Sun 24 Apr 2011
Wouldn’t you know it! No sooner do I review two wines from France’s Côtes du Roussillon Villages appellation, up in the valley of the Agly river, than two more show up at my threshold. These are produced by the venerable M. Chapoutier, one of the most highly respected estates in the Northern Rhone Valley; Roussillon is pretty far to the west, almost to Spain. The label is Vignes de Bila-Haut and the wines are charming, tasty and versatile. Both are blends of syrah, grenache and carignan grapes. As is the case with all wines from M. Chapoutier, the label includes Braille script for the sight-impaired.
These are R. Shack — Radio Shack??? — Selections for HB Wine Merchants, New York. Samples for review.
The Bila Haut 2009, Côtes du Roussillon Villages, which we drank with a dinner of ham and cheese strata — a casserole that’s sort of like eating breakfast at night because it has bread and eggs — is a creature of dusty graphite-like minerality, dusty herbs, dusty red and black currants and plums imbued with spice, potpourri and leather and undertones of briers and brambles. It’s robust, a little rustic and countrified, and it brings up earthy elements with black olives and smoky oolong tea that permeate the black fruit flavors. The wine sees no oak, maturing, instead, in concrete vats. Drink now through 2013. 14.5 percent alcohol. Very Good. About $13.50.
For three and a half dollars more, you get, in the Bila-Haut L’esquera 2008, Côtes du Roussillon Villages Lesquerda, a far more sleek and polished wine that features full-blown scents and flavors of roasted, meaty and fleshy, spiced and macerated red and black currants with high notes of blueberries and mulberries and heaps of smoky, dried thyme and other dusty wild herbs and flowers. A few minutes in the glass unfurl notes of graphite and mineral-laced tannins and deeper tones of potpourri and violets. The wine bears little oak influence; 80 percent rests in cement vats, with 20 percent in 600-liter barrels. Not quite sophisticated or elegant, Bila-Haut L’esquera 2008 is lively with vibrant acidity and firm with a fairly dense chewy, slightly velvety texture. Boy, did this wine ever put me in mind of lamb chops grilled with garlic and rosemary! Drink now through 2014. Very Good+, and Great Value at about $18. A no-brainer for bistro-style restaurants.