La preuve que les vins Coutelou sont bons pour la santé
Cartes des voeux 2015 and 2016
Carte des Voeux 2017, election year
Every January Jeff Coutelou sends out to customers a Carte Des Voeux, a New Year’s card, in which he sends out information about the previous year’s events in Puimisson, thoughts about the vintage and general news. The card is always fronted by a striking, witty image and this year’s was no exception.
The main headlines from this year’s card concerning the wines were:
The difficulties of the 2017 vintage, the extremely hot weather and drought and how only a timely wind from the sea (brise marine) saved the harvest
The small harvest, though one of very good quality
Details of the likely cuvées which Jeff blended in November, these include regulars such as 7, Rue De La Pompe, Vin Des Amis, PM Rosé, Classe, Flambadou, Flower Power and the Blanc but also the Amphora wine from 2016 and …… La Vigne Haute! (Happy writer here)
New products, spirits and ‘tonics’. Gin, Fine and Grappa together with a Kina (a wine flavoured with plants) which is delicious.
Other news headlines:
The 2016 vintage as proof of how nature decides. The wines were slow to develop and, so, Jeff decided to sit on up to 75% of them rather than commercialise unready wines. (That said, the 2016 bottles which I have opened recently have been very good indeed, well worth waiting for. Good news for the customer with patience, less so for Jeff’s turnover).
Problems in the vineyards due to heavy rain in late 2016 meant that new plantings had to be postponed.The problems caused by vandalism in autumn 2017 have damaged the work and progress of biodiversity in the vineyards, eg hedges and trees burned.
Perhaps most startling of all the Domaine will, in future, no longer be named Mas Coutelou. The authorities informed Jeff that a domaine releasing wines as Vin De France rather than AOC or IGP is not permitted to use the term Mas. In Jeff’s case this seems daft as that is the family name of his mother and founders of the Domaine. No matter the logic and common sense, the wines will now simply be called Coutelou.
As for 2018.
The plantations foreseen for 2017 will, hopefully, take place this Spring, eg next to Ste Suzanne where traditional and older grape varieties will take their place amongst the dozens already planted across the domaine.
The sodden vineyard which could not be planted in 2017
Jeff intends to bring back to life the parcels in the Saint Chinian area which belonged to his father. They will be tidied, replanted as necessary and improved with biodiversity as a core principle. In ten years we can look forward to a whole new range of Coutelou wines from this renowned region.
A week into picking and the team is in a routine, working smoothly to steadily bring in the grapes. The quality remains high but there can now be no doubt that the ongoing dry spell has taken its toll. Quantities are down by up to 50%, bottles of the 2017 Mas Coutelou wines will be more difficult to seek out I’m afraid and, inevitably, more expensive.
Thursday saw the Flower Power vineyard picked (Rec D’Oulette to give it the proper name) and just 7 cases of grapes were returned from the 0,4ha of vines. They are young still and will have found it hard to cope with the arid conditions.
Julien and Max in Rome
Rome, too, was picked and I went along as this is my favourite vineyard. Cinsault, Muscat and all three types of Grenache were harvested. From Peilhan came Grenache Gris and a few rows of the Maccabeu which will go into the PM rosé wine.
Muscat, Grenache Blanc and Cinsault (left from Rome), Grenache Gris and Maccabeu from Peilhan on the right
By now we are into the second stage of the vendanges. The grapes picked previously have been sitting on skins for varying lengths of time to extract colour and flavour but they will be separated when Jeff decides that further contact will not enhance the wine further. The juice is pumped to a new tank leaving the skins and pips behind to be used as marc for distilling.
Vincent preparing the day
Remontage about to happen
This process of remontage is carried out increasingly as more tanks fill up. Tracking which wines are where is a skill in itself, each time the wine will be tasted and sent for analysis to ensure that acidity, sugars, potential alcohol are all correct and no nasty surprises await.
