From €6.40, £9.95, $14, 90 Danish krone
On Wednesday we published a collection of tasting notes on more than 120 wines from that fertile ground for bargain hunters, the Languedoc-Roussillon in southern France. But that night I tasted five of the latest releases from one of the Languedoc's most interesting producers, Mas Coutelou, which proved an eye-opener. I have added my tasting notes to Wednesday's tasting article but I strongly commend at least two of these wines to you too.
The improbably named Jeff Coutelou is based in the little village of Puimisson between Béziers and Faugères and was one of the first producers in the region to be certified organic before going on to beat the natural wine drum. But, unlike some 'natural' wines, this collection of reds from Mas Coutelou all seemed fresh and stable, even if very much drier on the finish than the average Languedoc wine. In fact, if given it blind, I might well have taken the all-Syrah 7 Rue de la Pompe 2012 (a Languedoc wine, like the new Boulevard Napoléon range described in Wednesday's tasting article, that presumably takes its name from the address of the cellar) for a St-Joseph. The 2010 was a former wine of the week on this site. This 2012, £9.95 from Roberson, is a little sharp - not the most generous Syrah - but if it is modelled on a sincere northern Rhône, it is certainly doing its job. Bone dry without a jot of artifice and with some potential for development, it is much more artisanal than one expects at this price - under £9 chez Roberson, the exclusive UK importers, who describe the Mas Coutelou wines as 'some of the greatest bargains ever to grace our shelves'.
The 7 Rue de la Pompe 2012 is a moderate 13% alcohol but the most interesting wine of this collection, Paf La Syrah! 2012 at £18.95 from Roberson, is just 11.5% and I would highly recommend it to those seeking a red wine chock full of flavour and character but not alcohol. (For white versions, turn to German Rieslings.) According to Roberson, this small-production wine, of which they have only about 100 bottles available as I write, comes from a specially favoured parcel of Syrah which presumably was picked later than the rest since it was rained on, thereby diluting the juice. (This is the first instance I have come across of rain at harvest time being used as a sales pitch.) Whatever the story, the result is a wine of traditional, 'feminine' Côte Rôtie delicacy. I'm not sure it's a wine with an enormously long life but it is already super-appetising, dry, brisk and has both charm and succulence. You might like to order a mixed case with one or two of these one-off Pafs in it. (No, me neither.)
Le Vin des Amis 2012 (£12.95) was perhaps my least favourite of the five now, a Grenache with 25% Syrah that doesn't seem nearly ready and certainly doesn't exhibit the usual generosity of Grenache but is pretty serious for the money. According to the labels, none of these wines is more than 13.5% alcohol. Flambadou 2011 (£13.95) is a particularly winning Carignan with extremely unusual lusciousness of texture for this variety, while I thought Classe 2011, a blend of 40% Grenache, 40% Syrah and 20% Carignan, was a thoroughly interesting, well-integrated blend that I thought pretty good value at £14.95. All these wines have a certain rigidity of structure which suggests they'd respond well to decanting and have by no means reached their peak of maturity.
All the wines are classified as simply Vin de France for these reasons outlined by Jeff Coutelou: 'It is now the new appellation which permit to put the millésime and the name of cépage without problem. Before we were working in VIN de PAYS but most of the times the wines are refused because they don't look like those wines. If you put "vin de table" it is not possible to put the millésime.'
My only niggle is that all these wines except 7 Rue de la Pompe have been dipped in wax, which means that when you come to open them the wax seal breaks into a thousand messy pieces, some of them in my case falling into the wine. Okay, I'm no sommelier and the wax doubtless keeps the cork weevils at bay, but it is all a far cry from the simple twist of a screwcap.
These wines, or past vintages of them (many of which I have loved), are currently available in the UK, US, France, Germany, Holland and Denmark.