Happily the wines have plenty of places to go, from France to Australia, the United States, Japan and all around the world. As Christmas approaches the demand for wines reaches a peak and bottles from 2015 are prepared for sending off to those places. The process of putting on labels, capsules etc is known as habillage (dressing).
On Wednesday October 19th we dressed magnums of Classe and Sauvé De La Citerne as well as bottles of 5SO Simple, all from 2015. 5SO was first released in the Spring but a second wave is now ready. All of these wines are sold out already, demand outstrips supply.
Julien, Jeff and Michel
The bottles which were filled back in Spring are checked first to ensure there is no leakage from the corks, a handful do where a cork was not up to scratch. These bottles are known as couleuses. Every effort is made to ensure that the bottle should reach the consumer in premium condition.
Michel puts on the capsule which is tightened by the machine which then sticks on the labels
The labelling is done by means of a machine which seals the capsule and pastes the label and back label onto the bottle. For the magnums the seal was actually made with wax which requires more work and time. The wax also needs time to dry off before being packed in boxes.
After the single bottles have their capsules and labels added they are placed in their box with protective cardboard to keep them in good condition during transport. This is a fiddly job, it has taken me two years of trying to do it quickly but I have finally got there.
This is the sort of day which I never really considered when I arrived at Mas Coutelou. The vines yes, bottling yes but, as a typical wine drinker, I never really considered the 101 jobs which go into preparing the bottles for market. Meanwhile, Jeff is sorting through his orders and, unfortunately, having to turn down some orders as there simply is not enough wine to meet the requests which he receives. The wines are justifiably in demand, and if you are fortunate to be drinking one, have a thought for the work which goes into preparing the bottle and raise your glass to Jeff, Michel, Julien and everyone else who has helped to make it so good.
Thursday, August 11th was the last day before Jeff shut up shop for a few days as he does every year to celebrate the Béziers Féria. A few days of rest and recuperation before the preparations really start for the vendanges. As he had received a number of requests for visits Jeff decided to group them all together and have a tour of the vines and tasting with lunch.
Visitors from Grenoble, Orléans and Nanterre assembled at the cave along with my friend and sommelier Sandra Martinez and we set off around some of the vineyards. Jeff explained his philosophy and vineyard work and it’s worth repeating a couple of points of note. I mentioned the problem of vers de la grappe a few weeks ago which Jeff treated with a spraying of clay to discourage the moth from laying its eggs. We found a bunch in La Garrigue which was affected and Jeff opened it up to reveal the cocoon of the larvae.
Vers de la grappe cocoon
He also explained how bats are the ideal solution and why he provides shelters, each bat would eat around 2,000 insects a day including the moths responsible for vers de la grappe.
We also looked around at the majority of vineyards and their dark green colour at a time when the vine is putting its resources into the grapes to get them to maturity, as that is how they reproduce. So, in a natural state the leaves start to look pale and tired as the vine is not channelling energy into the leaves. The dark green, attractive vines are so coloured because of the nitrogen feeds and, in some cases, irrigation.
We returned to the domaine where we were joined by a group of wine professionals. In the garden we tasted a range of Mas Coutelou wines as well as some lovely salads and (for the carnivores) some charcuterie.
Jeff leads the tasting accompanied by his sister and niece
The list of wines shared, all from 2015 except the last, was: Bibonade (rosé and white), Peilhan Blanc, Maccabeu, OW1, 5SO Simple, Sauvé De La Citerne, On Peut Pas Vraiment Dire Que, Classe, La Buvette À Paulette, Flower Power, Flambadou, L’Oublié, Devigne Qui Vient Diner, 5J
I missed the Bibonades and Peilhan as I was getting the Maccabeu from tank. I had a bottle of Peilhan at home recently though and it was lovely, really strong evidence of the quality of 2015. All apples and pears and fresh acidity with a long finish. Even by Coutelou standards it is an exceptional wine.
The Maccabeu is, if anything, even better. Cooked apple and cinnamon flavours, fresh acidity, almost smoky. There is so much going on here and, as the jug I collected the wine in was in front of me, I kept being drawn back to it through lunch. The wine changed and opened out with more fruit and spice. This will develop beautifully when it is bottled, a stunner, my new favourite.
OW1 is Jeff’s first skin contact wine. He was reluctant to join the trend and didn’t want an orange wine but this spent plenty of time on skins, I remember Cameron and I carrying out a manual pigeage. Now bottled the wine has texture and tannins from that skin contact but there is plenty of fruit and remains balanced and fresh. Very good.
Manual pigeage of OW1
5SO was on good form. The boisterous, chatty group became quiet for the first time, captured by its fruit profile and drinkability on a hot summer’s day, which essentially is what it was designed to do.
Citerne was one I didn’t have last week and it had been some time since I had tasted it. It showed well, the Mourvedre adding a real plummy depth. Another wine which will emerge in coming months, another to look forward to. OPPVDQ was on great form, another to quieten the crowd. It confirmed my opinion that this is a wine which will really benefit from some time in bottle, hang on to some if you have them. La Buvette À Paulette was last week’s big surprise and another bottle confirmed the pleasure, really showing its quality.
Flower Power not yet properly labelled. What a colour!
Flower Power took some time to come around but now that it has done so I can confirm that this will strengthen the reputation which it earned in its first vintage in 2014. The vineyard is still young and will continue to improve the wine it delivers, if the snails leave it alone. The ten grape varieties give a complex story of light and shade, red and dark fruits, floral and sappy.
Flambadou was once again a star, showing the lightness of touch in this Carignan. Jeff describes it as like a Pinot Noir. There is depth and character packed into quite a light structure. The vineyard has a light layer of limestone beneath the fine clay and it is this limestone which adds the complexity to the wine. A grand cru of Carignan.
L’Oublié and its story once again captured the imagination of everyone, its secondary flavours beguiling the tastebuds. Devigne Qui Vient Diner is the wine which Jeff made in partnership with Christian Venier from the Loire, Gamay added to some Languedoc grapes such as Cinsault. My, this has improved with a few months in bottle (magnum), really delivering a rounder more harmonious blend with zappy fruit and lovely sweet fruit.
Finally 5J the Grenache Gris from 2012 aged in barrel made to reflect a Spanish fino to accompany the best hams. Oxidised notes, barrique notes and a flash of clean fruit, quince and apple.
A great day, much longer than most were expecting but nobody showed any signs of fatigue or willingness to depart. Many joined us in the cave des soleras to taste some of the old wines there. And poignantly, some wine of Jean-Claude on what would have been his 80th birthday. His legacy will live on.
I enjoyed reading the Facebook post of one of the visitors Benoit who described Jeff as a magician and an artist. The day was a success.
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.