amarchinthevines

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


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A Tour Down Under, Little Things Mean A Lot

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During our holiday in the Adelaide Hills we stayed with James Madden, Sam Bateman and their beautiful year old daughter Flo together with James’ mother Pat. James and Sam travelled in France a couple of years ago and visited Jeff Coutelou which led to James returning to Puimisson a year later to play a  major role in the vendanges of 2016, which is how I got to know him. He became a valued friend in that time and when I told him that we were heading to Australia he invited us to stay with them.

A lot had happened in that 18 months, the birth of Flo, the loss of his father and the establishment of his own winery, Little Things. With all those emotional pulls it would have been easy for his first vintage to be a learning curve, instead James smashed it. The wines he produced from 2017 are extremely good by any standard, extraordinary for a first year. I would understand if you thought me biased, (I am of course), but honestly these are terrific wines.

James’ background is in catering, working in a number of restaurants in Australia, for example Movida in Melbourne. He became fascinated by wine and started to work harvests in 2011 in the Adelaide Hills often with James Erskine of Jauma wines as well as in the Mornington Peninsula and, as I said, with Jeff in the Langeudoc. That experience has instilled in him a desire to make wine with minimal intervention, he is one of the very few in Australia who resists the safety net of SO2. As we recalled over a glass, Jeff used to tell him to believe in his grapes and let them express themselves. When Sam encouraged James to give it a go on his own he took the plunge and from Little Things big things will surely follow.

James sources grapes from trusted organic growers over quite a large area. Vineyard management is done by the growers though in consultation with James and in 2018 he has taken over the running of a couple of vineyards. Ideally the couple want to buy somewhere with their own vines but in the interim, as is the norm here, James buys in the grapes, harvesting them himself.

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The Shed

When James poured me the wines from 2017 I expected to have to be polite and encouraging. Not that I underestimated him, just that it is hard to get things right first time around. There was no need for politeness. I was struck by the purity of the wines, the fruit is clear, pure and typical of the variety, it is not hard to identify Grenache, Shiraz or Chardonnay. Yet there is complexity, seriousness and everything you would want in your glass. As I said, he smashed it.

The wines are made in a shed he shares with Alex Schulkin (The Other Right). Pressing in small batches, maceration in small plastic containers and then the wine goes into old barrels. I recall that James was a master of cleanliness at Jeff’s and this is apparent in the way he works in his own winery. He has listened to advice, observed the right ways to work and made his own path with his own wines. He is still learning, playing around with fermentation techniques etc, and it will be fascinating to watch his, and the wines’, development. I only hope that we in Europe can get hold of some, importers take note.

The Sauvignon Blanc Pet Nat, Flo’s Fizz and the Chardonnay, Sweet Child Of Mine (there’s a theme here!) sold out quickly and it was not hard to understand why. The PetNat is just fresh fruit fun, goes down way too easily but at under 11% not too much danger. The Chardonnay is from 28 year old vines, whole bunch pressed, tank fermented and then aged in old barrels. It is a delight. There is a creamy note but a clean acidity runs through with lemon and spice notes. Seriously good wine.

Purple Patch Shiraz is dry grown Shiraz from Clarendon in the McLaren Vale, nice and light (just 11% abv) and very drinkable. I remember lots of good wines from this area when I first got into Australian reds and this would be a good example. More Shiraz, this time blended with Grenache (75/25%) in Sum Of Many, the fruity Shiraz being spiced up by the hit of Grenache. That Grenache was to cause a few problems for James as he discovered just before the 2018 harvest that there had been a spray on the vineyard and that it was, consequently, not organic. James decided to be open and honest about this and shared his disappointment with buyers. He decided the 2018 could not be used by him because of it not being organic, however he did find another winemaker who would welcome the grapes. In this way the grower, who had made an honest mistake, did not lose out and James will be able to use the vineyard’s grapes in future. I think that was an honest, commendable decision. The Grenache wine Comes A Time was inadvertently made from the vineyard in 2017, I found it a little more subdued than the others even before I found out about its history.

My favourite red though has to be Joy’s Wild Fruits Field Blend. The vineyard is next to the sea at Fleurieu Peninsula and most of the grapes are technically white, eg Pinot Gris, Savagnin, Chardonnay, but they are picked with the Pinot Noir, Merlot and Cabernet from the same vineyard, pressed together and left on skins for more than a week. This is heady wine; bright, light and mighty good. Fresh and zesty from the whites, fruity and spicy from the reds. I love field blends and this just works.

