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Wine Without Pretense: High-quality winemaker develops affordable drinks

POSTED: August 6, 2014 1:00 a.m.

Two issues rarely intertwine in the same sentence: Highly rated winemakers and sensibly priced wines.

Sure, you have your Turleys and Perrins and Kongsgaards, but you’ll also have your price tags of $85 and up ... way up.

That’s why I was thrilled recently to discover two well-respected individuals have lent their names, talent and dedication to really good juice priced at $15 to $35.

Now to some — and I’m one of them — $35 does not translate to “inexpensive.” Put it this way, however, on the value-to-cost ratio, these wines are a deal.

Michel Chapoutier made his bones in the Rhone. His family has been fiddling with grapes since 1808. The name Chapoutier on a bottle of Rhone red is a virtual guarantee of sky-high quality and thoroughly enjoyable wine.

Now Chapoutier has turned his sights to a relatively little-known (in this country) French wine-making region, Roussillon. That’s not to be confused with Languedoc-Roussillon, which hugs France’s Mediterranean coast. This region is north of that, away from the sea but benefiting from some of the maritime influences.

Chapoutier has made a dramatic statement: “Roussillon has the potential to be as great as Bordeaux, Burgundy or the Rhone.” Quite a commitment.

To back that up, Chapoutier purchased a long-neglected wine property in the region, Domaine de Bila-Haut. He modernized it and released a trio of wines — white, rose and red — that glow with the Chapoutier touch. All three are priced about $15 and should be available in Georgia by this time.

Bila-Haut Blanc Cotes de Roussillon 2013 is a crisply dry white made from a blend of lesser-known grapes, including Grenache Blanc, Grenache Gris, Vermentino and Macabeo. It’s an interesting blend, because each grape brings a different dimension to the wine.

You may pick up a light flowery aroma from the glass. It is quite dry and very nice. It’s great with seafood; we sampled ours with a simply poached hunk of corvina, also known as weakfish, and they loved each other. This corvina, a fish, is not to be confused with the corvina, a grape, used in producing the Wine of the Month.

Not finding the grapes he wanted for Bila-Haut Rose Pays d’Oc 2013 in Roussillon, Chapoutier journeyed south to the Pays d’Oc (another name for Languedoc-Roussillon) and picked out a pair of red grapes he’s familiar with: Grenache and Cinsault.

The result? A peachy beauty that’s quite dry and wonderful with a traditional picnic lunch, including cold chicken, veggie salads, light fish dishes, fruits and cheeses. I enjoyed sipping it by itself quite chilled on a hot, humid August afternoon.

Bila-Haut Rouge Cotes de Roussillon Villages 2012 is a big and firm but not overpowering red made from mostly Syrah, with some Grenache and Carignan blended in. Chapoutier describes the aroma as “the smell of summer rain on stone.” There is a mineral component in the nose, and elegant, subtle flavors in the mouth.

* * *

Paul Hobbs plies his craft in Sonoma County, Calif., a garden spot in this world. He is known for attention to detail, lovingly nurturing and selecting his fruit and bringing high standards to any wines coming out of his cellars.

I was introduced to a trio of Paul Hobbs’ wines being sold bearing the CrossBarn label — a chardonnay and a pair of pinot noirs. They are:

* CrossBarn Sonoma Coast Chardonnay 2013: Hobbs was blessed with a great growing season in 2013. It produced superb fruit, which received special handling, such as whole cluster fermentation, 80 percent in stainless steel tanks, 20 percent in neutral French barrels. Plus it went through malolactic fermentation, which results in a distinctly smooth mouth feel. I want to taste this after another year in bottle, although it’s luscious right now. About $25.

* CrossBarn Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir 2012: Yummy pinot noir! Fruit was hand-harvested at night and aged 10 months in oak barrels, 10 percent of which were new, giving a light oak feel to the wine. The balance in this wine is remarkable, with fruit and acidity holding hands and playing nicely together. I found a touch of raspberry in the nose. About $35.

* CrossBarn Anderson Valley Pinot Noir 2012: Fruit for this one was sourced from a different region within Sonoma County. And you can tell the differences in these two pinot noirs. I got more black cherry in this one. It’s a bit more muscular than the first. I think this one may age better, but it’s quite pleasant and drinkable now. About $35.

There you have it. A sextet of new wines from a pair of veteran winemakers. Hope you enjoy them as much as I did.

Randall Murray is a Gainesville-area resident. Have a question about wine? He can be contacted at His column appears on the first Wednesday of the month and on


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