Roussillon


Roussillon lies within the great curve where the French Mediterranean coastline aims south at Spain. Technically part of the vast Languedoc-Roussillon region that stretches from Provence in the east to the Pyrenees in the west, Roussillon nestles within a rugged languedocamphitheater of dry hills that do not detract from the charm of the landscape and its isolated villages. This is primarily red wine territory, though rose wines and vins doux naturels are well-known; there is little white wine. Vines were first planted some 3,000 years ago by Greek sailors, who did so much to bring wine and civilization to the distant shores of the inland sea. The harsh terrain and uncompromising sunny Mediterranean climate, spurred by the northwest wind called Tramontane, make this ideal territory for Rhone Valley red grapes like grenache and mourvedre, especially in the valley of the Agly river and in the small enclave called La Tour de France. Roussillon has had to overcome a reputation as a hotbed for cheap, acidic wines fostered by overproduction and plantations in inappropriate climats, but the past 30 years or so, with the influx of a new generation of winemakers and more thoughtful vineyard methods, has brought great success. I find it interesting that among the five wines considered today, the use of new oak is negligible, while even aging in barrels at all is kept to a minimum. The result is wines that express the spirit of the grapes from which they are made, though in a couple of these examples, high alcohol mutes the effect. These wines were samples for review.
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saint-roch
Chateau Saint-Roch “Kerbuccio” 2014, Maury sec, is a blend of 60 percent grenache and 20 percent each syrah and mourvedre that aged no more than nine months in 70 percent concrete vats, 30 percent 500-liter barrels, that is, about twice the size of a standard barrique. The color, if that’s the right word, is as opaque as motor oil, shading, if that’s the right word, to a violet rim; the wine bursts with notes of ripe blackberries and currants, with a touch of juicy plums and a hint of blueberry tart, all permeated by lavender and graphite, leather and tar. It’s fairly plush with dusty, velvety tannins riven by bright acidity devolving to a keen mineral edge, these elements comfortably supporting delicious spicy black and blue fruit flavors. 15 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2019 or ’20. Very Good+. About $18.
Imported by Eric Solomon, European Cellars, Charlotte, N.C.
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Domaine La Tour Vieille “La Pinede” 2014, Collioure, is a blend of 70 percent grenache with a mixed 30 percent mourvedre and carignan, collioure
according to the back label, OR 75 percent grenache and 25 percent carignan, according to the technical material I received. The wine received very traditional treatment, with hard-harvesting and destemming and foot treading; it saw no oak, only concrete vats. The color is glowing medium ruby; notes of red cherries and currants are darkened by hints of cherry pits and skins and touches of cloves, briers and brambles. The wine is spare, lithe and dry, yet displays, beyond those basic virtues, a riveting personality of earthy, foresty qualities, graphite minerality, dried fruit and spices, leather and vivid acidity that it seems an epitome of a style and place. When we finished this bottle, LL said, “Do you have a case of it?” Alas, no. 14.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $21.
Imported by Kermit Lynch, Berkeley, Calif.
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I am not privy to the percentages of the blend for the Bila-Haut “L’esquerda” 2013, Cotes du Roussillon Villages Lesquerde — even the bilahautlesquerda2013frontimporter’s website doesn’t reveal this information –but not surprisingly the grapes involved are syrah, grenache and carignan. The wine ages 90 percent in cement vats, 10 percent in oak barrels. The color is an almost eerie glowing dark ruby with a nuclear violet rim, while the bouquet seethes with notes of cloves, allspice and sandalwood, woven through floral-tinged aromas of very ripe blackberry, currant and plum; this is very dry red wine, solid and robust, stuffed with dust and graphite and revealing touches of tar and forest floor in the depths, all sustained by bright acidity. 14% alcohol. Drink now through 2018 to ’20. Excellent. About $21.
An R. Shack Selection for HB Wine Merchants, New York.
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hecht
The flaw in the Hecht & Bannier Cotes du Roussillon Village 2011 is that it feels more Californian in size and depth than its origins in the south of France would dictate. The wine is a blend of 65 percent grenache, 15 percent syrah and 10 percent each mourvedre and carignan; it aged in oak demi-muids of 500 liters (40 percent), barriques (30 percent) and cement vats (30 percent). In the glass, the wine is an opaque black-purple with a lighter purple rim; boy, this one pours out the rich, spicy, macerated black fruit scents and flavors, with notes of roasted plums, lavender, toasted herbs and bitter chocolate. Tannins are plush and chewy, while a lithe supple texture paves the way for a graphite-packed finish. 15 percent alcohol. It’s all a bit too much. Drink now through 2019 to ’21. Very Good+. About $22.
Imported by Frederick Wildman & Sons, New York.
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The Agly Brothers Cotes du Roussillon 2010 — the current vintage on the market — is a collaboration between Michel Chapoutier, owner of agly B 10the well-known Rhone producer M. Chapoutier, and Ron Laughton, owner of Jasper Hill of Victoria, Australia. (Chapoutier also owns the Bila-Haut estate mentioned above.) The wine is composed of one-third each carignan, grenache and syrah grapes cultivated on bio-dynamic principles; it fermented in cement vats and aged 16 to 20 months in French oak, one to three years old. This is one of those wines that feels unusual, individual and special from the first sniff and sip. It’s an opaque black-purple hue that lightens a bit to a glowing magenta rim; the initial impression is of a wine permeated by ripe, roasted, fleshy and meaty elements of spiced and macerated black currants, blueberries and plums; a few minutes in the glass bring out exotic notes of potpourri and violets, licorice and sandalwood, tobacco leaf and wood smoke; an arrow of profound graphite minerality and vibrant acidity penetrates the wine from beginning to end, bolstering the presence of dusty, velvety tannins and a rigorous underbrush and forest character. You feel the alcohol a bit on the finish; that’s the only flaw in an otherwise stylish, impeccable and impressive performance. 15.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2022 to ’24. Excellent. About $40.
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What do you want, friends, charm or structure? You can have both and at a more than decent price bhrouge2015lin Les Vignes de Bila-Haut Rouge 2015, Côtes du Roussillon Villages, from a property in the Languedoc in the eastern foothills of the Pyrenees, owned by Michel Chapoutier since 1999. The wine is a blend of syrah, grenache and carignan grapes that sees no new oak or small barrels. The color is dark ruby shading to a vivid transparent magenta; an immediate impact of freshness and liveliness comes from bright and winsome aromas of ripe black cherries, raspberries and mulberries drenched in notes of rose petals and violets against a background of graphite and sun-baked stone. The texture is fairly dense and chewy, buoyed by vibrant acidity and lithe tannins, all focused on delivering tasty black fruit flavors through a dried herb-and-mineral burnished finish. 14.5 percent alcohol. Nothing complicated or thought-provoking here, just a delicious and well-structured red wine for drinking through 2018. Very Good+. About $15, representing Excellent Value.

