Roussillon


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.