Bila-Haut is a relatively new project from famed Rhône Valley vigneron Michel Chapoutier. Chapoutier is one of the most highly regarded winemakers in France. Since taking over his family firm in 1990 at age 26, he has transformed the winery into one of the leading Rhône Valley producers.
He combines the modern and the traditional: crusading for biodynamic winemaking, while expanding operations around the globe and experimenting with cutting-edge winemaking techniques. The Roussillon was bound to attract Chapoutier’s attention. He decided to locate his [BilaHaut] Bila-Haut domain at Latour de France. The name refers to an old farm villa that was built high into the mountain slopes among some old vineyards.
The soil there is diverse, consisting of black and brown schist to give the wine a solar touch, gneiss for minerality and freshness, and a combination of limestone and chalk for strength and balance. We’re featuring five different wines form this exceptional estate. Here’s the lineup:
2012 Les Vignes de Bila-Haut Blanc, $14.99
A blend of Grenache Blanc, Grenache Gris and Macabeu, a part of the grape that comes from limestone and clay soils in the Agly Valley, the other part from granite soils at higher altitude. The wine exhibits citrus aromas (lemon, grapefruit) with smoky notes. The palate is round, with great acidity (coming from the later ripening sites at higher altitude). There’s a lot of freshness on the finish mixed with salty notes, which express the minerality of the wine.
2012 Les Vignes de Bila-Haut Rosé, $13.99
A blend of Grenache and Cinsault, it’s lightly pressed and given skin contact after which it is fermented in jacketed stainless steel to preserve the freshness and delicacy of the fruit. Pale salmon in color, dry and crisp, this wine offers bright berry and melon fruit with notes of orange and a delicate minerality. It should be noted that these grapes are harvested rosé as opposed to being a saignee bled off of a red wine.
2011 Les Vignes de Bila-Haut Rouge, $14.99
This well-put-together blend of Syrah, Grenache and Carignan, done entirely in vats, delivers loads of character-filled black cherry fruit, tinged with notes of lavender and garrigue with an ever-present but delicate minerality.
2009 Domaine de Bila-Haut L’esquerda, $26.00
L’esquerda, meaning “the fault in the rock” in Catalan, is the faithful expression of a personality, and of the terroir of a region. The land is made of high limestone-based cliffs and dry soils over which the “tramontane” wind blows (i.e. northern winds from across the mountains).
Chapoutier says the pure granite soil gives this Syrah/Grenache/Carignan blend its alluring “summer rain on hot stones” nose. If that scent isn’t evocative for you, think of the smell of wet slate paving stones around a swimming pool on a hot day and you get the idea. “Powerful and complex, with pepper and iron notes behind the dark currant, wild plum and dried raspberry flavors. Mineral and slate linger on the muscular finish, with hints of smoke and mint. Drink now through 2019.” — Wine Spectator, 91 points.
2011 Domaine de Billa-Haut Occultum Lapidem, $29.00
A blend of Syrah, Grenache and Carignan, at first the nose is quite closed, but then it opens to reveal aromas of graphite, leather, pepper and black fruits. On the palate, it’s fleshy with delicate tannins and a nice freshness.