Behind the Label: Michel Chapoutier

Behind the Label: Michel Chapoutier

When a friend suggested I write more about wine labels on STBNY, I immediately thought of Michel Chapoutier. What sets Chapoutier’s labels apart is not their look (elegant fonts, neutral colors, classic crests) but their feel. That’s because Chapoutier prints his labels in Braille. One day, Chapoutier happened to catch a TV interview with his friend Gilbert Montagné, a French singer who has been blind since birth. Montagné described how difficult it was to pick out wine by himself in a wine store. (If you’re interested in the full story, check out this article.) That gave Chapoutier the idea to superimpose Braille over his regular label. Appropriately enough, he started out in 1994 with the label for his Monier de la Sizeranne Hermitage, which comes from a plot of land originally owned by Maurice de la Sizeranne, who invented the first abbreviated version of Braille.

Most of us are probably familiar with Chapoutier from his great value Belleruche Côtes-du-Rhône, both red and white. Usually available for around $10-$12, these are some of the best bang-for-your-buck wines available on the market. You could do worse than to stock up on a few bottles of these for your summer BBQ needs. Chapoutier makes a staggeringly wide variety of wines from the Rhône, Provence, and Languedoc-Roussillon — with some side projects in Australia and Portugal for good measure — and somehow manages to keep the overall quality level high. (Chapoutier might attribute this success, at least in part, to his commitment to biodynamic winemaking.) Chapoutier seems like a bit of a live wire, and I love reading interviews with him.

I’ve had many of Chapoutier’s wines over the years, and tonight Paul and I cracked open this Les Vignes de Bila-Haut. This wine hails from the Roussillon, the hot, sun-drenched region along France’s eastern border with Spain that produces big, ripe wines. This wine is a blend of Syrah, Grenache, and Carignan, all grapes that flourish in the heat. The wine is inky, lip-staining purple, and the aromas are deep, dark, and earthy: blackberries,cocoa, smoke, and dried thyme. On the palate, the Carignan is a little too front-and-center for me: traditionally a low-quality variety used for bulk wines, Carignan can produce good wines when it comes from old vines, as it does here. But even when Carignan rises to the occasion, it still has this rough, rustic edge to it that reminds me of the mediocre, cheap Côtes-du-Rhône that I used to drink way too much of in my misspent youth, to hangover-inducing effect.

Nonetheless, this is really enjoyable wine for a mere $14. On his site, Chapoutier recommends drinking the wine with a “nice piece of beef” or grilled meat, which we interpreted to mean bacon cheeseburgers from the grill. It was a pretty fortuitous match. I think Michel would approve.

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