Wine Review: 2014 Bila-Haut Rose

13 07 2015

[This bottle was provided as a sample for review purposes.]

Winning producer, winning value.  And look at that colour!

Winning producer, winning value. And look at that colour!

I just got back on the weekend from a sunny California vacation, and as I was coming from hot, humid San Diego into hot, dry Calgary (this was pre-torrential thunderstorms) after the end of a long travel day with two young children, I had my first ever legit rose craving.  Don’t get me wrong:  I like rose just fine, but until this moment I had always been on the “perfectly happy to drink it” side of the fence as opposed to the “insatiable desire for it” side.  But something about that day made me long for a bottle that was crisp and cool yet fruity and substantial, a summer wine niche that rose fits to the tee.  Almost immediately after dropping off the suitcases I went to my neighbourhood liquor store, browsed their abysmal pre-chilled rose selection, and escaped with the one non-White Zinfandel bottle I could find:  a Michel Chapoutier rose called Beaurevoir (pictured below) from pink wine’s spiritual homeland of Tavel in south-eastern France.  After downing it probably more quickly than I should have, I realized that I had another Chapoutier rose in my cellar and promised that I would take my time with this one.  Consider this a kick-off for what looks to be a busy Pop & Pour summer!

The second Chapoutier rose in question is the 2014 Bila-Haut — you may remember the winery name from this write-up from a couple months ago of the producer’s top red, the Occultum Lapidem, which I consider one of the top value wines on the market today.  I got into the history of Bila-Haut back then, but in a nutshell, Michel Chapoutier is a Rhone wine icon who has recently branched out into the rapidly improving but lesser-regarded regions of the Languedoc-Roussillon on the southern tip of central France and is churning out bargain after bargain of quality under the Bila-Haut name.  The rose is a new offering from Chapoutier’s southern branch as of this year.  While the Occultum Lapidem came from a specialized sub-section of the Cotes du Roussillon region, this rose bears the much more generic Pays d’Oc IGP designation, which is a new enough term to deserve a quick tangent paragraph.  Bear with me.

Cork Rating:  2/10 (I find the history of the Pays d'Oc IGP designation interesting.  This cork is not interesting.)

Cork Rating: 2/10 (I find the history of the Pays d’Oc IGP designation interesting. This cork is not interesting.)

Wines that didn’t fit into France’s fairly rigid appellation system but still had regional and quality characteristics used to be classified as “Vin de Pays” – “country wine”.  The most famous Vin de Pays in France were from Languedoc-Roussillon and were labelled as “Vin de Pays d’Oc” (“d’Oc” is short for “Languedoc”).  However, in August 2009, France changed its wine laws to eliminate the Vin de Pays designation (which had often taken on a negative connotation in the eyes of critics and consumers) and replace it with the IGP designation:  “Indication Geographique Protegee”, or “Protected Geographical Indication”.  This is similar to the Italian IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica) designation that was born out of the rise of Super Tuscan wines in that country.  A wine labelled Pays d’Oc IGP means that it was made in Languedoc-Roussillon from local grapes, met certain production quality criteria, showed typical varietal/regional characteristics and was approved by the Pays d’Oc Producer’s Union based on a taste test.  IGP wines generally fall lower on the pyramid than more localized and restrictive appellation (AOP) wines, but they are taking steps to gain (and retain) respect and recognition, and Languedoc and the Pays d’Oc designation are leading the way in this regard.

The Bila-Haut rose is a blend of Cinsault and Grenache, and I believe it has this wider IGP designation because the Cinsault is from outside the Cotes du Roussillon where Bila-Haut is based and from the nearby Gard district instead.  Chapoutier had to search beyond his base to find Cinsault that he deemed of sufficient quality for rose production.  The two grapes were vinified separately at cool temparatures, macerated (where the grape skins sit in the juice after pressing) for only a short time to limit the transfer of colour and tannin from skins to wine, briefly matured in stainless steel tanks and then blended.

The other Chapoutier rose, from Tavel:  also good, twice as expensive.

The other Chapoutier rose, from Tavel: also good, twice as expensive.

I loved the colour of this wine from the first time I saw the bottle.  Unlike the Chapoutier rose from Tavel, which was an electric watermelon shade of dark pink, this one is a bright but deep salmon colour, without any paleness or orange tones but also without any lurid eye-piercing hues.  While I note the colour of reds and whites mainly to check for faults and signs of aging, I find that the colour of a rose has a direct impact on my enjoyment of it, and this one passed the test.  I tend to default back to pink descriptors when describing rose flavours and aromas (pink grapefruit, pink lemonade, etc.) — in my defence, often because they’re accurate — so I intentionally tried to steer clear from the pink and obvious when diving into this one.  Thankfully, the nose on the Bila-Haut did not leave me reaching for other terminology, but immediately hit me with a bunch of bracing elemental aromas (salty, briny, icy, rocky) along with orange zest, white flowers, chlorine and, unusually, a trace of nutmeg.

My immediate palate impression was “prickly”:  the Bila-Haut was light on its feet, barely medium-bodied and with racy levels of acidity that made it dance on the tongue.  After a strong initial shot of citrus (grapefruit) at the outset, it eased into slightly warmer notes of lime, strawberry and cranberry, mixed with a touch of leafiness, a dash of white pepper and a sterile/chemical note almost like fresh styrofoam.  It finished clean, dry and tight, scouring yet subtle, readying you to have more.  This is excellent with food, and you could easily have multiple glasses of it with no palate fatigue.  Particularly given its price point ($15ish), it would make a fantastic by-the-glass restaurant wine list option.

As compared to the Tavel rose, which was 100% Grenache, the Bila-Haut Cinsault/Grenache blend was way lighter and more controlled in colour, more austere on the nose but more varied and interesting on the palate.  It also cost about half as much, so do yourself a favour and buy it instead.  Once you find a producer worth sticking with, the Pays d’Oc can be a value goldmine.

88 points

$15 to $20 CDN

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