Australian Michael Rogers took the win in yesterday’s stage 16 of the Tour de France, despite occasional bickering with Thomas Voeckler and other members of the Europcar team about management of the breakaway group. Rogers won two stages of this year’s Giro d’Italia, but this was his first Tour de France stage win. This continues the Aussie’s upturn in fortunes since having a temporary suspension for suspected doping overturned. Vincenzo Nibali, still the Tour de France general classification leader, continues making his bike ride around France in the yellow jersey look easy.
Stage 17 continues the race’s tour of the Pyrenees near the French-Spanish border, nipping over into Spain at one point. Nibali may seem to have an unassailable lead in the GC competition, but the stage wins are up for grabs, with many riders who usually spend their time supporting their team leaders unleashed to try for individual glory. We could see another new face on the podium yet again.
While the Tour is rolling through the Basque areas along the border between France and Spain, we want to profile Irouléguy AOC, the small, but excellent wine region in that border region. The Tour doesn’t pass through the geographical area, but it’s so close that we couldn’t resist. The AOC is named for the village of Irouléguy in Lower Navarre in Northern Basque Country, the only AOC in Northern Basque Country. As the local joke goes, it’s “the smallest vineyard in France, the biggest in the Northern Basque Country.”
Before AOC certifiation in 1970, lots of grape varieties were grown, but now chief red varieties grown are Bordelesa Beltza (Tannat), Axeria (Cabernet Franc) and Axeria Handia (Cabernet Sauvignon). White varieties include Xuri Zerratia (Courbu), Izkiriota Ttipia (Petit Manseng) and Izkiriota (Gros Manseng). Production is about 60% red, 25% rosé, and 15% white. The terrain is very steep, but the mountains protect the area from harsh winds and create a microclimate with great potential. The soil is generally reddish because of high iron content, but otherwise varied, consisting of clay, red standstone, slate and gravel as the terrain rises from the areas close the rivers into the foothills of the mountains.
The reds of Irouléguy are powerful with strong structure and tannins, but also lots of brambly black fruits and earthier flavours. Rosés are good food wines with lots of juicy fruit flavours. As for whites, well, we’re not sure we can sell you on the whites of the region as well as this description of Irouléguy Blanc Hegoxuri from Domaine Arretxea on the blog of wine importer, Les Caves de Pyrène:
“Irouléguy Blanc Hegoxuri? Bing! One of the great unsung wines of South West France? Bing again!
Sometimes, like Phil Connors hitting the mark with Ned Ryerson in Groundhog Day, a wine is so sharp, so on the money, that it is positively uncanny.
Hego is a wilful beast. When the wine sings, however, it hits pitch perfect high notes and bursts smilingly onto the most jaded of palates. A wildly aromatic blend of 50% Petit Manseng, 40% Gros Manseng, 10% Courbu with pronounced notes of tropical fruits–pineapple, grapefruit and passionfruit – this crunchily pure dry wine has wonderfully balanced acidity and luminous mountain mineral verve on the palate. Displaying brilliant tension, dynamic thrust and crystalline purity it tingles the buds and leads a merry citrus dance over every part of the tongue. There is a brilliant balance between ripeness and liveliness, somewhere between fruit and fruit zest that keeps you guessing and ensures that the wine is thoroughly alive from the first moment it touches the tip of the tongue to the final flourish as it disappears with alacrity down your gullet.”
Domaine Arretxea is one of the chief domaines in the region, along with Domaine Brana, Domaine Illaria, Domaine Etxegaraya, and Cave d’Irouléguy. Tom Cannavan’s article “Irouléguy: The Mountain Kings,” includes an account of his visit to Domaine Brana, as well as tasting notes for wines from the main producers in the area, if you’re looking for specific wines you might like to try. You probably won’t wander into a supermarket in England and find wines from Irouléguy lining the shelves, but you will probably find them somewhere near where you live, if you look around a bit.