Jeff took me round a few of the vineyards to check on their progress for picking. We started with the Carignan, then on to the Mourvèdre and Cinsault of Segrairals. In all cases the pips and stalks showed us that more time was needed, they are still a little too green. Tasting the grapes showed plenty of sweet fruit but that greenness would not be good in the finished wine.
Cinsault after pressing, like modern art
Friday was based in the biggest parcel, Segrairals. Cinsault grapes first, to be pressed immediately so that a light pink juice emerges ready to be blended with the other rosé grapes. This happened on Saturday so that all the rosé grapes will ferment together to blend fully. Jeff explained to me that Cinsault is harder to press than most, the large berries contain a lot of pulp which breaks down less easily.
Afterwards the remaining Syrah was tackled, again I went along to help with a bit of picking as well as doing the sorting with Jeff back in the cellar. The tri was not too difficult as good, firm bunches of healthy grapes came in case after case. Never mind the width feel the quality seems to be the motto, for Jeff’s sake greater quantity would be welcome.
More remontage, more testing in the cellar. It was good to see the white wines in good condition with fermentation already lively; bready, yeasty smells began to fill the cellar. More Syrah would be picked on Saturday morning but, readers, I admit that I took a break. The hard work, rich variety of grapes and early mornings meant that this time AMarch was not in the vines.
Friends Ceredig and Lesley were staying with us in Margon and our neighbours Martin and May had relatives and guests staying too so I thought it was a good time to organise a Mas Coutelou tasting.
Carignan during the tour with Cora and Brian
Brian and Cora had shown an interest in the vines and we had made a tour of the vineyards and cellar on Tuesday 2nd. Jeff kindly invited us to take a few bottles from the cave and I made up a series of ten bottles. They were served in the following order, nine from 2015, one from 2014 to show vintage difference:
2015: Carignan Blanc / Grenache Gris; PM Rosé; 5SO Simple; Buvette A Paulette; On Peut Pas Vraiment Dire Que; Le Vin Des Amis; Classe; Flambadou; Flambadou 2014; L’Oublié.
Martin initiated a scoring system and at the end of the evening the results showed some agreement about the top wines but some differences too. Wine is personal and that is one reason why I am becoming more sceptical about scores generally. However, this was in fun and here were the results of the Anglo-Irish jury.
At number 10, the Carignan Blanc / Grenache Gris. My fault this, I had a bottle from the first six off the bottling line and it contained a little water so came across dilute. However, there were some lovely apple and pear characteristics and it was a hit with one guest who doesn’t usually like white wines. I know from other bottles that this is a lovely wine which wasn’t done justice on the night.
8= PM Rosé An interesting result, perhaps showing that rosé finds it hard to be taken seriously (or just that people loved the reds). PM is so much more aromatic and punchy than most rosés that perhaps it confounded expectations. For me it is a cracking wine, with real character and heft as well as being bone dry and perfect on a summer’s evening.
8=5SO Simple Another surprise for me as 5SO is really hitting its stride. I served it slightly chilled and everyone liked it though some found it too light for a red. I love the cherry bright fruits and clean finish, it is a great alternative to summer rosés.
7 On Peut Pas Vraiment Dire Que Liked by all, loved by some, a little austere for a couple of people. My opinion is changing on this wine. I thought it was a light Syrah which was for short term drinking but the last couple of bottles seem to suggest it is entering a phase of taking on weight and a serious side. Certainly I shall be keeping the rest of my bottles for a few years to see how it develops, I think it will become something special. It may not be La Vigne Haute but it is a serious Syrah of real quality.
6 Flambadou 15 Well liked though suffered by comparison with the 2014 which was more developed. There is an elegance to this, perhaps the best cuvée from Mas Coutelou in the last several vintages. Jeff likens it to Pinot Noir at time, there is a limestone layer beneath the fine clay soils of the vineyard and this seems to add the lightness and elegance. Red fruit aromas and flavours with a streak of tannins. This is very youthful and will develop with time, complexity is already there. A great wine from a great vintage.
