The Chapoutier name has been associated with winemaking in the Rhône Valley for over two hundred years, beginning in Tain l’Hermitage in the north of the valley. Over time Maison M. Chapoutier acquired vineyards in the highly-regarded Hermitage, Côte Rôtie and Chateauneuf du Pape, among others in the valley.
In 1990 Michel Chapoutier took over winemaking and management responsibilities. Gradually he has increased the quality of wine production by decreasing yields in the vineyards, discontinuing the use of sprays and chemicals and moving to organic and biodynamic farming practices.
In 1999 Michel Chapoutier turned his interest to Roussillon with the purchase of Domaine de Bila-Haut in Latour de France. The Roussillon portion of the enormous south of France Languedoc-Roussillon region is the portion closest to Spain. The climate here is truly Mediterranean with cold winters and very warm summers that provide a long, sunny growing season.
Latour de France is a hilly region above the Agly River. Soils are a winemaker’s dream; a combination of limestone, gneiss, decomposed granite and shist. Translation for those of us who are not winemakers: complex, well-draining soil that retains heat and is not very fertile. Vines must struggle to put down roots in this arid region, but these complex soils result in concentrated flavors and minerality in the wines.
The 79-acre vineyard which is the source for the Occultum Lapidem bottling is about 60 years old and is planted to Syrah, Grenache and Carignan. These old vines have put down deep roots, allowing them to withstand very strong winds known as the Mistral. These drying winds can be beneficial however, creating a cooler climate and extending the growing season.
The Mistral also acts to reduce pests within the vineyard allowing Chapoutier to manage the vineyards at Domaine de Bila-Haut just as he does in the Rhône — by following biodynamic practices, though the vineyards are not certified biodynamic.
All of these details are lovely to know, but really the burning question is, “What does the wine taste like?” Happily, we can answer that question because we were fortunate to receive a bottle as a tasting sample.
2013 Domaine de Bila-Haut Occultum Lapidem — medium ruby-violet colored in the glass with earthy, black pepper and fruit aromas. Savory herbal flavors of black tea and dried, crushed marjoram combine with earthy, dark fruit flavors for a flavor profile that is constantly changing. Add hints of smokiness, nice acidity, great tannin structure to the lingering fruit and herbal flavors of this wine and you have a finish that is medium long. ABV 14%. $30 for a 750ml bottle, $65 for a magnum.
The savory quality of this wine is its distinguishing characteristic for us. The combination of dried, crushed herbs combined with dark fruit flavors is quite unique and delicious. This wine is medium bodied with lots of flavor and great tannin structure.
In case you are wondering, yes the pattern of raised dots on the label is Braille. All M. Chapoutier wine labels have included Braille since 1996. They were the first to use this labeling method and the wine bottle is similarly labeled at its base.
This wine is delicious on its own. We opened the bottle as we began preparing our dinner to accompany this wine. The Occultum Lapidem gained complexity with time in the glass, as we did not decant this wine.
We prepared a pizza with olive oil, fresh mozzarella, grilled red onions and pancetta. It was simple, yet flavorful and delicious. It paired perfectly with this savory wine.
We managed to achieve the perfect food and wine pairing — one that enhanced both the flavor of the wine and the food. This Domaine de Bila-Haut Occultum Lapidem is so versatile it would pair with lots of dishes. Braised pork or beef would be delicious. Grilled lamb or pasta with meat sauce or pasta primavera would be wonderful pairings.
Occultum Lapidem translates to “hidden gem” in Latin. The name is acknowledgement of this vineyard of the same name, the best and oldest vineyard on the Bila-Haut estate. Happily this gem of a wine is no longer hidden to us. It deserves to be discovered and enjoyed.
Thank you to Creative Palate Communications for connecting us with this delicious wine.