Irouléguy Blanc, Xuri Dansa 2001 Les Vignerons du Pays Basque

21 Apr 2003 by JR

Essence of spring in a bottle, this wine. Yes, it's pretty obscure, and made in very small quantities, I'm afraid, but the quality moved me to try to make the wine better known. Irouléguy's that tiny Basque appellation on the foothills of the Pyrenees in south west France where the only quasi-outside investor known to me is none other than Jean-Claude Berrouet, winemaker at Ch Pétrus et al (and admittedly originally from the region).

Irouléguy comes in (lightish) red, white and pink, with white a definite minority - indeed virtually unknown between the advent of phylloxera (which almost wiped out the Irouléguy vignoble) and the early 1990s. Most of the wine made has until recently been spread equally between reds and pinks but this wine, and Berrouet's, suggest a fine future for whites. This particular one is a fairly recent special cuvée from the coop, and is by far the most expressive and distinctive Irouléguy I have yet come across. It's a blend of 55 per cent Gros Manseng, 40 per cent Petit Manseng and five per cent Courbu, all of them characteristic white grapes of nearby Jurançon. Xuri is Basque for white; d'Ansa means from the original Ansa wine region.

The Gros Manseng confers acidity and freshness, according to the UK importer, while the Petit Manseng (the most treasured grape for sweet Jurançon) provides ripe fruit, roundness and complexity and the Courbu, being the oldest vines, gives some vinosity to the final wine. The Petit Manseng component is aged in new oak barrels for eight months but most of the wine sees no oak. There's a certain amount of lees stirring to give extra texture to this sophisticated wine.

Xuri Dansa has the same wonderfully appetising citrus tang and green-gold colour as a fine Jurançon but there is something additionally airy and apple-fresh about this mountain version - almost alpine flowers. It's not a cellar candidate, and would be best drunk during 2003, either as an aperitif or, preferably, with an exacting first course. It went well with foie gras at London's upmarket Gascon tapas bar, Club Gascon in Smithfield (tel 020 7796 0600), and I believe it's also on the list at the useful and keenly priced La Trouvaille restaurant off Carnaby Street in London's West End (tel 020 7434 4170).

As a dinner party wine I am pretty confident it would amaze and astound, so long as it is drunk with the bloom of youth still on it. A great effort from this enterprising coop which also produces a white Cuvée Andarena which I have not tasted.

Berrouet's white Irouléguy, Herri Mina, is admirably delicate but the vintage I tasted a year or so back was not as exciting as this. Domaine Brana's is based principally on Petit Courbu, while the organic Domaine Arretxea's is vinified by Luc de Conti of Bergerac fame so should be worth trying.

British wine drinkers can buy Xuri Dansa 2001 for £7.99 a bottle from Les Caves de Pyrène. Those elsewhere may be moved to contact the producers (22/04/03

Tags:  spain
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