amarchinthevines

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


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Vendanges 2016 #8 – from grapes to wine

En français

The grapes are picked, how do we make this become wine? That has become the main objective now at Mas Coutelou.

The grape skins, pips, flesh and solids are with the juice in the tank (cuve) for as long as Jeff feels that they will benefit the juice. They give the juice chemicals such as anthocyanins which give colour to the juice (for rosé and red wines), tannins and flavour compounds. The solid parts of the mix tend to rise to the top of the tank and float on the juice. This cap must be kept moist, a dry must would give unpleasant flavours and is more prone to harmful bacteria. That is why remontage and pigeage have to be carried out, as explained before.

Jeff will taste from each cuve every day and samples are sent to oenologue Thierry Toulouse for analysis.

When he is happy that the right balance of sugars, acidity, colour and flavours is achieved it is time to press the wine. Some of the must is left behind in cuve and will be collected to use again, for example in distilling.

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Michel removing must from the cuve

The pressed juice goes into a new cuve and will continue its fermentation into wine. The yeasts on the grape skins and in the atmosphere of the cellar change the grape sugars into alcohol. The fermentation will have begun when the must was in contact but will continue when just the juice remains.

I wish I could convey the smell of the fermenting juice via the page you are reading. It is like walking into a boulangerie in the early morning,  bready aromas fill the air as the yeasts go about their work. One of the real highlights of the whole process.

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Fragrant, yeasty fermenting wine

Whilst that is all going on the equipment which has been used so much in the last month is checked over, taken apart and given a thorough cleaning. Not a pip, not a grape skin must be left in the sorting table, presses, égrappoir (destemmer) or anything else. No chance of bacteria gathering.

It is not straightforward. The process of grape juice to wine is a natural one and things can go wrong. Any vigneron who had a year where the process went without any hiccoughs would be either the luckiest alive or a liar. Yeasts can suddenly stop working, fermentations become too hot, bacteria (both helpful and harmful) are unpredictable. Jeff must be aware of every cuve and of their analyses, he must use his experience to tackle any issue which springs up at any time of day or night. He rejects the use of sulphur dioxide (SO2) to act as an antiseptic or stabiliser for the wine, therefore that experience is tested time and again. No wonder he wears an air of fatigue.

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The Forgotten art of assemblage

 

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One of the more interesting wines at Mas Coutelou is L’Oublié. It is also one of my favourite wines. On Thursday, June 9th Jeff called in his oenologue, Thierry Toulouse, to help to decide on the blending (assemblage) of the new version of L’Oublié.

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So what is L’Oublié? It is a blend of grapes just like the vast majority of Languedoc wines and, indeed, Mas Coutelou wines. However, it is also a blend of wines from different years. For example the Carignan is a blend of wine from 2001, 2007 and 2010 which has been stored and aged in a barrel called a demi muid. Add in a similar blend of Grenache and Syrah from different years and then other wines to add even more complexity and depth. The name means ‘the forgotten one’ referring to the original barrel of wine which had been, well, forgotten.

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This is how I described L’Oublié in my article about the Coutelou cuvées:

“It has aromas of dark fruits and leathery, spicy notes too. It is dark flavoured too, blackberries, liquorice and even coffee are just some of the many complex flavours. It benefits from decanting to allow that complexity to resolve itself a little, and it will stay fresh for days after opening. There are not many wines like this around and I honestly don’t know why. It is unusual and one of my favourite wines because of its complexity, its balance of older and more youthful flavours. Terrific.”

It is the mix of darker flavours with the hallmark Coutelou freshness which really appeals to me about this wine. So, how is it made?

Jeff had taken samples from the demi muid barrels of old Carignan, Grenache and Syrah and also samples of other wines which he had, for example Copains 2013. This is a pure Cinsault, from Rome vineyard, released in 2014 but Jeff had aged some of it in barrel too. Younger wines were on the table too, available to be used. We tasted these separately first to get a feel of the flavours which would be in the mix. Frankly, the barrel aged Copains was so good I’d have made a wine just of that!

Using the base wines of the old blends the oenologue measured out the proportions based on the quantities of each wine available for the final cuvée.

The wine was left to mix for a few minutes and then we tasted. The first was very good but, perhaps, edging a little too much towards the dark side of flavours. So, some 2015 wine was added to freshen it up and … voilà. The characteristics of previous versions of L’Oublié but made with newer wines on top of the base wines.

 

The decision on the blend made, Jeff then set about blending the components together in tank where it will sit for a while to marry together. This will be bottled at a future date, yet to be determined as it depends upon when the wine is ready. It will tell Jeff the right moment. Yet another wine to look forward to.

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The secret code of L’Oublié

If you don’t want to take my word for how good L’Oublié is then here are other reviews and tasting notes:

http://www.lsfinewines.co.uk/acatalog/Mas_Coutelou.html

http://www.leblogdolif.com/archive/2011/12/05/grain-grain-le-petit-raisin-gnan-gnan.html