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

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Sparkling Coutelou


Leon snaps, Jeff pops

Version francaise

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?


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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I even set my mother and sister to work picking off snails last week

Snails and vandals aside there have been plenty of positives at Mas Coutelou in recent weeks, not least in the cellar. The beams in the photograph below have been strengthened with iron as some of the wood beams were no longer in contact with the wall!


Before the changes


We saw recently the removal of the large, old press which used to dominate the top end of the cellar next to the cement tanks. Jeff has also removed a huge fibre glass tank which took up a lot of space. 145 hectolitres in size, it was now redundant as Jeff prefers to use smaller tanks for fermentation and maturation. Incidentally 145hl is almost 20,000 bottles of wine!

The photograph shows the number of doors in the cement tanks which have been divided to allow smaller amounts of wine. These two empty spaces now leave much more room in the cellar for all the machinery needed, during the vendanges for example. Jeff told me that the cellar had taken shape in 1956 so these are the first major changes in 60 years.


The floor has also been renovated with drains updated too. The surface you see in the photos from last week will be covered with resin, more practical in a wine cellar.

One of the more popular cuvées has also been the focus of work. Bibonade is a sparkling wine, white and rosé. This PetNat style is very refreshing but requires work just as any sparkling wine.


The fermentation in the bottle creates some residue which needs to be removed. The residue can be seen in the neck of the bottle as they are placed in these wooden frames known as pupitres (desks). Once the lees have gathered next to the capsule the bottle is opened so that they explode out with the force of the carbon dioxide made from fermentation. The bottle is then topped up and resealed.

Definitely a cuvée to enjoy, my wife’s favourite Coutelou wine for example.