Basque-ing in the Sud-Ouest: Wines of Irouléguy #Winophiles

Great French wines are found in the Basque.

Most people think of Spain when they hear the word Basque. But a little known fact is 15% of the area lies within southern France, where the coastal towns of Biarritz, Bayonne, and St-Jean-de-Luz entertain sun worshipers and surfers while just inland Hendaye in the Pyrénées foothills captivates hikers.

Surfs up!

Biarritz looking south

The south west of France “le sud-ouest” is rich with wine. It’s true the areas immediately east and south of Bordeaux- Côtes de Bergerac and environs, Côtes du Marmandais, Buzet- produce excellent Bordeaux styles. A favorite Rosé and rouge are from Chateau Lestevenie. But keep heading south. You’ll pass several places exploding with interesting wines and less familiar, indigenous grapes before hitting the French Basque country

Non-Mainstream Grape Varieties of the Sud-Ouest

There are over 100 indigenous grape varieties in the southwest, here are just a few, maybe you’ve heard of some?!?

WHITE –  Gros Manseng, Petit Manseng, Courbu, Abouriou, Clairette Blanche, Ugni Blanc, Arrufiac, Baroque, Camarelet, Lauzet, Len de l’El (a.k.a. Len de l’Oeil), Mauzac, Ondenc, Raffiat

RED –  Duras, Fer Servadou, Mérille, Négrette, Prunelard Noir, Tannat

irouleguy sud ouest wine

The Pyrénées sub-region AOCs are in the bottom left corner (Iroulégy, Béarn, Juraçon, Tursan, Madrian / Pacherenc Du Pic-Bihl and Saint Mont). The La Nive river runs through Iroulégy. And the Tour de France went from Eymet to Pau July 12th!

Irouléguy, pronounced “ee-rew-la-ghee”, is a small wine appellation lying within a valley just outside St-Jean-Pied-de-Port, where people start the Camino de Santiago. It’s 50k from the ocean and 8k from the Spanish border. This is part of Gascony and the Pyrénées AOC sub-region.

Lots of vineyards are on terraced, steep slopes from 100 to 400+ meters above sea level (300 to 1,200 feet). Because Irouléguy is in a valley surrounded by mountains that shield from cooler north winds, summer and fall months are warm and dry. The microclimate has several soils types, enjoying mountain and Atlantic weather influences.

irouleguy arretxea pays basque

MAISON ARRETXEA

This 8-hectare property, biodynamic since 2008, is run by Michel and Thérèse Riouspeyrous. It’s text book Iroulégy with a plethora of soils types, each imparting a particular character. Take Orphite, the volcanic rock with iron oxide- it brings power and structure. Grés, the metamorphic sandstone that’s principally quartz and mica imparts bright acidity and a wild thought provoking tension. Different types of limestone, common in many areas of France are found too. In Irouléguy, the limestone has lots of clay in it, imparting texture, mineral notes and lively acid. In red wines, it seems to balance things out.

At Maison Arretxea there really is a difference tasting wine made with the same grapes but on varying soils. All whites are blends of Petit Manseng, Gros Manseng, and Courbu, thriving on the sandstone layered with limestone, clay, and various minerals. They each have a different profile.

Reds and rosé are primarily Tannat, but also have Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon, per AOC rules. They’re aged on lees in cement or large wooden barrels “foudres”.

Arretxea produces more white than red, but the reds are worth finding. They’ve made wine almost 30 years yet we consider their style of Tannat more contemporary and rustically smooth.

Mark and I tasted the Arretxea porfolio over a year ago. Visit notes resurfaced our delight, so much so I hunted down a bottle and reread our Irouléguy wine and hiking trip post. Back then, we researched the area however the Sommelier B&B host took us straight to Maison Arretxea (pronounced Ah-Ree-Cha).

Maison Arretxea Irouléguy 2015

This 66% Tannat, 17% each Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon is just 12% alcohol and not a tannic bomb as one might think. On grés soil (sandstone with minerals), it’s tamed just enough, having fresh, mineral driven brightness with rustic yet supple tannins. Aromas of wild black fruit- cherry and berry- aren’t the clean and pure kind, but remind me of picking wild berries with a bit of forest mint and field flowers thrown in. Kermit Lynch Wine Merchants imports this, and a few Arretxea white wines. ($18 euros/$21).

Borda Xuria Blanc 2014

The Domain Borda Xuria biodynamically produced white was highly recommended, a great quality-price ratio too ($16 euros/$18). 60% Gros Manseng and 40% of Petit Manseng, 90% is directly pressed while 10% macerates for about 18 hours before pressing. 70% of the volume is fermented and aged in older 400 liter barrels; the remaining 30% in stainless steel vats, then blended. Total aging is 6 months.

