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One Brilliant Bottle

organic/biodynamic/natural wines in Vinland

Domaine Ilarria Irouleguy

France (Irouléguy)

tannat (70%), cabernet franc (20%), cabernet sauvignon (10%)

[no website]

The bottle finds itself in a place called Conche, on the Northern Peninsula of Newfoundland. For many centuries fishermen came from France to fish for cod. They had to have been rugged individuals. I’m reminded of the winemakers of the French Basque region of Irouléguy.

Domaine Ilarria Irouleguy 2006

These words come to mind — strong, of the earth, independent. A nose of black fruit, black licorice, yet not at all severe. The tannins make their presence known, a stiff, smiling handshake. Though medium in body, there is a full measure of dark fruit. Above all, there is alluring mystery here. Terrific value.  $

Irouléguy is one of the smallest and least appreciated appellations of France. It lies just six miles from the Spanish border, at the foot of the Pyrénées. Winemaking can be traced back to 3rd century Roman times, and on into the 11th century when monks of the Abbey of Roncesvalles cultivated large vineyards. In the century just past winemaking declined steadily, until the last couple of decades, which has seen something of a revitalization. Still, there are only 250 hectares under vine, and about three-quarters of the wine produced comes from one co-operative. Domaine Ilarria is one of only nine independent producers, and at 10 hectares one of the largest. Tannat is the leading red varietal here, as it is in Madrian, another region of southwest France I particularly enjoy.

Just 10% of the region’s wine is exported and I feel very lucky to have acquired a bottle. It’s the kind of wine I embrace — full of character and made by rugged individuals in appellations out of the mainstream. Peio Espil is just such an individual. His ancestors have make wine here for centuries.

The vineyards are on steep, terraced slopes (up to 60% gradient, and between 100-400 metres above sea-level), with most work done by hand. The reddish soil is a complex combination of sand, clay, schist and iron. Summers are hot and dry. Espil favours small yields and in the cellar makes use of indigenous yeasts only, yeasts which he feels lead to more complete fermentation. His domaine is certified organic.

“It’s the soil, the sun and the mountains,” he has said, “that make the wines the way they are. I work closely with nature and am happy with what I get in return. I don’t want accolades. I just want to make the best Irouléuy I can.”

He certainly does just that, and the wine, dollar for dollar, has to be among the best in France.

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