2016 Domaine de Bila-Haut Occultum Lapidem

Today’s Cellar Note brings you the warmth of sunny, southern France in your wine glass. I don’t know about you, but I’m ready for some sunshine and always look forward to something delicious in my wine glass. We received this wine as a tasting sample.

Before we get to the wine, let’s take a look at the label. Domaine de Bila-Haut is located in Latour de France, inland and just north of Perpignan, near France’s border with Spain. The Domaine is owned by Michel Chapoutier whose family have a multi-generational history of viticulture and winemaking in the northern Rhône Valley. Over the past 200 years the Chapoutier family’s vineyard holdings have come to include some of the very best sites in and around Tain l’Hermitage.

Michel assumed winemaking responsibilities from his father in 1990. In addition to moving viticulture to organic and biodynamic in the family vineyards he has continued quality improvements in the wine cellar initiated by his father all while expanding holdings and winemaking to other regions. 

Domaine de Bila-Haut is one of those other locations. Vineyard sites are composed of complex soils and include black and brown schist, gneiss, limestone, chalk and clay. Syrah, Grenache and Carignan struggle to get a foothold in the terraced vineyard sites.

Côtes du Roussillon Villages AOC is an appellation situated south of Fitou AOC that encompasses 32 villages. Vineyards are planted to steep hillsides and terraces of schist, granite and limestone soils. Allowed grapes include Grenache, Carignan, Syrah, Mourvèdre and Lladoner Pelut, the same for Côtes du Roussillon AOC, but with additional quality requirements. 

Four terroirs within the Côtes du Roussillon Villages AOC are distinctive and may appear on the label. Latour de France for brown shale, Caramany for gneiss, Lesquerde for granite and Tautavel for red clay and limestone.

Now let’s taste.

2016 Domaine de Bila-Haut Occultum Lapidem, Côtes du Roussillon Villages Latour de France
2016 Domaine de Bila-Haut Occultum Lapidem, Côtes du Roussillon Villages Latour de France

2016 Domaine de Bila-Haut Occultum Lapidem, Côtes du Roussillon Villages Latour de Francedense ruby in the glass with generous aromas of plums, ripe blackberries and dried herbs. Flavors of berry and plum compote and crushed, dried herbs combine with a distinctive thread of slate-like minerality. Tannins are drying and grippy, but well integrated with the ample flavors. The body is medium and the finish medium in length and warming. 15% abv. SRP $30

I can’t decide which I love more about this wine: the fruit flavors, that distinctive thread of slate-like minerality or the dried herbs in this wine. No wait, it’s that distinctive minerality. It keeps me thinking about this wine, trying to figure out just how to describe it. Delicious. If I have any complaint at all about this wine it’s that I wish it had less alcohol, not that it sticks out particularly, but it does keep me from having a second glass. 

This hidden gem, that’s the translation from Latin of Occultum Lapidem, is composed of 50% Syrah, 30% Grenache and 20% Carignan, Each variety is fermented using native yeast in cement vats. Racking replaces filtration to clarify the wine and aging takes place in a combination of cement tank and 600-liter wooden demi-muids.

Winemaking does not get in the way of this wine, if you know what I mean. I taste fruit not oak in this wine, which I very much appreciate. We enjoyed it with grilled beef tenderloin and it was delicious. This wine is still youthful and bright and tastes great now. No need to rush in drinking this wine, however.

Cheers!

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