WTN /WineAdvisor: Basque Tannat (Arretxea 2000 Irouléguy)

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WTN /WineAdvisor: Basque Tannat (Arretxea 2000 Irouléguy)

Postby Robin Garr » Mon Jan 08, 2007 4:09 pm

Basque Tannat

Here we are, more than a week into the New Year, and I haven't written about any really offbeat wine grapes or places yet in 2007.

I don't want to lose my hard-earned reputation for digging out the odd and the obscure, so today let's take a look at an item that's not merely unusual but even hard to pronounce: An Irouléguy from Domaine Arretxea, high in the Pyrenees in Basque country, closer to Pamplona in Spain than to any French city you're likely to have heard of.

Irouléguy is a tiny village of fewer than 250 people, which gives its name to the surrounding wine region, a sub-region of the Pyrénées-Atlantiques, which in turn is part of France's Sud-Ouest ("Southwest"). The red wines are made from an odd combination of Tannat - the heavily tannic grape that's also used for robust red wines in France's Madiran region and, of all places, Uruguay in South America - and Cabernet Sauvignon or Cabernet Franc.

Most sources refer to Irouléguy as a light and crisp red and note that much of the region's wine is made as ros´, but this biodynamic item from Thérése and Michel Riouspeyrous's Domaine Arretxea is neither light nor crisp but much more typical of Tannat: Opaque, almost black, earthy and tannic, a hearty wine made for robust fare.

Domaine Arretxea also makes an Irouléguy white from similarly obscure grapes Petit Courbu, Gros Manseng and Petit Manseng. I've tasted it in France but never in the U.S. ... I'll have to keep looking.

<table border="0" align="right" width="145"><tr><td><img src="http://www.wineloverspage.com/graphics1/irou0107.jpg" border="1" align="right"></td></tr></table>Domaine Arretxea 2000 Irouléguy ($12.99)

This is an inky dark purple wine with reddish violet flares glinting through an almost opaque fluid that likely signals an unfiltered and unfined wine. Dark fruit - plums and black cherries and a hint of cranberry - are backed by a distingly earthy character of "forest floor" and "tree bark" on the nose and palate. Black fruit and pleasant leathery notes are laced up with tart acidity and subtle but drying tannins; plums and black cherries in a long finish. Bold, earthy and rustic, this Tannat-based red from Basque country is no shrinking violet. U.S. importer: Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant, Berkeley, Calif. (Jan. 6, 2007)

<B>FOOD MATCH:</b> Bold, tannic flavors make it a carnivore's wine, best suited to foods strong enough to talk back: Grilled meats, hearty poultry or strong cheese. It made a fine match with the dark, earthy flavors of roasted turkey thighs.

<B>VALUE:</B> The importer's Website lists the suggested retail price as $23, making the $12.99 I paid at Old Town Wines in Louisville look like a real bargain. I'd certainly buy it again without resistance at $20 or below and wouldn't reject it at the undiscounted price.

<B>WHEN TO DRINK:</B> I can't claim any direct experience with Irouléguy, but Tannat-based wines in general don't just benefit from cellar time, they almost require it. This 2000 drinks well with robust fare, but it has years to go, and don't hesitate to buy older vintages if you can find them at a price that suits you.

<B>PRONUNCIATION:</B>
<B>Irouléguy</B> = "<I>Ee-roo-leh-ghee</I>"

<B>FIND THIS WINE ONLINE:</B>
Find vendors and compare prices for Domaine Arretxea 2000 Irouléguy on Wine-Searcher.com:
[url=http://www.wine-searcher.com/find/Arretxea%2bIrouleguy/-/-/USD/A?referring_site=WLP]http://www.wine-searcher.com/
find/Arretxea%2bIrouleguy/-/-/USD/A?referring_site=WLP[/url]

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Re: WTN /WineAdvisor: Basque Tannat (Arretxea 2000 Irouléguy)

Postby Paul B. » Mon Jan 08, 2007 4:22 pm

A fantastic grape, and perhaps my second or third favourite region for vinifera reds after South Africa and Pinotage (and possibly Austria for its Blaufränkisch and Zweigelt).

