Irouléguy (EE-rool-e-gee). Perhaps not the first French wine region to come to your mind, but I’m here to make the case that you should explore this region, its wines, cuisines, and scenery.
The French Winophiles are dipping into South West France this month and Irouleguy is one of the many regions that sit north of the Spanish border. Linda of “My Full Wine Glass” has inspired the exploration of this corner of France and encouraged us to discover wines from regions we have not tasted before. You can find her post here.
My colleagues’ will each choose a region to explore, scroll to the bottom for their articles, and get a broader perspective on the region! If you want to be part of the conversation, you can join us on Saturday, May 21 on Twitter! We will be discussing the wines of Southwest France, just use and follow the hashtag #Winophiles to be a part of the conversation.
Irouleguy – Where we are in France
Irouléguy sits in the foothills of the Pyrénées near the border to Spain in South West France (the Sud-Ouest) and just 50 or so kilometers from the Bay of Biscay.
This is the heart of Basque Country, which straddles the border of Spain and France across the Pyrénées near the Bay of Biscay. Here the language is Euskara, not French or Spanish. This language is unique, has a multitude of dialects, and has likely been around for about 12,000 years. Soak that history in for a moment.
The region is hilly and damp, in the foothills of the Pyrénées, that tower at 3000 feet above them. With the Bay of Biscay and the Atlantic so close, you get influence from the mountains and the sea, with the peaks protecting the region from the winds. These mountains also help to produce foehn winds in the fall. These are warm dry winds that help speed the ripening of the grapes, which is important in a region that gets quite a bit of rain.
Shepherds and sheep are common sights here and the vineyards are surrounded by pastoral land.
History of region
The French Province here is known as “lower Navarra”. We spoke before about the Kingdom of Navarra, as we spoke about the Spanish wines of Aragon Spanish wines.
The ancient town of Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port is the capital of Lower Navarra. This is a walled town that is one of the traditional starting points for the Camino de Santiago or Way of St. James. It is listed as one of the “loveliest villages in France”. Founded in the 12th century when the village was part of the Kingdom of Navarre, it was a strategic location to watch the northern part of the kingdom.
With its canyons and caves, peaks and hiking trails, the region around Saint-Jean-de-Pied-Port is a haven for those who want to enjoy the outdoors.
The village of Irouléguy is home to just around 370 residents
Wine in Irouléguy
The Irouléguy wine region takes in 270 hectares of vineyards with 15 independent growers and 1 cooperative. Vineyards here were first planted in the Middle Ages and now grow on mountain terraces.
You will find wines made in red, rosé, and white here. The red grapes that dominate the area at 85% of the planting, are Tannat, Cabernet Franc, and Cabernet Sauvignon. The White grapes Gros Manseng, Petit Manseng, and a tiny bit of Petit Courbu, which is found almost nowhere else, create the white wines of the region.
Soils here are diverse and slopes can be steep (up to 80% slope). They create terraces to manage the slopes. You find red sandstone in the region that you will see used in local architecture. There are also limestone, black schist, and other soils from the mountains.
Frost and climate change
I would be remiss if I did not tell you that the vineyards of Irouléguy had been hard hit by frost this spring. Spring started mild, and the vines began waking up only to be hit by frost. 90% of the region was affected by the frost even some of the vineyards at altitudes that normally are not affected. The region expects a 50% loss of crop.
Here are two articles to learn more.
Peio Espil was one of only 2 independent producers in Irouléguy until 1990.
This property has been in his family for several centuries, with the winery built in 1853 in the Bas-Navarres architecture style, sits on a hillock with the vat and barrel cellar buried beneath. He and his wife Lucie raise their sons in the same white stone house where generations of his family grew up. After 2 years in the Peace Corps in Africa, he returned to France to study winemaking and in 1988 came back to this place to work the Domaine with his father.