Sera Wine Imports, New York. A sample for review.

Let’s utter a cheer or two for wines that require no contemplation or furrowed brows, just a requirement for pleasure and enjoyment. Such a one is the Vignes de Bila-Haut Côtes du Roussillon Villages 2014, from an area so deep into southwest France that if you bhrouge14front stumble over a rock, you’ll fall into Spain. The steep, stony property, a refuge for the Knights Templar in the Middle Ages, was acquired in 1999 by Michel Chapoutier, who needs no introduction to fans of profound wines from the Rhone Valley, pretty far east along the great curve of the Mediterranean coastline. The Bila-Haut Côtes du Roussillon Villages 2014 is dominated by the syrah grape, with dollops of grenache and carignan; the wine has no oak contact, fermenting and aging in concrete vats. The color is a brilliant medium ruby with a trace of violet; the bouquet is bright and engaging, offering a florid display of black and red currants and plums with notes of ripe blackberry, briers and brambles, dried thyme and sage. Moderate tannins provide support for voluptuously ripe and spicy black and red fruit flavors, held in check by keen acidity and an essential graphite-tinged mineral element. The emphasis is on deliciousness and savor. 14 percent alcohol. We happily drank this bottle with a pizza made at home, with toppings of roasted red peppers, tomatoes, hickory-smoked bacon, black olives and Italian parsley. Very Good+. About $15, representing Fine Value.

An R. Shack Selection for HB Wine Merchants, New York. A sample for review.

The word “interesting,” of course, is a double-edged sword, as when one says that someone’s boyfriend or girlfriend is interesting, meaning “What a dork!” No, I don’t mean that! I mean interesting as “of real interest to My Readers” and white wines to look out for as alternatives to chardonnay, sauvignon blanc and riesling. Not that there’s anything wrong with those grapes — well, chardonnay is too often over-made and fiddled with — and I’m distinctly fond of sauvignon blanc and especially reisling. Many more types of white wine exist, however, and it’s in that less-traveled direction that I send My Readers today. We touch many countries and regions and a variety of grapes, both single and in fascinating and somewhat exotic blends. Look particularly at the wines priced between $11 and $17; real bargains abound there. As usual, I avoid lengthy mentions of technical, historical and geographical information in this Weekend Wine Notes — though I dote on that sort of material — for the sake of quick, incisive reviews deigned to pique your, ahem, interest and whet your palates. Enjoy!