I am really excited for James and Sam that their venture is taking off. The bottles are selling well. Whilst in Adelaide and Melbourne we were in bars and restaurants with Little Things on the list (alongside Mas Coutelou in some places!). James can hold his head high whilst he mixes with James Erskine, Tom Shobbrook and Gareth Belton, his wines stand comparison and promise great things for the future. Proud of you mate!

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My wines of 2017

Sparkling

I was fortunate to taste many excellent sparkling wines this year. Excellent PetNats such as Éxilé from Domaine Jousset in the Loire, Jeff’s Bibonade rosé and the excellent Restons Nature from Kumpf et Meyer in Alsace. However, I have to admit that champagne always comes out as my favourite sparkling wine. From Boulard, Pascal, Jacquesson and others I was able to appreciate some lovely wines.

Top of my class this year though was Jacques Lassaigne, who I was very happy to meet at Chai Christine Cannac in Bédarieux. His vintage 2008 was sheer delight, a top class champagne with freshness, complexity and sheer pleasure.

White

So many good white wines this year. The unexpectedly good Georgian amphora wine from Marks and Spencer was a late favourite. Alexandre Bain’s excellent Pouilly Fumés are always a joy, especially Pierre Précieuse 2015, proving that Sauvignon Blanc can be a wine of true quality. Okanagan Crush Pad from Canada was another source of excellent Sauvignon Blanc, Free Form 2015 which had nine months of skin contact. Austria provided many highlights, the wines of the Rennersistas, Koppitsch, Gut Oggau, Meinklang and the brilliant Andreas Tscheppe.

Alsace, however, was the star of the year. I visited the region in May and had the great pleasure to spend time with the inspirational Patrick Meyer and the rising star Julien Albertus. The quality of wines, typicity of grape, freshness and pleasure provided were remarkable. Patrick’s wines astonished me, even many days after opening they were precise, fresh and stunning.

Special mention to the orange wine from Languedoc producers Régis and Christine Pichon of Domaine Ribiera, Orange sur les Canilles a wine which more than any other persuaded me of the benefit of skin contact wines.

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Red

From the Languedoc Maxime Magnon’s Métisse 2016 readily springs to mind along with some older vintages of Barral’s Faugères. Olivier Cohen and Mas D’Alezon were other Languedoc producers whose wines I enjoyed.

Italy’s I Mandorli and Azienda Vitivinicola Selve made an impact at RAW in London. I enjoyed the Pinot Noirs from the aforementioned Patrick Meyer and Julien Albertus. This was a year when white wine provided most of the memorable moments however. Highlight of reds will be described in the next post.

Sweet and fortified

A lovely Banyuls Cuvée Méditeranée 2005 from Piétri-Géraud was a highlight but the most memorable was the 1959 Muscat De Frontignan which Jeff opened for me on my birthday. Not often you get to drink a wine from your birth year, especially as the years slip by! It was sticky, sweet and very rich, a real taste of history.

 


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Sparkling Coutelou

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Leon snaps, Jeff pops

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With UK importer Leon Stolarski in attendance Jeff offered us the chance to taste through the 2016 wines which are largely still in tank. Fermentations have been slow from last year, some are still bubbling away gently, finally eating up the last sugars. Jeff thinks the very dry winter and spring and heat of July meant that the yeasts were perhaps weakened meaning fermentation has been slower. The key point is, how does that affect the quality?

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Even from when I tasted them a month ago they have changed in nature, more streamlined, less opulent, more complex. And, as always chez Coutelou, very drinkable. The whites show lots of fruit but restrained and serious too, the long maceration Muscat a definite highlight. Sadly, quantities are down, another result of the dry winter and spring. Reds show fruit and complexity, the Carignan beginning to emerge as a star (true of so many recent vintages) and the Mourvèdre continuing to shine bright.

In the afternoon a new treat. Bibonade is Jeff’s PetNat, a natural sparkling wine. The white and rosé version have been sitting in bottle for a while and it was time to disgorge them. Sparkling wines, including champagne, age in bottle rather than tank and as they do so they throw a sediment. Still wines do the same, the sediment (lees) falls to the bottom of the tank and the wine is then taken out leaving the sludge behind. In bottle the sediment also falls to the bottom, if the bottle is laid flat the sediment will coat the inside. To gather the lees the bottles are placed in special racks (pupitres) with the neck pointing down. By turning the bottle 90° every day the winemaker can ensure that the sediment doesn’t stick to the sides and all gathers in the neck above the capsule.

