When you read a lot of wine crit, – Yep that’s crit – you become overly familiar (and indeed bored) with some of the language used to describe it. Such as; ‘fruit forward’, ‘easy drinking’ or, God forbid, my own bete noire ‘smooth’ or ‘generous’ even!
I have friends who are both generous and smooth, so a little context wouldn’t go amiss, along with some joy, unbridled passion, desperately needed emotion, and dare I say love.
So I’m going to give you some love, and show you the kind of wine that makes me as deliriously happy as Pharrell Williams.
I first came across the wines of Irouleguy as a young surfer mooching around the coast of South West France back in the fluorescent wet suited 80’s. The drive from Guethary to Mundaka wound its way through the vinelands of the Pays Basque, and you had to be stupid, blind, or both, to overlook its wines, as they were, and still are, some of the most exciting around.
Irouleguy numbers some nine communes dating back to the 11th century and is a sadly neglected area when it comes to both knowledge, and the subsequent promotion, of its wines and their route to market.
‘Peppery as the Welsh, proud as Lucifer, and combustible as his matches’ was Richard Ford’s pithy assessment of the Basques.
Flaming red is their colour, from their tiled roofs to their distinctive berets, piment d’espalette, and the majority of their wines made from Tannat and the two Cabernets. But what folks often overlook are the miniscule examples of white wine made in the region. There are only about half a dozen producers of these and the standard is off the clock!
Arretxea, from the Basque ‘arre’, meaning stone and ‘xea’, house, comes from a six hectare plot planted with Gros Manseng, Petit Manseng and Courbu – the principle grapes of Jurancon – on steep terraces with sustainable vineyard husbandry and biodynamics.
Hegoxuri is hand harvested, gets a forty hour maceration on skins, followed by partial fermentation in barrique, and has the kind of remarkable golden straw colour that would excite Rumplestiltskin. This leads into a nose of exotic fruits, peaches and honeysuckle, married with full, rich and heady flavours – redolent of great white Burgundy – and marked with an outstanding nervy acidity.
These local wines, for local people, are rare gems, and whilst you have to dig a little deeper down to afford them, are a true testament to the power of geography over greed.