As much as the obscure forms the backdrop for all my vinous interest, I have to admit that the only Tannat I like comes from this region. I've tried the Uruguayan ones and they simply don't resonate with my tastes.
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Re: WTN /WineAdvisor: Basque Tannat (Arretxea 2000 Irouléguy)

Postby Dave Erickson » Mon Jan 08, 2007 7:27 pm

Ever had an Irouléguy rosé? Biggest, baddest pink wine I ever tasted. No, really! :D
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Re: WTN /WineAdvisor: Basque Tannat (Arretxea 2000 Irouléguy)

Postby Bill Hooper » Mon Jan 08, 2007 9:35 pm

I've had a rose or two from Domaine Brana (who incedentally makes some of the finest fruit Eau-de-Vie in the Sud-Ouest, if not all of France). I liked it very much. But, I remember it being brighter and juicier than I would've thought. I'll see if I can dig up notes.


Prost!
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Re: WTN /WineAdvisor: Basque Tannat (Arretxea 2000 Irouléguy)

Postby Brian K Miller » Mon Jan 08, 2007 9:44 pm

Boy, this IS an obscure grape. This one sounds kinda right up my alley!

Kermit Lynch sold me a Domaine Etxegaya Cuvee Lehengoa, which was good with steak, although the sister doesn't like French wines as much as I do. Nice and lean and austere, if I recall. Thanks for the advice on cellaring the wine-I purchased two bottles and I'll wait to drink the remaining one!
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Re: WTN /WineAdvisor: Basque Tannat (Arretxea 2000 Irouléguy)

Postby Ted Judd » Tue Jan 09, 2007 4:01 am

Tannat is an wonderful grape. Dark like Malbec. Acidic with huge tannins like Toriga Nacional and Souzo. A 2000 is tooooo young to enjoy.

Another amazing wine made with Tannat is from Madiran, France via Bonnie Doon. They call it Heart of Darkness and it is available through savy wine shops for $10-12.

If you can find it, savor it.
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Re: WTN /WineAdvisor: Basque Tannat (Arretxea 2000 Irouléguy)

Postby AlexR » Tue Jan 09, 2007 7:37 am

Hi Robin,

Thanks for sharing your notes.

This is indeed an offbeat wine, from an appellation that most people have never seen.

The Irougléguy wine country is simply gorgeous and the local cuisine is hearty and delicious.
I find the wine a little too tannic and unyielding to my taste but, of course, I enjoy it when in a Basque restaurant or the Basque country.

The rosé is quite popular and the white is very rare.

All the best,
Alex
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Re: WTN /WineAdvisor: Basque Tannat (Arretxea 2000 Irouléguy)

Postby Carl Eppig » Tue Jan 09, 2007 11:22 am

Just before we left Maine two years ago, one of the small distributors up there had a terrific Tannat/Merlot blend from SW France that we loved. For the life of me cannot remember or find the name of it!
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Re: WTN /WineAdvisor: Basque Tannat (Arretxea 2000 Irouléguy)

Postby Dave Erickson » Tue Jan 09, 2007 3:29 pm

Carl Eppig (Middleton, NH wrote:Just before we left Maine two years ago, one of the small distributors up there had a terrific Tannat/Merlot blend from SW France that we loved. For the life of me cannot remember or find the name of it!


Frederick Wildman imports a little tannat/merlot blend from Gascony called "Domaine du Mage." We've stocked it from time to time; if memory serves, it was well under $10.
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Re: WTN /WineAdvisor: Basque Tannat (Arretxea 2000 Irouléguy)

Postby Carl Eppig » Tue Jan 09, 2007 5:06 pm

That's it! Many thanks Dave.
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