Olga Raffault 2008 Chinon Les Picasses

I bought a case of this on the recommendation of an Oregon wine merchant. It’s a somm favorite and it wasn’t very expensive – perhaps $30/btl?

It sat for 10 years in a storage facility.

Since returning to the United States, I’ve opened 4-5 bottles, and each has been really, really disappointing.

It’s just…dead.

The nose is of dried red/black fruits, grilled green peppers and curled leaves. All of which tell you the same thing: it’s past it.

I’m going to look for a very recent release of this so that I can see what it tastes like young. But I think the remaining bottles are going into a beef bourginon recipe or something like that.


  • Les Picasses is one of the most famous vineyards in Chinon, which is in the Loire Valley not far from Touraine. This is Cabernet Franc country.
  • Cabernet Franc is one of the parent grapes of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and several others. It’s medium-to-high tannins and acidity, red fruit and notably herbaceous (capsicum)
  • Olga Raffault is one of the top producers in Chinon and they age the wine for many years before release.
  • Winemaker’s notes:The fruit is destemmed and the whole, uncrushed berries are fermented with indigenous yeasts in stainless steel tank; fermentation and maceration last for 25-30 days, depending on the vintage. The wine is aged for 2-3 years in oak and chestnut foudres ranging from 30-50 hectoliters; it is then further aged in tank and bottle before release about four years after the vintage. Les Picasses is the fullest-bodied, most structured and most complex of the Raffault reds.

2013 Bila-Haut ‘Occultem Lapidem’ by M. Chapoutier

This wine brings back memories. Great memories.

Indigo Restaurant, Soi Convent, Bangkok

There is a lovely French restaurant on Soi Convent in Bangkok, Thailand. It’s name is Indigo, but I’ve also heard it called the second French Embassy because the place is always packed with Frenchies – a sure sign of (at least relative) authenticity.

You walk down Convent and then turn left down an alley just before hitting Silom Road. The alley smells, the concrete is cracked and heaved, and a rat or two often scuttles away. It’s the last place you’d expect a French restaurant, which is why I loved taking guests and clients there. Then you step into a delightful courtyard filled with arching palms and twinkling lights, you hear the hubbub of happy diners and smell sizzling steak frites and you can’t help but smile.

I’ve eaten at Indigo 50 times, and had a glass or bottle of wine there at least 100 times. It’s no hyperbole to say that it’s one of my favorite places on earth. And on many of those occasions, this was the wine I chose: Michel Chapoutier’s Bila-Haut ‘Occultem Lapidem.’ It’s a very affordable GSM (well actually, SGC!) blend from Roussilon. And it’s delicious, a baby CdP full of amazing berry flavors.

I bought two cases of the 2013 Bila-Haut before I left Thailand. They came from a US retailer and were shipped to my storage locker in Portland. I wasn’t sure how long the wine would last, but Robert Parker gave the 2013 a 97 and said it could last for 10-15 years.

Unfortunately, it looks like he was wrong. I’ve tried several of the bottles over the last few years and they all taste a bit faded. The delicious fruit and chocolate/licorice aromas have receded into the background. It’s not bad, but it’s not great either.

Nonetheless, I’m smiling as I’m drinking it. Such amazing memories.

Novellum – Value from the Sunny Side of France

My “Great Wine Values” tastings continue with a Chardonnay from the south of France, specifically the Languedoc-Rousillon region.

This 2017 Novellum Chardonnay cost $12.99 on Wine.Com. It got a 92 score from Jeb Dunnuck (a breakaway critic from Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate). That means that the Novellum’s price-per-point is an insanely low $0.14!

When I drink whites from Languedoc-Rousillon, roses from Bandol or whatever from Provence, I’m expecting sun-in-a-glass. Other than that, wine-making styles vary wildly.

Boom! When I swirled this in the glass, I smelled candied pineapple and papaya before I even brought it near my mouth! In terms of flavor, it was very ‘sunny’ – tropical fruits, very limited oak impact, and good acidity with a touch of sweetness.

