaded with the grapes.

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Confidence was high amongst the London Cru team after some very good reviews including one last week by Dr. Jamie Goode who gave the top mark (94/100) to the Cabernet Sauvignon using Jeff’s grapes. The fruit for 2015 should bring more high marks and good wine. We tasted the 2014 over lunch and it was very good, clear, direct fruit with ripe tannins which mean that the wine will be at its best in 2 to 3 years.

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                Alex and Gavin loading the grapes

Gavin, Alex and Jeff directed and led the picking carried out by the Moroccan team as usual but also by Cameron and myself together with two excellent new additions to the team in Fabrice and Romain. Fabrice puts on shows (spectacles) around France whilst Romain is an artist. They have picked here before and were good fun and hard working, more new friends. (Fabrice on the left, Romain to the right.

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After picking the 6 tonnes or so of grapes they were driven straight off to London under refrigerated conditions to keep them fresh. Gavin and Alex flew back to London that evening ready to receive them at their base. London Cab, fine fare.

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                  Fine bunch of Cab I picked

Lunch was excellent with the London Cru wine and a magnum of Flambadou 2014 which was excellent, still in its infancy but already drinking well. Afterwards Cameron and I did some pigeage of the Carignan grapes amongst others. It was also Cameron’s birthday, hopefully it was one he will remember with affection.

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Birthday boy Cameron looking for his present

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        Pigeage of the Carignan

Wednesday 23rd was a day for working the cellar. Jeff was keen to aerate the Syrah a little and to start to maximise the cuves by assembling some of the tanks and filling the new ones. Thursday saw similar work whilst Jeff also did some admin work.

On Friday 25th I returned to the cellar. Cameron was enjoying a well earned break and so I joined Jeff and Michel. They were continuing to fill the tanks, aerate some wine and then we moved to the muscats from Monday.

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                       Aerating some Syrah

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Muscats macerating with a little older Muscat wine

The Muscats are destined for the solera system and after a few days maceration they were showing lovely aromas, already slightly sherry-like due to being mixed with some older wine. The juice went straight into barrel whilst the marc was pressed again to extract more juice and flavour. Tasted straight from the press these included lovely apricot, plum fruits along with the slight oxidised note which adds complexity. Truly delicious, I’m afraid my description fails to do it justice.The barrel will allow the wine to age and gain contact with oxygen and the wine will develop into a luscious sweet wine. As stated previously I shall write more about the solera in the near future.

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Michel removes the skins for pressing

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     Michel then loads the press

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               Gateau de Muscat

There are one or two small parcels still to pick but the main harvest is now over. It began back on August 21st so lasted just over a month. I shall be reflecting upon it and the lessons I have learned from it in the next article. Meanwhile I look forward to picking the Muscat from Rome and went to the vineyard on Friday lunchtime to take some photos. I was met by a family of partridges, butterflies and birdsong – Rome really is a magical place. In La Garrigue the vines are starting to show their autumnal colours, their work is done for 2015. The vines have given everything to their fruit in the last month and the leaves which remain after harvest are looking tired after a long, hot summer. All, or nearly all, is safely gathered in. 

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La Garrigue, Friday. The grass across the centre marks the ridge with Grenache near side and Syrah far side.

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Grenache leaves showing that autumn approaches, harvest is over

Rome on a beautiful autumn day

                   Rome on a beautiful autumn day

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Luscious Muscat bunch

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Berries shriveling and concentrating the sugars

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    Jeff seems to approve of the London Cab