5 La Buvette À Paulette Round, blackcurranty, juicy, very enjoyable. This was popular because of its sheer drinkability though some found it a little green. No doubt the Cabernet Sauvignon will develop further but this was on song already. It won’t be released until January 2017 and it is definitely one to wait for, a cuvée I hadn’t realised could be so good.
4 Flambadou 14 The extra year added more roundness to the wine making it more enjoyable in the short term. The extra complexity appealed to many of us as well as the red fruits. It is lovely though I do think the 15 will become better, being such a good vintage.
3 L’Oublié Another recently bottled wine which we assembled a few weeks ago. The aromas were immediately a sign of complexity, hints of tobacco, coffee, dark fruits, there are notes from the barrel and you can tell there is some older wine in here but there is also a freshness from the 2013 Cinsault. The story of the wine and its assemblage I wrote about recently and the air of mystery about L’Oublié added to its appeal at the tasting.
2 Classe No label on as this was another bottle recently put together and has not yet been prepared for sale. As soon as it was opened the exuberant fruits, blackcurrant and raspberry, almost leaped from the glass. There is a depth, richness and a darker profile in there too, this is one of the very best cuvées of Classe. Not hard to see why it appealed so strongly on the night with everybody.
1 Le Vin Des Amis Ever popular, ever first choice. When I serve Coutelou wines to friends it is almost always Vin Des Amis which is the most appreciated. The open, fruity nature makes it immediate and the complexity gives it a sense of being special. Which, of course, it is. It really was on good form here and a clear winner on the night.
A great evening. Lovely people around a series of great bottles, how could it not be? And wow those wines are great, hopefully more people converted to natural wines and to Jeff’s in particular.
A word to for the 2015 vintage. I am, of course biased as this was my first full vintage, but it is proving to be top class, everything is drinking well and the bottles still to come will highlight its class still further.
I mentioned recently that the cooler weather had delayed some of the growth in the vines and that flowering was late. Well, recent hotter weather has brought sudden change. Flowering happened around the turn of the month and was over very quickly, perhaps catching up lost time. In particular there was a heavy thunderstorm on Saturday June 4th which brought a torrent of rain. The water and the sunshine has really got the vines going. Tendrils reach for the skies and there is more bushiness to the vines.
The flowers gave way to the little hoods which cover the nascent grapes, capuchons. These quickly fall away too revealing the grapes for 2016. On some vines all of this is happening at the same time such as this Carignan (above) in Rec D’Oulette. The weather has also encouraged the growth of the grafted vines which we did back in March.
This brings work too. The palissage has to be lifted to support the vines, hard physical labour. And, sadly, the heat and rain bring problems of disease. Mildew has been around for a couple of weeks and I mentioned that Jeff was spraying in the very early hours and late at night last week. He worked until 1am Friday/Saturday and started again at 6am. Just as things seemed to be settling a big attack of mildew on the Grenache at Ste. Suzanne meant more treatment on Tuesday morning. This ‘curious’ year is proving to be hard work.
Jeff a Ste Suzanne (photo de La Garrigue)
Peilhan, feuilles pulverisées
Not all negatives though. The storm brought such a downfall that I was fearful for the flowering bunches. damage to them means no grapes. I happened to be in Puimisson during the storm (next article!) and the rain was lashing down, converting streets and roads to waterfalls and lakes. Yet as the rain eased I went to a couple of vineyards and the flowers were coping just fine. A trip round the vines on Monday morning revealed healthy growth and the soils had absorbed the rainfall.
Grenache vines with flowers intact after the storm
This is not true of everyone. Much of the water on the roads was also full of clay from vineyards nearby, hence the yellowy brown colour. Vineyards which are treated with weedkillers, where the soils are ploughed deeply, even irrigated, were unable to cope so well with the heavy rain. Soils were carried away. Compare these photographs of Jeff’s vineyards with the parcel next door belonging to someone else. The difference is marked. Water can help or can damage.