Fermentation in bottle produces carbon dioxide which in turn creates the fizz in there. By opening the bottle, the release of pressure forces the sediment out of the bottle. Obviously this has to be controlled or you lose too much of the wine as well, so Jeff quickly covers the bottle as soon as he sees the sediment is gone.

The bottle can then be topped up from others and resealed.

It is a messy business, the small steel tank stops the capsule from flying off and the wine from coating the whole cellar. Jeff’s arms were quickly covered in flecks of lees. However, the result is delicious, refreshing and Bibonade is a firm favourite chez March.


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Le Vin De Mes Amis – a sparkling event

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Le Vin De Mes Amis is the biggest of the offline events in Montpellier. It takes place at Domaine De Verchant, a luxurious hotel providing a very good lunch as well as the dozens of producers. Labelled a natural wine event, it actually includes many biodynamic and organic producers who do not make natural wines. There were many good wines available to taste, however, I would admit that, overall, I was slightly underwhelmed this year in comparison to the 2016 event.

There were some very good still wines notably:

Maxime Magnon (Corbières) – Magnon is a producer who Jeff recommended to me a few years ago and though I have had one or two of his wines this was the first occasion I had been able to taste a few together. Every single bottle was very good, white and red. The round white fruits of the Grenache Gris, the deeper Rozeta and Campagnès (all 2015) but especially the Métisse 2016 with delicious light, clear red fruit flavours of Grenache, Carignan and Cinsault. The star of the show.

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Christophe Pacalet (Beaujolais) – classic fruity Beaujolais wines but with some complexity especially the Julienas and Moulin À Vent (both 2015), the latter with darker fruit flavours, the former so very drinkable.

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Olivier Cohen (Languedoc) – a young producer whose wines were very drinkable, especially the Rond SNoirS made from Syrah and Grenache with lovely round fruit flavours and some depth.

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Chateau des Rontets (Pouilly Fuissé) – an organic producer with lovely clear wines, classically Pouilly Fuissé especially the minerally, zesty fruits of Una Tantum 2015 an assemblage from all parcels.

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Domaine Vacheron (Sancerre) – one of the first domaines I visited in France many years ago, now a celebrated biodynamic producer of very clean and lovely Sancerre. I liked the range, especially the Guigne Chèvre 2015.

There were a few disappointments along the way I freely admit, including some well-known producers. However, what really made the event fizz was the range of sparkling wines. These are not usually my favourite types of wine at all so to have a number of such bottles amongst my favourites of the week’s tastings was a surprise to me. From Champagne to PetNat and, especially amazing to me, Limoux. Let me explain the latter point first.

I have stayed in Limoux a few times, I have tasted many Blanquettes and Crémants from there. Virtually all have been disappointing, lacking flavour and length. When my friends Benoît and Nicholas told me to try the wines of Monsieur S I was highly sceptical but they were correct and I discovered my favourite wines of the day along with those of Magnon. The white and red still wines were good but it was the sparklers which shone. A vibrant non dosage Blanquette showed lovely white fruit flavours; the Rosé De Saignée with just a little red Pinot Noir fruit and, especially, a delightful green apple Crémant (100% Chardonnay). These were far and away the best Limoux wines I have come across. Well done Étienne Fort, the producer. However, that would not be to give them enough validation, these are top class sparkling wines from any region.

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Champagne Jacquesson – very good champagnes with a clarity of fruit and minerality, I really liked them but Cuvée 735 (based on the classic combination of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier) was my favourite with more evolved flavours from the base of 2007 wines.

Champagne Clandestin – biodynamic since 1998 but this was a new range to me and a lovely discovery. This seems to be a group of producers with Vouette et Sorbée as the principal one. There was a depth of fruit and fine mousse and I really enjoyed them all including the non SO2 Saignée De Sorbée 2012. Stars were the cuvées Fidèle, a 2014 of Pinot Noir with round, ripe Pinot Noir fruit and Blanc D’Argile a pure Chardonnay with an amazing (and delicious) rhubarb flavour, very clean and fresh.

Jousset (Montlouis) – Producers of very good still wines but it was the PetNats which were the stars. Mosquito had a very grapey flavour with a nice clean finish. Then two cuvées called Ėxilé, a rosé and a white, both were lovely. The rosé had lovely ripe Gamay fruit and a very dry yeasty freshness. The blanc was even better with vibrant, clean Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc fruit, a wine to simply enjoy.

It was these sparkling wines, along with Magnon’s, which left a lasting impression and would be top of my list to buy. Le Vin De Mes Amis is a great event in a beautiful setting which caters for its attendees with real style.

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Reflecting on a good day with a glass of .. water