A deep history in wine…
The Domaine recounts the history of the land with the Monks of the Abbey of Roncesvalles, just over the border in Spain, who developed wine in Irouléguy and the surrounding regions. They believe that the Domaine Ilarria vineyard was developed by these monks in the 12th and 13th centuries under the Kingdom of Navarre.
When Henry IV took this part of Navarre, the monks would have left and the land fell to local lords who increased the vineyards of the region to over 1000 hectares.
Then, of course, phylloxera hit and by the 1960s there were only 40 hectares of vines left. Luckily in the 60s and ’70s a handful of winegrowers got busy relaunching the region.
The Vineyards of Domaine Ilarria
The 1.3-hectare old vine vineyard of Domaine Ilarria vineyard sits on 250 million-year-old limestone soils that are rocky and poor, perfect for drainage for the grapes. It overlooks the village of Irouléguy. Beyond the vineyard you find the land dotted with winegrowers’ huts and dry stone walls, reminding you that much more of this land was planted to vineyards in previous generations.
Their total estate holds 10 hectares of vines, 3 of which are devoted to white wines with Petit Manseng and Petit Courbu. The remaining 7 hectares are planted to Tannat, Cabernet Franc, and Cabernet Sauvignon.
The description of the vineyards, translated from their website paints a rich picture
Most of the vines are planted on the limestone hillsides of the village, renowned historic terroirs, with east-south/east exposures, in the middle of forests and moors, refuges of a rich natural biodiversity.
Growing and Winemaking practices at Domaine Ilarria
The recent plantings on the estate of Cabernet Franc & Tannat come from cuttings from a conservatory that collected pruning wood to breed in a nursery. So the plant material comes from vines that have long been in this region.
They then farm with limited human intervention, inspired by Masanobu Fukuoka, a Japanese microbiologist. Masanobu Fukuoka, believed in natural farming, without plowing, tilling, or fertilizing, and observing nature’s principles. It sounds a bit like regenerative agriculture, doesn’t it?
In the vineyard, they have grass as a cover crop which the sheep graze on in the winter. All the grapes are hand-harvested and destemmed (no need for more tannins when you are using Tannat!) In their winemaking, they use only indigenous yeasts, avoid chemicals and all their wines are unfined with the reds also unfiltered.
They produce just 30,000 bottles each year.
Domaine Ilarria 2018 Irouléguy Rouge
The wine we were tasting was a blend of 60% Cabernet Franc and 40% Tannat. The Cab Franc, called Axeria in the Basque language, has been in the vineyard for centuries, it is low yielding and brings aromas and elegance to the wine.
Tannat (Bordelesa Beltza) is of course well known in Southwest France where it dominates in Madiran. This grape known and named for its intense tannins gives structure and power to the wine.
The wine ages 18 months, with 15 of those in neutral French Oak Barrels.
Pairing – Fish, cheese and Red Wine
I know, only two of those things belong together traditionally. But trust me, this worked.
I wanted something quick, delicious, and authentic to the region. The basque region is known for its tuna dishes. I know that seems a bit odd in this alpine environment, but it sounded delicious and I was confident it would pair with the wine.
I found a dish called Marmitako, which is a basque Tuna and Potato soup or stew on Spanish Sabores. I also found a recipe for Basque-style Tuna, on Le Parfait which is meant to be put in a jar and sounded delicious.
I used the inspiration from these two recipes to put together my dish.
I used yellowfin tuna steaks although the dish really should have been albacore. Sadly all I could find was yellowfin, and I was not going to turn my nose up at that! It was delicious!
The tuna sits on a mixture of cherry tomatoes, red pepper, shallot, and garlic that has been cooked with a spice blend of ground ginger, paprika, ground clove, ground nutmeg, and cinnamon with red wine. It is finished with fresh chopped, rosemary, thyme, sage, and oregano and is topped with a crunchy crumble of panko, butter, and cheese to give a bit of texture.
