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France_Southwest_Irouleguy

Irouleguy is a small appellation in Southwestern France that churns out rustic yet honest and full bodied reds, big roses, along with floral and medium bodied whites. It is located in the heart of Basque country so expect a lot of x's on the labels. But do
not fear all the x's because if you get past those, you will encounter some of the greatest values in dry French wine. An Appellation controlee was decreed in 1970 for Irouleguy after a major contraction in the vineyards. The vineyards were almost abandoned up until the Appellation controlee was decreed. When Irouleguy was popular in the 17th century it had over 500 ha of vineyards. Now there are around 190 ha of vineyards. There are a number of different types of soils from schist to limestone to gravel to red clay. Red clay is probably the dominant characteristic in the soil.

The main grapes are Tannat, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon for the reds. The white grapes typically are Petit Manseng, Gros Manseng and Petit Courbu.

The reds can be very sturdy and sometimes fiercely tannic but always have lovely levels of fruit and tons of earthy, mineral character. The whites are floral, somewhat viscous and more for the short term than long keeping. The reds generally drink well upon release and can stand up to 15-20 years in the cellar.  Drink the whites during the first 2-4 years of their life. As is usual with most rose, drink them up within a year of the vintage. The breakdown of production is 70% red, 20% rose and 10% white, so if you see the rare white in a store or on a restaurant wine list snap it up as it will be delicious and priced fairly.

There are not that many producers who bottle their own wine because the local co-op La Cave d'Irouléguy dominates a lot of the wine scene down there. But putting that aside there are a small handful of quality producers that make very good wine.

  • Domaine Brana
  • Domaine Etxegaraia
  • Domaine Ilarria
  • Domaine Arretxea
Irouleguy is always a good value and only the good ones are imported so it is a safe bet to order on a wine list or buy in a retail shop. Honest, value-driven and rustic reds. It does not get better than that.

Researching the best vintages was a bit difficult but due to its proximity to Bordeaux you can assume that a great vintage in Bordeaux means a great vintage in Irouleguy. So 2005, 2000, 1996 are great ones and 2006, 2004, 2002, 2001 and 1999 are classic ones.
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