In the Basque language, the three traditional provinces north of the beautiful Pyrenees range in France are collectively known as Iparralde which means simply “The North”. A sliver of Iparralde touches the sea at places like Biarritz and Baiona (Bayonne), but most of Iparralde lies inland with wave after wave of steep, forested mountains and deep, secluded valleys fed by rocky, cold rushing streams famous for brown trout and crayfish.
And the tiny appellation of Irouleguy, the source of this evening’s wine by the way, epitomizes this Pyreneean pastoral paradise. Irouleguy (ee-ROO-leh-ghee), despite its miniscule measurements (its total area under vine just barely exceeds 250 acres!) produces both red and white wines, the reds being composed primarily of the powerhouse Tannat, supported by the two Cabernets. The whites are made from some combination of three pretty obscure grape varieties: Gros Manseng, Petit Manseng, and Petit Corbou (this one’s 55%, 5%, and 40% respectively).
Regardless of the color of their skins, nearly all of the grapes grown in Irouleguy spring from vines planted on terraced land that must be 100% hand harvested. It gets pretty damned cold here too, and the esoteric nature of the wine, plus no economy of scale makes EVERY producer in this zone proud, tenacious, and tightly knit together with his or her community, but these are three traits that the Basques usually have in surplus…
I served this dense, complex, and powerful wine with a couple of Basque classics: boiled leeks served at room temperature in a sherry vinegar and olive oil dressing, and then one of the great dishes to emerge from what is acknowledged as one of Europe’s kitchens – Hake San Sebastian style (AKA Hake in Green Sauce) with cockles, garlic, oil, white wine, peas, parsley, hard boiled eggs, and white asparagus (which tonight were some authentic canned Navarran white asparagus I got in my Christmas stocking).
Herri Mina Irouleguy (white) 2010
Slightly greenish bright pale gold color. Pungent nose of wet stones, grapefruit, mixed nuts, flint, burnt underbrush, candied citron, and sake. The wine enters the palate with a great energy, and develops a big, bold, intense, and chewy texture with a sturdy, tart structure filled with flavors of baked pineapple, lime zest, white grape jelly, ginger, white pepper, green olive, and honeycomb. The finish is very persistet, complex and clean witha wonderful bitter herbiness prevailing.