Those who read this space with some regularity will know that I have a deep affection for all things Basque: language, topography, sports, music, and of course food and wine. These last two aspects of Basque culture bring this green and mountainous patch of land a world-wide notoriety that is all out of proportion to its size – there are multiple Basque food societies in Japan.
The greater Basque “nation” straddles the official nations of Spain and France, with four provinces located in the former, and three in the latter. The northern, French portion, called Iparralde (meaning “the north” in Basque) is the place from which this evening’s wine springs – specifically from the province of Nafarroa Beherea (in Basque) or Basse Navarre (in French), and even more specifically, from the little hamlet of Ispoure, which is, despite the Basque’s great association and affinity for the sea, actually nestled in the high, rocky, green foothills leading up to the Pyrenees Mountains proper.
The diminutive appellation that produces both white and red wines (tonight’s is a red) is called by the very Basque name of Irouleguy (pronounced ee-ROO-leg-ee). The whites from this area are typically made from blends of the local varieties of Courbu, Gros Manseng, and Petite Manseng, (all of which have tooth-breaking Basque-language names that I’ll spare you), with the reds made from Tannat, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc, usually with the Tannat making up the lion’s share of the blend with the two Cabernets playing supporting roles. In the case of this wine however, there’s only Cabernet Franc present; this is a bit different than most Irouleguy reds, but it’s definitely not the most distinctive feature of this wine which is more about “who” than anything else.
And the “who” to which I’m referring is one Mssr. Jean-Claude Berrouet, who in addition to producing wines for Herri Mina, also makes one of the most prestigious. pricy, and sought-after wines in the world, none other than the legendary Petrus. And while this wine is not quite in that class, and Mssr. Berrouet is French and not Basque, this wine beautifully captures the tough but sweet character of the Basque people and the land in which they have lived for over 5,000 years.
To go with this very suave red, I served a pintxo (the Basque version of tapas) of ham, hard-boiled eggs, lettuce, mayo, and apples with the very special Iparralde spice called Piment d’Eseplette, a lightly smoked and mildly spicy dried, granular red pepper spice absolutely peculiar to the town of Ezpeleta which is located not too far from the Irouleguy region. And then for the main course, a true northern Basque classic – flour-dredged and fried chicken parts that are then stewed with red and green peppers, tomatoes, onions, garlic, wine and a bouquet garni.
Herri Mina Irouleguy Rouge 2011
Pretty magenta/garnet color. Complex nose of blackberry, cherry and myrtle fruit aromas shot through with notes of elegant minerality, black pepper, lilac powder, juniper, cocoa, underbrush and a slight smokiness. The palate is medium in weight with a silky texture, and a superb balance of fine tannins and a sophisticated acidity that beautifully delineate noble and slightly austere flavors of red plums, currants, cranberries and a touch of pink grapefruit supported by notes of leather and cinnamon. Long, sinewy and tart finish.