This French wine region lies in the heart of the French Basque country and was known already at the time of Charlemagne. The village of Irouléguy was then a trading centre for these Basque wines. Winegrowing fell into decline following the phylloxera epidemic until a number of growers decided in the 1950s to establish a co-operative. The vineyards of the once famous Irouléguy were restored or replanted. Enormous investment was made to improve the quality of the wine and in the 1980s further great efforts were undertaken to reach greater heights. New vineyards were planted, mainly on terraces. In addition to the efforts of the local co-operative venture, various private initiatives were also undertaken such as those of Etienne Brana, whose business has become world famous. In recent decades the wine-growing and making in Irouléguy is so improved that it can be fairly described as one of France's premier wine-growing areas.
The French wine-growing
The vineyards around Irouleguy are situated in the neighbourhood of St-Jean Pied de Port and StEtienne de Baigorry. They are mainly sited in terraces with soil of red sandstone, clay, and shale, interspersed with some chalk. The green of the vineyards set against the red-oxide sandstone makes for a taste French wines.
The climate is set between moderate oceanic weather and the extremes of the mountains and continent. The winter is fairly mild with plenty of rain and snow. The spring is wet with occasional harmful periods of frost. Summer is hot and dry. The greatest risk lies in thunderstorms which can cause destruction, when combined with hailstorms.
The autumn is often hot and dry, which is ideal for harvesting and ripening of healthy grapes. These circumstances combined with the difficulty of access to many of the vineyards means that the output is fairly low here.
The French wines from Irouléguy
About two thirds of the production from Irouléguy is of red French wine. The wine's character is derived from the Tannat (maximum 50%), Cabernet Pranc (Axeria) and Cabernet Sauvignon. There are three categories of red French wine from Irouléguy: ordinary, the cuvees and the estate bottled wines in escalating levels of quality. The simplest Irouléguy is sturdy, high in tannin, fruity (blackberry) and spices. The better cuvees are more full-bodied, are aged longer in oak, and benefit from several years ageing in the bottle. The top estates (Brana, Ilarria, Iturritxe and Mignaberry) make outstanding wines with powerful bouquets of spices and black fruit (blackberry and plum) with a hint of vanilla. The taste for this French wine is complex, full, and rounded with a perfect balance between the fresh acidity, fruitiness, alcohol, body, and strong but rounded tannin. Enthusiasts never stop talking about the aftertaste.
Just as with Collioure, ordinary Irouléguy red can be drunk when young with grilled fish, if chilled, especially if they are garnished with baked peppers. Drinking temperature for Irouléguy French wine: 14-16°C (57.2-60.8°F). The cuvees and estate wines can be drunk at 16-18°C (60.8- 64.4°F) .
The rose Irouléguy French wine is fresh and quite dry. It was this wine that originally established the good name of Irouléguy.
Here too there is a combination of Tannat with Cabernet Pranc and Cabernet Sauvignon French wine. The colour resembles red currant and the delicate nose is fruity too with red currant and cherry, while the taste is both fresh and fruity. Drinking temperature for this French wine: 10-12°C (50-53.6°F).
The rare Irouléguy white French made with Xuri Ixiriota (Manseng) and Xuri Cerrabia (Petit Courbu) is richer and fuller than its cousins of Bearn. This white French wine of great class has a bouquet containing white flowers, white peach, citrus fruit, butter, hazelnut, and almond underscored with a hint of vanilla and a mineral undertone. Drinking temperature for this white French wine: 9- 10°C (48 .2-50°F).