These wines were either samples for review or encountered at wholesaler trade events.
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scaia-garganega
Tenuta Sant’Antonio Scaia Bianca 2014, Delle Venezia IGT, Italy. 12% alc. 55% garganega, 45% chardonnay, according to the label; website and printed material say 50% garganega, 30% chardonnay, 20% trebbiano Soave. Medium straw-gold color; ripe, lively, crisp, bristly; brimming with notes of green apple and melon, lemon and peach; a few minutes in the glass bring in hints of jasmine and gardenia, lime peel and grapefruit; very dry, zings and sings across the palate with bright acidity and tantalizing limestone elements; heaps of personality. Excellent. About $11, a Raving Amazing Bargain.
Dalla Terra Winery Direct, Napa, Calif.
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villa-wolf-2012-pinot-grigio-gris-gris-pfalz
Villa Wolf Pinot Gris 2012, Pfalz, Germany. 13% alc. 100% pinot gris grapes. Medium burnished gold hue; straw, melon and orange rind; lemongrass and ginger, jasmine and honeysuckle; saline and savory, a touch exotic in its ripe, spicy yellow fruit and yellow flower elements; quite dry, with clean acidity and a sense of fading limestone and flint minerality; quite attractive, but drink up. Very Good +. About $12, representing Real Value.
Loosen Bros. USA, Salem, Oregon.
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Alamos Torrontés 2014, Salta, Argentina. 13% alc. 100% torrontés grapes. Pale straw color; jasmine and gardenia, very lemony, hints of lemongrass and figs, honeydew and greengage; a little musky; saline briskness and crisp acidity; lovely, lively silken texture. Very Good+. About $13.
Alamos USA, Haywood, Calif.
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Les Vignes de Bila-Haut 2014, Côtes du Roussillon, France (Michael Chapoutier). 13% alc. Grenache gris, grenache blanc, macabeu (or sometimes maccabeu). Pale straw-gold color; ripe and fleshy, apple peel and peach skin; lemon, lime peel, tangerine and yellow plum; cloves and a wisp of dried thyme; crisp and sassy, very spicy and quite dry but with spare and tasty stone-fruit flavors. Very Good+. About $13.
An R. Shack Selection, HB Wine Merchants, New York.
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pecorino
La Valentina Pecorino 2014, Bianco Colline Piscarese, Italy. NA% alc. 100% pecorino grapes. Pale gold hue; very fresh, clean and appealing; lemon balm, lime peel, almond skin and almond blossom; limestone and oyster shell, savory with a salt marsh-sea breeze edge of vitality; pert and lively, a burgeoning of stone-fruit and meadowy herbs; extremely charming but with a thread of seriousness. Very Good+. About $16.
Dalla Terra Winery Direct, Napa Calif.
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VR_Label_14_WHITE4_Front
Vina Robles “White 4” 2014, Paso Robles, California. 14.9% alc. 54% viognier, 22% vermentino, 15% verdelho, 9% sauvignon blanc. Pale straw color with faint green highlights; delicate, lightly spicy, a slight sense of sunny, leafy figs and briers; all citrus with a flush of stone-fruit; a few minutes in the glass bring in heady notes of lilac and Evening in Paris; very appealing, with a beautiful texture and structure that fill the mouth with almost powdery talc-like elements cut by bright acidity. Drink now through 2017. Excellent. About $16.
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alleme
Bodega de Txakoli Tadai Berri Alleme Txakolina 2014, Getariako Txakolina. NA% alc. 100% hondarribi zuri grapes. The wine is pronounced chakoli; txakolina means “the txakoli.” The hondarribi zuri grape is primarily grown, where it is cultivated at all, in Spain’s Basque country. Very pale straw color; just faintly effervescent, as a sort of quiet, persistent tickle; white flowers and yellow fruit, let’s say, gardenia, peach and yellow plums, all quite gently expressed, with hints of almond blossom and lychee; lively, crisp, clean, caressing. Drink up as a very pleasant and unusual aperitif; these wines are not meant to last. Very Good+. About $17.
Kysela Pere et Fils, Winchester, Va.
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ponzi pb
Ponzi Vineyards Pinot Blanc 2014, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 13.4% alc. 1,000 cases. 100% pinot blanc grapes. Very pale straw-gold hue; roasted lemons and spiced pears, notes of quince, nectarine and ginger; subtly floral, like some tiny white slightly astringent flower; mountainy and meadowy; incisive acidity with elements of steel and limestone and a haze of smoke and talc; quite dry but immensely appealing and satisfying. Excellent. About $20, representing Great Value.
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amity-vineyards-pinot-blanc-2013-bottle
Amity Vineyards Pinot Blanc 2013, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 13% alc. 181 cases. 100% pinot blanc. Medium straw-gold hue; lemon balm, lime peel, slightly caramelized grapefruit; intriguing notes of cedar and hay; a fresh, breezy and bracing wine, lovely purity and intensity; hints of quince, peach skin and ginger; lithe and supple on the palate with crystalline acidity and vibrant limestone minerality. Now through 2016. Excellent. About $22.
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mccay viognier
McCay Cellars Viognier 2014, Lodi, California. 14.1% alc. 100% viognier grapes. Very pale gold color; peach, roasted lemon and lavender; slightly honeyed, with notes of beeswax, dried thyme and rosemary, with the latter’s hint of resiny quality; very clean, pure and intense, lovely presence and weight; more on the graceful, spare and elegant side of the grape, though a hint of caramelized fennel lends something exotic; a lingering finish that turns a bit austere with limestone and flint minerality. Now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $24.
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Clos le Vigneau 2013, Vouvray, Loire Valley, France. (Alexandre Monmousseau). NA%alc. 100% chenin blanc grapes. Bright straw-gold hue; vouvrayhay, damp stones, jasmine; hazelnuts and almond skin; notes of peach, apricot and yellow plums; lean and lithe, chiseled limestone minerality and chiming acidity yet a soft approachable texture; a hint of sweetness on the entry but very dry from mid-palate back through the spice and mineral freighted finish. Now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $19.
Kysela Pere et Fils, Winchester, Va.
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anaba white
Anaba Wines Turbine White 2013, Sonoma Valley, California. 14% alc. 42% roussanne, 20% grenache blanc, 20% picpoul blanc, 18% marsanne. 354 cases. Shimmering pale gold hue; roasted lemon, dried thyme, beeswax, lanolin, lilac; notes of heather and peach and a hint of some exotic floral and pressed nut oil; bountifully presents a full-bodied, seductive texture packed with spiced and roasted peach and apricot flavors but balanced by riveting acidity and an element of damp-stone minerality. Super appealing, practically glitters in the glass. Excellent. About $28, and Worth a Search.
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Michel Chapoutier’s venture from the Rhone Valley west to Roussillon produced the Domaine de Bila-Haut label. The basic reds are rustic, wholesome and tasty, while the upper-tier wines reveal more complexity and refinement. One of the latter, in the current vintage, is the Bila-Haut Occultum Lapidem 2013, Côtes du Roussillon Villages Latour de France. Occultum Lapidem means “hidden stone,” and the words occur in the Medieval Latin alchemical motto: Visita Interiora Terrae Rectificando Invenies Occultum Lapidem Veram Medicina, which translates to “Visit the interior of the earth and by purifying (what you find there) you will discover the hidden stone, which is the true medicine.” That’s a heady requirement for a wine to fulfill, but this one does so handily. The vines average 60 years old and are farmed biodynamically. The wines see no new oak or small barriques but ferment using natural yeasts in cement vats and age half in cement and half in 600-liter demi-muid barrels. This is a blend of 50 percent syrah, 40 percent grenache and 10 percent carignan.

