Posted by: tomciocco | March 21, 2013


If it’s not yet clear to anyone out there, I’m a big booster of all things Basque, not least of which is wine and food. Just a couple of weeks ago, we drank, and I wrote about a white Irouleguy, and then looking back a bit further into the archives, I noticed that there were two more posts on Irouleguy – a red, and another white. So with this post about a red, it evens things up…though I can’t promise there won’t be some future imbalance…or maybe a rose`…but I’ll try to hold off…

Anyway, the Irouleguy A.O.C. (status granted in 1970) rests in the lower rises of the northern French Pyrenees in the arrondissemont of Bayonne (Baiona in Basque). But as sylvan, rocky, and vertical as the Irouleguy growing zone is, the huge, chilly, and very assertive Bay of Biscay is just a few metric clicks down the hill, which makes Irouleguy quite a particular place for viticulture, and especially for reds.

Irouleguy Rouge, or Beltza in Basque, which literally means “black” not “red”, is coincidentally quite black indeed. The blend is always dominated by the inky and opaque Tannat, with the balance of the blend made up of either or both Cabernets, neither of which is pigmentationally challenged. This particular cuvee`is 66% Tannat, 17% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 17% Cabernet Franc, and in full-on old school fashion, it’s aged in cement vats, though for just 10 months’ time. Typically, Irouleguy is a wine for slow beef or venison stews, but this particular one had just 12 points of alcohol, and though deeply colored, was also very light on its feet for a wine that is usually more dense, brooding and rustic.

So rather than a braised cut of deer, I served this youthful wine with a lentil, potato, carrot, and chorizo soup, and then a classic dish from Iparralde (the French Basque side) called Piperade, which is nothing more than a big sautee` and scramble of eggs, peppers, ham, onions, garlic, tomatoes, with a bouquet garni. I always use some of the (prosciutto-style) ham in the sautee`with the eggs and the vegetables, but most of it I crisp up, formed over little bowls, in a slow oven. They make elegant little cups in which to serve this very delicious, but often visually unappealing dish…















Arretxea Irouleguy Rouge 2010

Bright and vibrant blackish purple color. Well-defined fruit aromas of crushed blackberries, strawberry preserves, and black cherry, supported by clear notes of coffee grounds, dried roses, wet stones, licorice, and a touch of barnyard. The medium body has a chunky texture, with deep, prominent, but polished tannins, while still retaining a very nimble and supple overall mouthfeel from which spin fresh and crunchy mulberry, blackcurrant, and plum fruit, followed by flavors of dark chocolate, cloves, violets, and cola syrup. Clean and quite soft finish.  A powerful yet elegant wine. 



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