Wine Review: 2011 Bila-Haut L’Esquerda

23 09 2015

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

Bila-Haut: The label that can't miss.

Bila-Haut: The label that can’t miss.

What??  There’s another Bila-Haut?  Readers of this blog will know that I have long been a fan of the best-known wine from Rhone legend Michel Chapoutier’s Roussillon side project, the excellently named Occultum Lapidem, and I have also recently had the chance to enjoy their near-equally awesome rose.  But I had neither seen nor heard of this mustard-coloured addition to the Bila-Haut lineup, L’Esquerda, before being provided this bottle to try.  I won’t be forgetting it anytime soon.

Like the Occultum Lapidem, the Bila-Haut L’Esquerda is from a particular high-quality subregion of the Cotes du Roussillon Villages area in the extreme south of France, almost stepping into Spain.  While the Occultum Lapidem hails from the mouthful Cotes du Roussillon Villages Latour de France subregion, the L’Esquerda comes from a single vineyard nestled in its westerly neighbour, the nearly-as-wordy Cotes du Roussillon Village Lesquerde subregion, located slightly further inland from the Mediterranean Sea, immediately south of red dessert wine rock star zone Maury, and due west of another Roussillon sub-zone that’s gotten digital ink on this site lately, Tautavel.  The word “L’esquerda” is Catalan for “the fault in the rock” and is likely a nod to the nutrient-poor granitic soils of the area.  Mainly Syrah, but blended with Grenache and Carignan, L’Esquerda has basically the same varietal makeup as Occultum and is made in a very similar fashion:  from old-vine grapes (40+ years), with extended maceration periods post-fermentation (3-4 weeks) and with limited oak aging (10% or less of the blend sees a barrel).  No wonder there’s a family resemblance.

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L’Esquerda is a beautiful wine to look at, a deep, rich, almost sanguine ruby-purple colour that dances in the glass.  It is dark, juicy and wild on the nose, featuring dense bass notes of tar, asphalt and smoke which are given elegance and approachability by lush black fruit aromas but then turned savage by unhinged brambly fruit, iodine, undergrowth and charred meat, like a construction project and a jungle safari all in one.  It’s not as full-bodied as you might expect from that olfactory onslaught, instead a careful medium, and it treads a precise yet varied flavour line, introducing a chalkiness on the palate along with baker’s chocolate, coffee grounds and iron, but also brighter beams of blueberry and strawberry jam.  There are different specific tastes than aromas, but still high notes and low notes, a full-spectrum stereo sensory experience, an orchestra of flavour.  Fine but potent teeth-scrubbing tannin keeps L’Esquerda in velvet control throughout and renders it a touch more serious and substantive than it would otherwise be, something more than just a hedonistic adventure.

Cork Rating: 5/10 (The appellation name barely fits on the cork!)

Cork Rating: 5/10 (The appellation name barely fits on the cork!)

Simply put, this is a hell of a wine.  For me at least, Bila-Haut just can’t miss, churning out wine after wine of class, character and powerful flavour, simply crushing the $25ish bottle market.  I know that price point is starting to step out of the value wine market, but the quality you get in the bottle would be easily at home in a wine that costs $20 more.  This label is obviously more than just a vacation fling for Chapoutier; there is something real here.  Find this.

91 points

$25 to $30 CDN

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