Meanwhile back in the cellar there was more work to be done. Recent changes to the fabric of the cellar, especially the floor, have brought more efficient drains and a smoother surface, easier to clean. Further work will soon be done to the rest of the floor so the bottling of the next wave of wines had to be brought forward to allow the works to be done and dusted before vendanges.
Nouveau plancher en résine
Plancher plus vieux
The spring bottling of wines such as 5SO, PM Rosé, 7 Rue De La Pompe I described earlier. These are wines for early drinking, vins de plaisir. Now it was time for wines with a little more body. On Thursday June 2nd 10,000 bottles of Classe were made, and it is really something special in 2015. It took almost 12 hours and went very smoothly but believe me it is a hard day’s work. On Friday, Flambadou, made from the Carignan vines above, was bottled along with other smaller cuvées.
Vincent, Julien et Benoit
Julien prépare un magnum
Before anyone rushes in with orders Jeff will let these bottles rest for a few months to allow them to be at their peak when released, Flambadou probably in 2017 for example. There remains one or two cuvées still in tank which need a little more time, Flower Power being one.
So, most of the 2015 wine is now in bottle, the vines are revealing the grapes for 2016 and there are wines stored for 2017. Busy times at Mas Coutelou for everyone, well except one.
Jeff Coutelou produces a large range of different wines, or cuvées, every year. There are a number which are made every year, les incontournables. These are the biggest production wines, the breadwinners and, probably, his best known cuvées, Classe and Vin Des Amis. Depending upon the vintage Jeff will then decide what to do with the grapes he has left and which cuvées to produce. Some of these extra cuvées reappear regularly, others very occasionally and some will be new.
So, let’s start with the more celebrated wines.
A magnum of Classe
This is the wine which was described in The Guardian by wine writer David Williams like this in April 2015:
Mas Coutelou Classe, Languedoc 2013 For the natural wine-sceptic, it’s hard to think of a better place to start than the wines of Jeff Coutelou: full of vivid, finger-staining blackberry fruit, this carignan is explosively juicy and succulent: pure pleasure.
Usually a blend of 40% Grenache, 40% Syrah from Segrairals and Sainte Suzanne vineyards. In older years the remainder was Carignan, more recently Cinsault and a little Mourvèdre. Around 13,000 bottles of Classe are made with their distinctive pink labels showing a diamond. I always think of Classe as having a slightly darker fruit profile than Vin Des Amis whilst retaining its charm and drinkability.
Le Vin Des Amis
The wine which was my first experience of Jeff’s wines and which blew away my preconceptions of good wine. It was the sheer vitality and energy of this Syrah and Grenache wine which impressed me. From the Metaierie or Sainte Suzanne vineyard it is made in similar quantity to Classe. The wine writer Jamie Goode described the 2012 as:
Rich, dense, vivid and pure. Quite backward with real grip under the vivid black fruits. Powerful and structure with amazing fruit quality, dominated by fresh blackberry and black cherries. 93/100
Whenever I share Vin Des Amis with people they always sing its praises and ask for it next time, it is well named. Another striking and unusual label gets it noticed but the fruity freshness are what makes people love it.
7, Rue De La Pompe
from wine anorak website
More Syrah from Segrairals with just a little Grenache from the same vineyard blended in. The different cuvées are based around different vinification methods as well as different parcels. The 2010 of Rue De La Pompe was a wine of the week for Jancis Robinson who also considered the 2012 as being like a northern Rhone wine with a bone dry profile. There are raspberry and pepper notes and the trademark freshness and vivacity.
Another large production in most years, around 10,000 bottles or so, it didn’t appear in 2014 because the Syrah was very low yielding that year and was used for the two big cuvées. The wine is called after Jeff’s address incidentally.