This had an intensely expressive nose of white peach, exotic fruit notes, and discrete blond raspberries. A balanced, tense yet crisp mouth feel reminded me of wet stone, citrus and dried flowers. Having a medium body with medium+ acidity, it softened elegantly, lingering on the finish and was quite nice with the mixed greens with cherries. We had it the second night with Trofie pasta, pesto and Parmesan, an exceptional pairing. I hadn’t had a wine from Irouléguy in some time and am reminded just how fabulous they are. Borda Xuria Blanc and the Arretxea Iroulégy Rouge are exceptional wines!

French #Winophiles Head to the Southwest

The third Saturday of each month the #Winophiles embark on a different theme pertaining to French wine. Wine, food and travel writers and enthusiasts share their adventures and virtually meet for a tweet-up on that date. Southwest France is the July theme, hosted by Jeff Burrows of Food, Wine, Click. Our Twitter chat is July 15th  – join us using the #Winophiles hashtag. Check out the #Winophiles and their Sud Ouest adventures below.

Facts about Irouléguy and French Pays Basque

  • Irouleguy means “three crests” in Basque
  • Wine production is 70% red, 20% rosé, and 10% white
  • Approximately 300 different grape varieties identified with about 120 indigenous
  • Tannat in Irouléguy is different, tending to be medium bodied, lighter and fresher.
  • The area is famous for dried Bayonne ham, sheep’s milk cheese and piment d’espelette, a spicy powder made from ground small red peppers. 

The Sud Ouest is made up of four sub-regions:

  • Dordogne/Bergerac AOC
  • Garonne and Tarn AOC
  • Lot AOC
  • Pyrénées AOC

It also includes several IGPs (Indication Géographique Protégée), a quality level that allows for stepping outside of AOC strict rules:

IGP Côtes de Gascogne, Landes, Agenais, Gers, Côtes du Lot,Thézac Perricard, La Villedieu, Coteaux de Glanes, Aveyron, Côtes du Tarn, Comté Tolosan and Ariège.

The famous brandy Armagnac lies is the same area as the IGP Côtes de Gascogne!

16 thoughts on “Basque-ing in the Sud-Ouest: Wines of Irouléguy #Winophiles

  1. Odd Bacchus

    Those wines sound like incredible values! I’m not familiar with Irouléguy, and I am moving it much farther up on the list of wines I need to try next.

    Reply
    1. Lynn Post author

      There are some great values, and other spectacular wines costing a bit more but well worth it. The Tannat blends from Irouléguy are definitely worth seeking out, as with the white wines.

      Reply
  2. Pingback: Gros Manseng, Petit Manseng and Arrufiac? Oh My! #Winophiles - ENOFYLZ Wine Blog

  3. Mardi (eat. live. travel. write.)

    I’m less familiar with the wines of the Basque country than I am those from the region a little further east but your post has me intrigued to seek them out. I think in Canada I might have a hard time but I’ll take advantage of being in France this summer to take a look! The Basque country is so very pretty too – so many reasons to visit!

    Reply
    1. Lynn Post author

      Thanks for your note Mardi! Let me know when you’re in the Sud Ouest this summer, be great to hook up for a verre ;-D

      Reply
  4. Wendy Klik

    This is, of course, the first time I have heard of irouleguy. Thanks for such an informative post and the beautiful description of the area that makes me yearn to visit.

    Reply
  5. Martin Redmond

    Thanks for the introduction to Irouléguy Lynn. Of course I wasn’t familiar with it. It seems most the Southwest regions are answers to Trivia questions;-) But as I read through the post, it’s becoming more and more obviously there are some very good and perhaps great wine to be found here that offer good value. And that’s right up my ally! After reading your post I tried to find some, but was unsuccessful…a shame!

    Reply
    1. Lynn Post author

      Martin,
      You can find a few Arretxea bottles at Kermit Lynch. And I’ll bet K&L in SF might have some too. Good luck, hope you get to indulge ;-D

      Reply
    1. Lynn Post author

      Yes there is exciting hiking all in and around Iroulégy Nicole. Hope you get there to hike someday!

      Reply
  6. Lauren Walsh

    These wines sound fabulous! I’m already wishing I had a glass of the white in front of me – right now! This area has an astonishing number of high-quality wines at entry-level prices; I just wish they were easier to find in the States. Thanks for giving us two more to keep in mind as we search – and for including some very delicious-looking food pairing ideas!

    Reply
    1. Lynn Post author

      Thanks for your comment Lauren- It’s a pity there are so few of these wines in the states, but then again it’s a small region. Good luck finding a few bottles, the whites would be fabulous on a hot Florida day 😉

      Reply
  7. Jeff

    Thanks for introducing us to Iroulégy, Lynn. We are eventually going to do a Bordeaux -> San Sebastien trip and we’ll be sure to spend some time in this area, too!

    Reply
    1. Lynn Post author

      Let me know when you go Jeff, happy to give you a list of wineries in Irouléguy, and also a nice one in Getaria, just outside of San Sebastien. For food, you can’t forget Arzak!

      Reply

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