amarchinthevines

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


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Alsace

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View from Sigolsheim Nécropole over Grand Cru vineyards

When I first started to develop my passion for wine it was the books of English writer Oz Clarke which guided my tastes and my visits to the wine regions of France. I recall an evocative piece he wrote about sitting in the Nécropole, the military cemetery, of Sigolsheim in the Haut-Rhin department of Alsace. The view from this hill over the vineyards showed him how the Grand Cru sites corresponded to their position on the slopes. I visited the cemetery (of men who died in the Colmar pocket battle in World War 2) again last week and Clarke’s words came clearly to mind.

During my 5 days in Alsace I was to taste wines from all over the region, from its vineyards on the plains and the Grand Cru sites. For some years I was unconvinced by the true premium of those sites but my recent experience suggested to me that vignerons are now truly extracting the best from these vineyards and that there is a real jump in quality. I am sure that is not true of all of them but certainly the wines I tasted supported Clarke’s opinion back in the 1990s.

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Two favourite grapes from Alsace, Riesling and Pinot Noir, both by Trimbach

One other main development from previous experiences in Alsace was how much drier the wines are being made. There was always a sweetness to many wines but producers seem to have realised that consumers were confused by the different levels of dry, medium and sweetness in bottles which appeared to be of similar wine. It was noticeable that some wine lists even listed some wines such as Gewurztraminer as ‘sucré’ (sweeter). I found this a welcome consistency.

Finally the other main development for me was the improvement in wines from Pinot Blanc and Pinot Noir. The Blancs were often simply neutral, lacking real character and flavour. I tasted a number last week which showed real white fruit flavours and a floral, attractive aroma. Similarly the green, thin Pinot Noirs I remember from a few years back are generally now replaced by red fruit, more body and very pleasurable drinking.

The region is arguably the most attractive in France and I do love it. Towns and villages full of colourful, beamed houses, storks nests and often overlooked by castles. The vineyards can be precipitous, alarming slopes falling down to the villages. Machines would find it impossible to operate on some of them, these slopes need careful manual attention.

And yet..

Despite the many positives of Alsace wines it was disappointing to see so much use of herbicides, chemical sprays etc. I saw 3 spraying machines in use and every one operated by a vigneron dressed in plastic suits and masks to (rightly) protect them, these were clearly powerful chemicals being used.

Fortunately I was able to visit some of those who work in more environmentally friendly ways and I shall describe those visits next time.


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Jour De Fête Pour Vin Des Amis

En français

 

I am a very lucky man. If in doubt, read on.

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Yesterday (February 23rd) was the first big bottling day of Mas Coutelou 2015 wines. First in line was Vin Des Amis and 11,400 bottles were prepared. As Jeff put it, “Le vrai jour pour la belle cuvée”. (The bringing into the world of the beautiful wine). It proved to be the most aptly named of wines as Jeff welcomed friends from far and wide.

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Vincent, a friend of many years who has featured before, was here from Paris. Another Paris based teacher, Sébastien, is spending a week in Puimisson in order to learn about being a vigneron (see his report on the domaine here). The most important visitor yesterday was Céline who was celebrating her birthday.

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Birthday girl

Bordeaux based Céline has been a regular visitor to Puimisson for many years and helped me with picking grapes for my 100th blog wine last September. Her husband, restaurateur Brice, and friends Thibaut and Anne from Monein in the Béarn, were here to help her to celebrate and threw themselves into the bottling work with gusto. Michel, Julien and I were present too.

The bottling line was in operation from 7.30am to around 5.30pm. Cuve 7, which contains up to 100hl, was emptied and the bottles taken to be stored for a few months until they are ready to label and to market in springtime. With 10 of us available we were able to share the load and take the occasional break as Jeff provided food and wine to ease us through the day. The Vin Des Amis was opened of course and it is already a bright, clear, delicious vintage of this popular cuvée, fresh red fruits with a lingering spiciness. Another sign of how good the 2015 will be. Jeff also opened a 1997 Mas Coutelou, a wine from his first solo vintage which had a lovely earthy perfume combined with red fruits which carried into the taste. The age was showing, the flavours cut short a little but still very drinkable. We also tasted some of the white wines from tank, they are developing beautifully, an amazing Maccabeu in particular. Could this be the year white wines steal the show at Mas Coutelou?

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I thought I was the star!

The theme of friendship continued as Pat and I were invited along to dinner at Jeff’s to celebrate Céline’s birthday. Brice prepared some delicious fish dishes; marinated mackerel, squid in garlic and parsley, fresh cockles in a seafood broth, monkfish with garlicky potato purée and delicious sauce. He is clearly a very talented chef as well as restaurateur, ably assisted by Thibaut who made some very tasty flour-free crêpes.

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And then there were the wines. A veritable who’s who of natural wine’s top producers. Plageoles’ sparkling Mauzac was a good start with which to toast Céline. Her phone rang throughout the day, she clearly personifies vin des amis.

A delicious rosé from Clos Des Grillons in the Gard followed, full flavoured, very appetising. Much more fruity than many rosés, this originates in Tavel.

Perhaps my favourite wine was the Pinot Blanc 2010 of Gérard Schueller, very full, a honey edge but dry – not sure that I have ever tasted a Pinot Blanc of such quality. I must track down some other wines from the domaine.

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Céline had brought along a 2012 Leon Barral Blanc, Terret Blanc and Gris with some Viognier and Roussanne. Textured, a golden colour but very fresh and a good match with the fish.

La Bégou 14 made by Maxime Magnon in the Corbières was lovely, fresh white peach flavoured and very round, Grenaches Gris and Blanc. I liked this wine a lot, more evidence of how good Grenache Gris can be.

JF Ganévat’s J’en veux encore is a light red wine from an amazing blend of umpteen local Jura grapes by a producer who makes up to 40 cuvées (he must have amazing powers of memory to keep on top of so many wines). I tasted some of the range earlier this year and must admit to preferring the white wines but this was nice, very drinkable red fruits and a good match with the monkfish in its seafood sauce.

Back to Barral for Jadis 2001. Shy at first but this opened up in carafe through the night. Plummy, spicy, very long and terrific Faugères, the Carignan shone through with roundness from the Grenache. I have not always ‘got’ Barral’s wines but this showed me that they need time and patience. Very good.

Sébastien brought along a biodynamic Sauternes from Rousset-Peyraguey, a 2000 yet youthful with lovely sweetness but also freshness.

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And then, just when you think you have got to grips with Jeff’s wines, there appeared two remarkable bottles. The first was Robert A, despite the label. This was Grenache Gris and Blanc from 2003, his first year of going sulphur free in the cellar. It passed through some interesting stages in its development and early bottles spat out their cork so it was put into sparkling wine bottles. It was amazing. Unbelievably fresh for a 12-13 year old white wine, white fruits with a tight edginess but clean and bright. It continued to develop in glass and in bottle through the evening, wine of the night.

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R for Robert

Then came another new cuvée to me BL002, also from 2003. A Sauvignon Blanc but I’d never have identified it as such, with a sweetness (from the Muscat in the blend) and delicious freshness. Many around the table chose this as their preferred wine and it was another amazing wine. How does he do it? Vincent chose this because it reminded him of those early days of Jeff’s winemaking adventures and of their long friendship, a perfect fit for the theme of the day.

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A birthday. A long day. A rewarding day. A memorable day. A day for friends, for vin des amis.