The spices, the cheese, the umami of the tomatoes and peppers, along with the tuna are divine and it paired beautifully with this wine.
Southwest France and its wines through the eyes of the French #Winophiles
There are so many regions and wines to explore in Southwest France, dig in and see what my colleagues’ found! Oh, and don’t forget to join us Saturday, May 21st on Twitter to discuss the area and its wines. Use or follow #Winophiles at 8 am PST or 11 am EST.
- Camilla at Culinary Adventures with Camilla: Garlic and Herb-Rubbed Standing Pork Rib Roast + Château Laulerie Bergerac Rosé 2020
- Jeff at Food Wine Click!: Deconstructed Tartine & Domaine de L’Astré Pèlroge
- Deanna at Wineivore: Organic Negrette & Manseng Wines from SW France Paired with Southwest Sliders
- Jane at Always Ravenous: Affordable Wines from Southwest France: Tasting & Pairings
- Cindy at Grape Experiences: A Taste of Southwest France: Nature Secrète Saint Mont 2018 and Sauteed Duck Breasts with Mushrooms
- Nicole at Somm’s Table: Encounters with Tour des Gendres Pét-Nat with a Side of Risotto
- Gwendolyn at Wine Predator: Mauzac? SW France’s Domaine du Moulin Features This Unusual Grape in Methode Ancestrale Sparkler
- Wendy at A Day in the Life on the Farm: Visiting the Wines of Southwest France outside of Bordeaux
- Lynn at Savor the Harvest: Gascony Surprise: Meet Domaine de Joy in Southwest France
- Linda at My Full Wine Glass: Two Tannat-based wines from Southwest France
Seared tuna steaks sit on a mixture of cherry tomatoes, red pepper, shallot, and garlic that has been cooked with a spice blend of
ground ginger, paprika, ground clove, ground nutmeg, and cinnamon with red wine. It is finished with fresh chopped, rosemary, thyme, sage, and oregano and is topped with a crunchy crumble of panko butter and cheese to give a bit of texture. This is delicious with a red wine from Irouleguy.
- 2 yellowfin tuna steaks
- 2 tbs Olive oil
- 1 red pepper finely diced
- 1 shallot finely diced
- 4 cloves of garlic minced
- 1/2 teaspoon spice blend (equal parts, ground ginger, paprika, ground clove, ground nutmeg, and cinnamon.
- ¼ cup red wine
- 1 cup of cherry or grape tomatoes (1/2 sliced in half)
- 2 tablespoons for chopped herbs (sage, oregano, thyme, and rosemary)
- 1/4 cup panko breadcrumbs
- ¼ cup of grated hard cheese (Esquirou a hard milk cheese from the Basque region)
- 1 tablespoon of butter
- Additional herbs for garnish.
- Salt and pepper the steaks and sear them in olive oil for 2 to 3 minutes per side. Set them aside covered to keep warm.
- In the same pan add the diced red pepper, garlic, and shallot. Cook this for about 3 minutes stirring regularly.
- Add a ½ teaspoon of your spice mix to the pan and stir in with the vegetables cooking until it is fragrant.
- Add ¼ cup of wine, I suggest the wine you are pairing with. Allow this to cook down for 2 minutes.
- Add the cherry or grape tomatoes, with about ½ of them sliced in half. Stir this in then add 2 tablespoons of chopped herbs, I used sage, oregano, thyme, and rosemary.
- Allow this to cook for 5 minutes over medium heat.
- Meanwhile, make your crunchy topping. Combine the panko and freshly grated hard cheese. I used Esquirou a hard sheep's milk cheese from the Basque region, but you could easily use parmesan. Heat a tablespoon of butter in a small pan, add the cheese and breadcrumb mixture and continue to stir as it browns and crisps.
- To plate mound, the tomato mixture on the plate, top with the tuna steak, add a little of the mixture on top and sprinkle liberally with the crunch panko cheese mixture. Top it with fresh herbs.