Bila-Haut Occultum Lapidem 2013 offers a dark ruby color with a tinge of magenta. Every element — to be alchemical — you expect from this combination of grapes is present but both intensified and made elegant; the herbal-floral-woodsy qualities are here in notes of sage and rosemary, violets and lavender, sandalwood, allspice and underbrush; fruit falls into the plum, blackberry and blueberry range, with touches ripe and succulent as well as dried and spare, and punctuated by a hint of slightly raspy raspberry; a foundation of leather and loam rounds out the profile, along with hints of iodine, graphite, buoyant but not sharp acidity and mildly dense tannins. All of these factors are melded with a hand so deft that it amounts to artistry. 14 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $30.

An R. Stack Selection, HB Wine Merchants, New York. This wine was a sample for review.

You couldn’t ask for a more appealing quaffer in a white wine than the Bila-Haut 2013, Côtes du Roussillon Blanc, from the stable of Michel Chapoutier. Roussillon, the sunniest spot in France, nestles against the eastern slopes of the Pyrenees, just across from Spain, which nestles against the western flanks. Indeed, the region of Roussillon, ruled by the kings of Majorca and then Aragon centuries ago, shares a heritage that makes it almost more Spanish than French, including a tradition of bull-fighting. This wine is a blend of grenache blanc grapes, grenache gris, vermentino (here called rolle) and macabeo (known in Spain as viura); it offers a very pale gold color and winsome aromas of jasmine and almond blossom, spiced pear and yellow plum with a hint of peach, and notes of ginger, quince and flint. Mildly spicy stone-fruit flavors are highlighted by savory, briny qualities that balance nicely on a stream of pert acidity and a gently lush texture; a strain of limestone minerality plays out through the spare, almost elegant finish. 13.5 percent alcohol. We drank this wine quite happily with seared coho salmon and a mixture of sauteed bok choy and red peppers. Now through 2015. Very Good+. About $13, representing Great Value.

R. Shack Selections, HB Wine Merchants, New York. A sample for review.