Sauvé De La Citerne
Citerne was another well known cuvée which did not appear in 2014. Largely Mourvèdre with some Grenache, again from Segrairals, this is wine which was originally made from grapes which Jeff didn’t use elsewhere, hence the name of the cuvée meaning saved from the tank. This was always one of my favourites with blackberry and blackcurrant flavours and an earthiness from the Mourvèdre. That cépage has done very well recently and was bottled as a single variety wine in 2014. Jeff has other plans for the Mourvèdre of 2015 with another cuvée planned mixed with Syrah and Cinsault, I have tasted it and it is lovely, very elegant and precise.
Sauvé De La Citerne will reappear with a 2015 however. It fits with the idea of making the cuvée from otherwise unused grapes that this year will see a blend of Grenache with a little Syrah. It will therefore be different but again my early tasting of it suggests a very attractive wine.
La Vigne Haute
This is probably my favourite cuvée of all and sadly it hasn’t appeared since 2013 and nor will it this year. Made purely from Syrah from the La Garrigue vineyard where the vines face northwards, this might explain the fresh acidity and vitality of La Vigne Haute. That acidity means that Vigne Haute ages extremely well and gains even more complexity. It is classic Syrah, red fruits and spice with great length and balance and beautiful aromas. It would be my desert island wine.
There was a pure Syrah in 2014 and another is planned for 2015 but under a different name, it is lovely but I do miss Vigne Haute, fortunately I have quite a few bottles tucked away until it reappears (please).
Jeff surveys the Vigne Haute vines
5SO has quickly become established as a Coutelou favourite, around 7,000 bottles are made. Its name is a play on Cinsault and the wine is indeed pure Cinsault from the Segrairals vineyard. Designed as a light red, easy to drink it is delicious in summer slightly chilled and a great wine for drinking without food. Fresh cherry and raspberry flavours and a light structure make for a lovely wine.
Cinsault vine in Segrairals
Named after a barbecue tool Flambadou is pure Carignan from the vineyard Rec D’Oulette. It reappeared in 2013 and was also made in 2014 and 2015, made in smallish quantities as this is a small, low yielding vineyard. Jeff considered the 2013 as the star wine of that vintage and the 2014 is also amongst the best.
More full bodied than some of the other wines the Carignan brings dark fruit flavours and aromas. There is a brooding undertone of spice and plenty of red fruit freshness on the finish. Another wine which ages well. The vines are on an open parcel of ground so well exposed to the sun, the freshness a reflection of the healthy soils and skilled winemaking. Carignan is making a comeback in the Languedoc Roussillon and this is one of the best examples of why. Carignan enthusiast Michel Smith in his series on Carignan bottles praised Flambadou as follows, ” La bouteille a été vite vidée, ce qui est un bon signe”.
The Rec D’Oulette vineyard
from Roberson Wine website
A relatively new addition to the Coutelou cannon. Flower Power is a true expression of terroir as this is a wine made from a variety of grapes from one parcel, Font D’Oulette (as the name suggests not far from where Flambadou originates). Jeff has begun to complant grape varieties more and more and to produce wine made from that mix of grapes. This is the first wine to show the results and it is a winner.
Aramon and Oeillade Noir are just some of the grapes in the mix of Flower Power. Aramon was once one of the most planted of all grapes in the Languedoc but went out of fashion as it was often overcropped and dilute. Now vignerons are realising that when it is grown with lower yields Aramon produces flavoursome wine. Oeillade is also interesting, a grape related to Cinsault, another old Languedoc variety which Jeff wants to bring back. Just to add some mystery there are some Clairette Musquée grapes in here, a white grape.
Flower Power is lightly structured but packs a punch with flavours of black cherries and red fruits, and, appropriately, it is very aromatic, perhaps from the influence of the Clairette. As the vines age this will become more structured I would imagine but it is already a favourite.
In the last week La Revue Du Vin De France selected Flower Power as one of their top 50 Languedoc wines, an accolade from a source which does not usually favour natural wines.
