BILA HAUT: AN UNCOMMON VALUE ONCE AGAIN

Not everything in the wine business makes sense (in fact a lot of it doesn’t).  Take for example Michel Chapoutier.  Here’s a guy that makes some of the most compelling single vineyard wines in the world from iconic sites on Hermitage.  Yet we can’t remember the last time we got really excited about one of the other bottlings he presents under the Chapoutier label.  You rarely see these on our shelves as they are serviceable but not compelling.

Enigma?  You bet.  Yet this guys makes some of the best values in the wine world.  He just doesn’t do it in the Rhone.  His Bila Haut program in the Roussillon has been an iconic source of value since Michel bought the property in 1999.  Yeah they have put out a number of memorable specialty bottlings during that time, but it is their bread-and-butter entry level offerings that amaze the most, vintage in and vintage out.

The beautifully appointed Bila-Haut (Chapoutier) Cotes Du Roussillon Villages Les Vignes de Bila-Haut Rouge 2017 hits that mark again.   Since it is one of the first 2017 reds to hit the floor we can’t make any sweeping statements about the vintage.  But if this wine is any indication, it’s looking good.  The fruit component suggests red and black fruits, some white pepper, tea, and a subtle underpinning of slatey minerality.  There’s plenty of energy and urgency to the fruit and an underly lift comparable to the 2016.

While we aren’t necessarily in agreement with Jeb Dunnuck’s suggestion that this is a doppelganger for a Saint Joseph, and see more of the higher toned Grenache in the mix, he got the rest right, “The 2017 Côtes du Roussillon Villages Les Vignes de Bila Haut reminds me of an impressive St Joseph (despite having lots of Grenache in the blend) with its black raspberry, white pepper, and leafy herb aromas and flavors. It’s seamless, elegant, and balanced, with both acidity and richness. Put this in a blind lineup of Northern Rhônes and shock your friends. ..92 points.”  As always, a fine buy at $12.98.

VTV Cotes du Roussillon Villages Tautavel Silex 2015: Poster Child for the New Roussillon

We marvel everyday and try to understand why some things we expect to be big aren’t and others for which we have no expectations are.    The VTV Cotes du Roussillon Villages Tautavel Silex 2015 falls into that first category.  Yeah, the name is a little long and even after a couple of decades there is still rather limited awareness of the Roussillon.   Beyond that all of the descriptors are ‘aces’.  From Jeb Dunnuck, “… The 2015 Cotes du Roussillon Villages Tautavel Les Vingt Marches is a hidden gem in this vintage. Made from mostly Syrah, with 20% Grenache and 10% Carignan, this full-bodied, deep and voluptuously textured red is loaded with notions of plums, violets and spice, with some Syrah meatiness developing with air. Completely destemmed and aged all in tank, I’d enjoy bottles over the coming 4-6 years. 93 points.”
You’ve got all of the right stuff here…old vines (the original review mentioned 50 year-old vines), unique terroir, an outstanding vintage, and a talented winemaker.  Everything you would expect out of a wine with those parameters is there and then some.  At $25 it can give a lot of Chateauneufs a run for their money.  Is the market so saturated with great wines that something like this can be invisible?  The wines emerging from the Roussillon these days are the best to ever come out of the region, and this powerhouse red is a poster child for that.  You can buy a great Roussillon or a mediocre Cabernet for this kind of price…easy choice for us.

MO’ LAFAGE

The eye-popping values from Jean-Marc Lafage have been coming at a prolific rate.  If we did full emails on the every one of them, which would be easy to do given how good and how well priced they all are, we’d start looking like some sort of Lafage-of-the-Month Club.  So every now and again we’ll publish a little something on the ‘down low’, with the caveat that it could eventually be its own offer at some point.  Don’t confuse this smaller format with a lack of enthusiasm.  What Lafage has been doing of late is some sort of unprecedented run of ‘hits’ and this is simply one more.  Our task is to keep you informed.

There are so many different and exciting cuvees, it’s hard to keep them all straight.  We counted over 50 different wines reviewed by the Wine Advocate, some only with a single writeup.  The 2015 Domaine Lafage Cotes du Roussillon Villages Lieu Dit La Narassa is only the second in this particular series, an admirable followup to the 93-point 2014 and we think even a little more substantial.  Visually it is markedly different than the majority of the bottles in that it comes in a weapon-ready, super-heavy Bordeaux styled bottle with a black label (most others are Burgundy shaped and ‘dressed’ in white).  We aren’t sure what the message is, but the wine is definitely an attention-getter in the glass as well.

Grown in the typical black schist soils of the Roussillon, the 60 to 70-year-old vines of Syrah and Grenache are farmed organically, hand harvested, and brought up in 80% concrete and 20% large neutral barrels.  The harvest regimen is a little different for this bottling.  It is made in a semi-ripasso style by harvesting the Grenache in successive passes picking only the ripest clusters. Once at the cellars the fruit is destemmed and only the best berries are chosen for fermentation after a short pre-fermentation maceration.  The blend is 80% Grenache and 20% Syrah.

This one is bold, full, flavored and definitely expressive of this unique terroir near the village of Maury and will stand up to the heartiest of fare.  The Wine Advocate’s Jeb Dunnuck was glowing again in his ‘barrel’ review stating, “Notes of cassis, toasted spice, chocolate and licorice all emerge from the 2015 Cotes du Roussillon Villages Lieu Dit La Narassa…This hedonistic, downright sexy, ripe and layered beauty will drink nicely right out of the gate…91-93 Points.”

Barrels scores tend to be conservative and, in 2015, almost everything was outstanding so you don’t get as much ‘separation’.  So we suspect if it gets a final review, it will finish on the high end.   We think the 2015 Narassa has even a bit more muscle than the 2014, and definitely a riper profile.  Once again the magic is that this is an expansive, engaging wine that only costs $15 a bottle.  How does he keep doing it?