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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Replacement Wine Review: 2012 Gerard Bertrand Grand Terroir Pic Saint Loup

6 08 2015

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

If at first you don't succeed...

If at first you don’t succeed…

If you were reading this blog one week and two posts ago (and I’ll forgive you, if quietly resent you, if you haven’t), you will remember this bottle.  One of three contenders in a Languedoc-Roussillon Terroir Showdown, and arguably the favourite by virtue of coming from the most recognizable and lauded subregion that area has to offer (the excellently named Pic Saint Loup), this 2012 Gerard Bertrand offering instead had to be disqualified from the competition because the bottle I got was corked, affected by a musty, devious molecule called TCA that lent it a faint newspaper-left-out-in-a-Calgary-hailstorm smell and sapped it of its life and flavour.  But tonight will be different.  Tonight Pic Saint Loup gets its revenge, and its shot at glory.

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Gerard Bertrand: Terroir Showdown

30 07 2015

[These bottles were provided as samples for review purposes.]

This is the kind of tasting opportunity that wine geeks drool over:  three bottles, one producer, one general wine region, similar grapes, identical pricing ($25ish), same winemaking processes, but three different and distinct subregions, each with their own soils, microclimate and story to tell.


The producer is Gerard Bertrand, visionary winemaker from the south of France who was literally born to do what he’s doing:  a local of the area, he started making wine with his father at the age of 10.  The region is the Languedoc-Roussillon, a sun-drenched area stretching along the Mediterranean coast on the southern edge of central France.  It is the world’s single biggest wine-producing area with around 700,000 acres under vine, although this is not necessarily a good thing; it has been known as the “wine lake” of France for churning out vast quantities of crude jug wine for cheap consumption, more than people could possibly buy, creating massive stockpiles of reputation-draining plonk and setting the region back in the eyes of the wine world.  However, the Languedoc-Roussillon is in the midst of a quality renaissance thanks to a few passionate producers, Bertrand included, who see the potential for greatness in the land.  The result, if you know what (or, more accurately, who) to look for, is a series of unparalleled wine values that can knock your socks off for the price.

FullSizeRender-82You don’t see many wines with Languedoc-Roussillon subregions on the label in this market:  either they’re from the popular catch-all Vins de Pays d’Oc (now known as Pays d’Oc IGP) umbrella region or from a similar overarching area like Cotes du Roussillon.  I have been heavily into wine for a number of years and had never heard of two of the three sub-zones highlighted in this trio of bottles: Tautavel and Montpeyroux.  The third, Pic Saint Loup, is probably the best-known quality subregion in the Languedoc, but it remains woefully underrepresented here.  Bertrand’s Grand Terroir series of wines is intended to change that and to shine the spotlight on these specific and distinctive parts of Languedoc-Roussillon, to prove that the area is more than just a bulk conglomerate.  After tasting the three Grand Terroir bottles side by side by side, I have to say that he’s on to something.  The terroir showdown begins now! Read the rest of this entry »

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! Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Review: 2013 Bila-Haut Occultum Lapidem

14 05 2015

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

Find this.

Find this.

I have been drinking this particular wine for four vintages now, seeking it out as soon as the new annual offering hit the shelves. It’s one of my favourite widely available wines, and I still have fond memories of the 2010 release, which I purchased repeatedly and brought over to many a dinner.  Well, this 2013 is even better, the best Bila-Haut yet, and has the chance to be something special.

I’m getting ahead of myself.  Bila-Haut is the Roussillon-based domaine of Michel Chapoutier, renowned winemaker of France’s Rhone valley (and one of the only producers to put braille on all of his labels).  Chapoutier is a legend in the Rhone, where his wines range from solid value examples of key regions to the absolute pinnacle that the valley has to offer, but it was only relatively recently, in 1999, that he expanded his empire to the very southern tip of France and acquired this estate in Roussillon.  More specifically, Bila-Haut is in a designated quality subregion of Roussillon that bears the longest appellation name I have ever seen:  Cotes du Roussillon Villages Latour de France.  Add “Bila-Haut Occultum Lapidem” to the front of that and you get a very awkward wine label — and a lot of braille. Read the rest of this entry »

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