A Long Way from Burgundy

My wife liked it – though she told me it didn’t taste like a Chardonnay to her at all. “Certainly not a French Chardonnay.”

She thought it was a Riesling! And I can understand why – there was a surprising aromatic quality to the nose that made me think there was some Viognier or Marsanne added to the Chardonnay.

Later, I was chuffed to discover that I was kind of correct: 80% of the Chardonnay was aged in tanks on Viognier lees.

I’m not such a huge fan of this style, to be honest. I like the limited oak, I like the fruit but overall I don’t think I could drink four glasses of this. I don’t think I will include this one in the upcoming WineKnow tasting event. But you might love it! Different strokes for different folks!

WineKnow Facts:

  • The large wine regions of Languedoc-Rousillon and Provence are (in terms of location) very similar. The Rhone River flows into the Mediterranean near Arles, which is bang in the middle of France’s coastline. Just remember Two Ls: Languedoc-Rousillon is to the “Left” (i.e., to the west of Arles and the Rhone, stretching towards Spain) while Provence is to the east of Arles, stretching towards Italy.
  • Vines in the Languedoc get MUCH more sun than in Bordeaux or Burgundy. So you’d expect a Languedoc (or Provencal) Chardonnay to taste a lot ‘sunnier’ down than classic white Burgundy (Chardonnay). And they do. They are generally fruitier, less acidic and less complicated.
  • Languedoc (and further west, Rousillon) is a great area for value wines in France. The reds tend to be GSM (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre) blends like in the Rhone Valley, while the whites are a mix of aromatic Rhone varieties like Viognier, Marsanne and Rousanne or international crowd-pleasers like Chardonnay.
  • Stylistically, these wines are all over the place. Some are overtly copying the “New World” model of super-plush or heavily-oaked wines. Others are as restrained as they can be given the climate. You just have to try them until you find a few you like. Good news is, they’re cheap!

Picpoul de Pinet

Sure, it’s exciting to try a famous wine: a “cult” cab from Napa or a first growth from Bordeaux.

But I find it a lot more thrilling to taste a grape I’ve never tried before, especially when I have zero knowledge about the sort of wines it makes. When we traveled in Georgia (a sovereign nation in the Caucausus hehe), virtually ALL of the grapes were unknown to me. In Italy, each province had local grapes we’d never heard or seen before.

So this was my first Picpoul de Pinet – a white from southern France. (That’s about all I knew.) What would it taste like? Would it be aromatic? More like Chardonnay or more like Sauvignon Blanc or more like a Viognier?

Pic-a-boo! Who are you?

COLOR: Light yellow (NOT almost clear like a Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio)

SMELL: Pear and lemon fruit, no obvious oak, no strong floral aromas

BODY: Medium-bodied with a very smooth feel

ACIDITY: Medium-high. Higher than a Chardonnay but lower than a Sauvignon Blanc.

FLAVORS: Tart lemon, a bit of pear/melon but with a savory bitterness/dryness at the end that was very unusual.

Did I enjoy it? Yes! (Although I think a decent percentage of people would find the bitter finish unpleasant.)

What would it taste great with? Seafood, I’d say. This is an oyster wine for sure.

What did it remind me of? A bit of Verdelho. A bit of unwooded Chardonnay.


  • So Picpoul de Pinet is actually an AREA, and the grape is Picpoul.
  • Pinet is a small AOC (Defined Area) in Provence between Montpelier and Beziers
  • The Picpoul grape is a late-ripening variety; so it needs good, long summers
  • Picpoul translates as “lip stinger” for its acidity! (I still don’t find it as acidic as SB)
  • A Decanter magazine blog said this was a perfect seafood wine and compared it to Muscadet (from the Loire Valley) although I find Muscadet has more of a perception of sweetness than this Picpoul does
  • This wine is CHEAP! (usually around $10) and comes in a long-necked green bottle with a cool, cruciform logo embossed on the neck
  • Going to the coast? Seafood barbecue? This wine would kill it and you’d get respect for bringing something different.