Now here is a fascinating wine. L’Oublié is a blend of cépages AND vintages. The wines are aged in old barrels, not the usual practice of the domaine. Carignan was the forerunner with some 2001 and then more Carignan 2007 and 2010 were added. Then Syrah joins the assemblage, grapes from 09, 10, 12 and 13. This blend forms L’Oublié, the forgotten one. I imagine this refers to the original 2001 Carignan barrel.
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.
This was a wine which used to be a regular but disappeared after the 2003 vintage. It reappeared in 2013 and became my favourite wine (or have I already chosen another?!). Cinsault is the grape but it is a more complex wine than 5SO Simple, richer, darker and more structured. The grapes come from the beautiful Rome vineyard and are from 40 – 50 year old gobelet vines which bring low yielding fruit, rich and elegant. The wine is recognisably Cinsault with cherry notes but it has attractive depth and power, very long flavours of red fruit and peppery / spicy too. Sadly 2015 did not bring enough fruit to make Copains so enjoy what is available, it is worth ageing a couple of years but difficult to resist now.
Rome’s Cinsault vines
Other red cuvées are made for restaurants and and as one offs. A lovely pure Grenache was made in 2014 for example whilst Tete A Claques and Buvette A Paulette are others which appear from time to time.
It is fair to say that Mas Coutelou is best known for its red wines but there are some very good white wines too. They make up around 15% of the vineyards made up of a multitude of white grape varieties.
The most regular of the white bottles though Jeff has started to experiment with various other blends and single variety wines. Most of the white grapes are grown in La Garrigue and Peilhan vineyards. PM usually contains Sauvignon Blanc from La Garrigue but assembled with other white grapes which are available such as Grenache Blanc, Macabeu, Muscat and Carignan Blanc. Dry, clean and full of flavour PM has texture and white fruits galore.
Single variety white wines in recent years have included, for example, Carignan Blanc from Peilhan. If Jeff feels that the grapes are of particularly high quality he will make a single variety wine. They always wear the mark of fresh acidity and the grape brings different fruit profiles, the Macabeu with aromatic yellow fruit for example. The Macabeu will appear from the 2015 vintage. I am a particular fan of Carignan Blanc and Jeff’s version was very clean, mineral and long lasting in flavour. This year he is combining it with Grenache Gris which did well in 2015 in Peilhan. Most of these white wines come in small quantities.
Muscat grapes grow in Peilhan and Rome and appear in some white blends as well as PM Rosé. The rosé is very aromatic and a dry wine, good with food and also on those hot, Languedoc summer days. It usually has juice from Syrah and Cinsault, pressed after a short time on skins.
Sparkling wines are also made at Mas Coutelou. Bibonade (think lemonade) has appeared in various forms, white and rosé and sometimes sweet! The dry version is fresh, clean and appley, a perfect quaffing wine and disappears very quickly after opening. There is usually Sauvignon Blanc, Muscat and some Grenache Blanc in there but again Jeff will play around with what he has available. This is my wife’s favourite wine!
Another sparkling wine which was popular in the 2013 vintage was Blanc Frisant. Macabeu and Grenache Gris grapes were bottled with a small quantity (8g) of sugar to encourage a second fermentation in the bottle. This produces a small quantity of CO2 bringing a light fizz when the bottle is opened. It was wonderfully refreshing with citrus and spice flavours. It is another example of Jeff’s inventiveness and experimental nature.
Carignan Blanc grapes in Peilhan
Sweet wines are made too, have a look at my article on the solera system.
So there we are, a huge array of different bottles, something for everyone. Fruit, freshness and drinkability are the hallmarks of Coutelou cuvées, they all contain those three qualities and many more. Jeff’s restless search for better wines means that the cuvées change every year (with two main exceptions). As he develops the cellar with more cuves available he will no doubt continue to produce new wines. As new plantations of grapes such as Riveyrenc, Terret, Morastel and Piquepoul Noir mature there will be even more variety. However, buy with confidence whatever is available is very good.