Amount Per Serving Calories 1031Total Fat 63gSaturated Fat 26gTrans Fat 1gUnsaturated Fat 30gCholesterol 223mgSodium 962mgCarbohydrates 40gFiber 7gSugar 15gProtein 73g
Nutrition information isn’t always accurate.
More exploration of French Wines from Crushed Grape Chronicles
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- Finding the right wine for Romance…we chose a trip to the Loire. #Winophiles
- Côtes du Rhône & Côtes du Rhône Villages – a plethora of flavors to pair with! #Winophiles
- A Baby Vin Jaune 15 generations in the making! #Winophiles
Robin Renken is a wine writer and Certified Specialist of Wine and WSET 3 Certified. She and her husband Michael travel to wine regions interviewing vineyard owners and winemakers and learning the stories behind the glass.
When not traveling they indulge in cooking and pairing wines with food at home in Las Vegas.
Wow, we had no idea…picturing a visit there with its shepherds and vineyards…sounds idyllic. Sounds like another perfect place to have an AdVINEture! We’ve had a taste of the spanish side of Basque but would love to explore and compare with this part.
I would love to visit this region, and it is so close to Hondarrabi, so exploring Txakolina wines are just a little over an hour away. Of course then I would like to drive down along the coast of the Bay of Biscay, and if you have driven that far, you might as well head to Rias Baixas…you see why my travels lead me to all too many stops! LOL!
I find many tuna applications pair nicely with a red. This wine and meal sound as lovely as the region looks in your photos.
You are right! Tuna really does hold up well for red wines. As to the region, I only wish the pictures were my own. I would really love to visit the region and then cross the border into the Basque region of Spain. There are so many beautiful places and delicious wines to explore here!
Your choice of Adobe Stock Photos really represent how the entire area looks… picturesque, verdant, rolling hills. Ilarria is one Irouléguy producer the hubby and I enjoy often. Great dish with this red blend. Always looking for non-meat dishes to enjoy with reds… saved this for the future!
I’m so glad Lynn! I researched the area, but I know it’s nothing like seeing it in person. It’s nice to know that this really is what the region looks and feels like. If you want to go further non-meat for this pairing, I think a firm tofu with a good marinade would work also!
Oh wow, what a “meaty” tuna dish! Love, love this pairing with fish with a cab blend and red wine sauce. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a blend with cab franc and tannat. Great find and pairing!
Thanks, Deanna! Irouleguy seems to use Cab franc, Tannat, and Cab Sav. I was surprised that the wine was not too heavy and tannic with all the Tannat. The dish came out beautifully, I think if any fish can stand up to Tannat, a nice thick tuna steak is the one, but the fact that this wine was not as heavy as your typical Tannat blend helped the pairing immensely.
What a wonderful look at this region — It makes me want to rediscover Irouléguy! It’s been a while, and I cetainly haven’t had that many. The tuna looks delicious as well!
I say we all fly to France, then pack into Lynn’s car and visit the region!
Your tuna dish looks fantastic!!! I can not wait to try it. I love that you were also adventurous and paired tuna with red wine.
Reading your description of the region and photo choices brought it to life.
Thank you so much, Jane! Strangely enough, the spices I was using ended up being the thing I felt most adventurous about as I cooked the dish. They ended up working beautifully, but adding ground clove to this dish felt a bit scary.
The region really does look stunning and I would love to visit this region of France!
Wow, what a great deep-dive into the region!
I feel like I have only scratched the surface! There is so much more to discover.
I so want to visit this region – even more after reading your excellent post! Sad, though, to hear the producers anticipate a 50% crop loss from frost this spring. And as for that tuna dish, I’m drooling! My kind of meal and really appreciate the out-of-the-box red wine pairing, too.
Thanks, Linda! This was such a fun exploration! Thank you for leading us. The photos I have seen really want to make me visit the region!