This month in August, the French Winophiles took on the task of wines from French Basque country, which, to make a long story short, is essentially the compact AOC of Irouléguy. Why is it a task, you ask? Because at approximately 550,000 L wine produced annually from approximately 210 ha of vineyards, Irouléguy is small.
Jeff from Food Wine Click was our host, read his preview post here to find out more!
Small with a long history of wine growing and making on it's Jurassic limestone (aka oolitic or fossiliferous limestone that is studded with ancient marine fossils) and sandstone soils streaked with iron oxide, mica, silica, clay, and dolomite. As we well know, fossiliferous limestone is basic (higher than 7 pH) and particularly helpful for nutrient uptake in grapevines and cation exchange which occurs at the root level through root hairs. Dolomite, composed of calcium magnesium carbonate is a source of magnesium that vines also need along with potassium, calcium, and sodium. So in summary, the region is small but packs a punch soil-wise. Thanks Pyrenees mountains, for ardently prepping for what was to come!
As far back as the 11th century, spurred by pilgrimage traffic on the coastal journey to Santiago de Compostela in Spain across the Pyrenees, the first vineyards and wines were the work of monks, although wine making records exist from the 3rd century when the Romans were everywhere. Thanks to politics and phylloxera, once the monks had to give over winemaking control to the villagers, quality took a hit and by the 1950s only about 70 ha of land was used for vineyards. Eventually, the local wine industry organised and in 1970 Irouléguy was granted AOC status. Since then it's been on an upswing although production is still small compared to more well known wine areas like Alsace (100+ M L annually).
Irouléguy, located in southwest France bordering Spain (with its own Basque country), produces mainly red wines, with whites and rosés done in far smaller quantities. Red grape varieties include Bordelesa Beltza (Tannat), Axeria (Cabernet Franc) and Axeria Handia (Cabernet Sauvignon). White wines are made from Xuri Zerratia (Courbu), Izkiriota Ttipia (Petit Manseng) and Izkiriota (Gros Manseng) - grapes also used in Jurançon AOC.
NOT JUST IROULÉGUY HERE
Since Irouléguy is small and the wines can be hard to find in the US, the Winophiles' border generously extended to include wines from Jurançon AOC as well. Jurançon AOC is white wines only, made from Gros Manseng, Petit Manseng, Camaralet, and Courbu grapes. Petit Manseng wines are not ones you'll see frequently and when you do see them you'll notice that they're pricey. Gros Manseng wines, on the other hand, are easy to find and often blends with camaralet (aka Petit Camarau) or other grapes. The wines are quite fresh and delightful with tropical fruit notes, especially welcome on a hot summer's day.
With all that lowdown on things, let's get into our wines!
2017 Domaine Cauhapé Jurançon Sec "Chant des Vignes", 14% ABV
Sample | SRP $20
This wine is a long-time favourite and I had a 2017 sample in the cellar that was begging to be opened. 60% Gros Manseng and 40% Camaralet grapes are crushed and destemmed then macerated on skins for 12 hours followed by press. The wine is cool-fermented in stainless steel and matured on lees for 5 months before bottling. After that, you have a wine that has beautiful fruity notes - on the nose and palate - of citrus, white flowers, fennel, faint spice, and just-ripe pineapple. Crisp and high acid, this wine lingers on the palate for what seems like forever and no one is complaining!
We enjoyed it with samosa chaat: samosas filled with seasoned potatoes and peas and fried, layered with tamarind chutney, coriander chutney, and a drizzle of creamy yogurt then finished with a garnish of shallots, fresh coriander, red chili powder, chaat masala, and a light dash of crispy chickpea flour snacks. While all of this overall has a layered complexity of flavours, it was an incredible complement to the wine! Especially the sweetness and acidity of the tamarind chutney.
2006 Domaine Arretxea "Cuvée Haitza", biodynamic, 12.5% ABV
Domaine Arretxea began on leased land and is now a top estate of Irouléguy. It was always organic but is now also certified biodynamic. The grapes are harvested by hand, sorted in the vineyard and in the winery, after de-stemming are transferred by gravity, and vinified separately using natural fermentation. Maceration is 3 to 4 weeks with daily punch-downs and aging is 16 months on the lees in foudre and 400 to 600 L demi-muids.
Pitch black and stunning out of the bottle, this wine is a blend of 70% Tannat and 30% Cabernet Sauvignon. It could easily be laid down for another 5 years but is very drinkable now. The grapevines have clearly seen some warmth because it's juicy, fruity, and has a layer of baking spice in the background. Although straight from the bottle it has high tannin and strong wild fruit on the palate. After about an hour it mellows to a more approachable wine with red flowers, peppercorns, baking spices, and a welcome meatiness. At 12.5% abv it's not an overpowering wine despite the tannat and cabernet blend. Also soft but very present tannins and medium acidity that beg for food, rounded out by a medium finish.
We enjoyed this wine over two days, paired with two different things: bbq pork on day one, and falafel, hummus, green pea smash, and garnishes on the next day. It was splendid with both! Having it with bbq pork on the first day when it had been opened for just over an hour was perfect because the meatiness and spice in the pork and wine worked beautifully. The following day the wine was not as out of control and was fruitier on the palate, which made it lovely to have with our equally staid plate of falafel etc. All in all, a delicious wine that most definitely needs food to rein it in!
See you all next month for our exploration of wines from the island of Corsica! In the meantime, see the links below to find out what our fellow #winophiles are saying about the wines they chose!
- Camilla of Culinary Adventures with Camilla shares “A Geography Snafu + Poulet Basquaise with Domaine Illaria Irouleguy 2016”
- Robin of Crushed Grape Chronicles shares “French Poets, Philandering Kings and little sweetness from Jurançon“
- Martin from Enofylz Wine Blog shares “A Match Made in Heaven; Jurançon Sec and Instant Pot Shrimp Boil”
- Jane at Always Ravenous shares “French Basque Rosé Paired with Sicilian Pasta“
- Oliver at In Taste Buds We Trust shares “Domaine Brana : Showing the Way in Irouléguy”
- Cynthia and Pierre at Traveling Wine Profs share “Celebrating the Revival of Irouléguy“
- Gwen from Wine Predator shares “Madiran: French Basque Wine of Pyrenees With Pixtos“
- Payal at Keep the Peas shares “Basque-ing in Irouléguy Wines and More”
- Jeff at Food Wine Click! shares “Basque Chicken and Irouléguy, Perfect Winter Dish on the Hottest Day of the Summer”