This month the French Winophiles are heading to the Sud Ouest of France. That south west corner that seems rather quiet. You don’t hear much about it. Within it you will find French Basque Country and Jurançon. On the coast is the Pays Basque with it’s wine region of Irouleguy. When you continue east you arrive at the Jurançon, which is our destination today.
If you watched the Tour de France you might have seen the time trials in this region on July 19th in Pau which is just 15 miles east of this region. (If you want to see a bit of the scenery… here you go…
Vineyards here sit in the foothills of the Pyrenees. The area is hilly with steep rolling hills, lush with trees and amazing views against a backdrop of the Pyrenees. There is a beautiful piece on Pau and this region on Wine Chic Travel.
The landscape is dotted with small vineyards and farms. If you put all the acreage under vine together, it would add up to about 5 square miles.
Petit Manseng – historically a great seducer
The area is best known for their sweet wines. These wines were a favorite of the French poet Colette. (If you do not know her…she wrote the novella “Gigi” which was turned into a movie with Maurice Chevalier singng the iconic song “Thank heaven for little girls”. I remember watching this movie when I was a little girl myself, I find myself not remembering it clearly. Perhaps it is time to find and watch it again.)
Colette called the Jurançon wines of Petit Manseng “seduction du vert galant”. She was quoted saying
“I was a girl when I met this prince; aroused, imperious, treacherous as all great seducers are”.Colette
Her comments inspired winemakers to advertising “Manseng means Jurançon means sex”.
Colette also said “Time spent with a cat is never wasted”. How can you not love this wise woman.
Evidently, this wine is also given credit for giving King Henry the IV of France, the strength to keep up his philandering! Born in Pau, Good King Henry “…also became notorious for his sexual exploits, taking on many lovers and earning the nickname “Le Vert Gallant” (The Gay Old Spark).” biography.com
While Petit Manseng is well known and loved here, Gros Manseng is actually more widely grown. You will also find Camaralet de Lasseube. According to Madeline over at WineFolly Camaralet de Lasseube is very rare and Jancis Robinson in Wine Grapes called it endangered. This grape only produces female flowers. It also is prone to oxidation and has really low yields.
Indigenous to this region Petit Manseng is similar to Gros Manseng, but it has smaller berries and produces significantly different wine. Petit Manseng is aromatic with peach and citrus rounded out by tropical fruits like mango and pineapple.
This grape concentrates sugar in the berries during ripening and still maintains high acidity. The sweet wines made here rival Sauternes, but can be found at a much more reasonable price.
Henry Ramonteu, the owner and producer at Domaine Cauhapé is known to wait until January to harvest the last of his grapes for his sweet wines.
Many consider this to be the finest estate in Jurançon. The estate is 45 hectares on clay and siliceous soil. They grow Gros Manseng, Petit Manseng, Camaralet, Lauzet and Courbu.
2015 Symphonie de Novembre Jurançon
This is one of the first picks for this Domaine’s sweet wines, picked in November. It is 100% Petit Manseng and sits at 13.5% abv. This golden elixir comes from vines that are about 500 m (wait, perspective for those of us in the US…1,640 feet!) on steep vineyards.
Pairing the Jurançon
The classic pairing for this wine is Foie Gras. Baked fruit desserts and Roquefort cheese, as well as poultry dishes are suggested. We settled that we might as well go in for the Foie Gras. I know…I am typically against this. I’m feeling the guilt, but …it was delicious.
Cured & Whey to the Rescue!
I called Cured & Whey and they said they had it foie gras in stock, so we headed across town to see them. Michael the owner came out to talk with us about the foie gras. They have convenient little 2 oz packets of foie, and Michael suggested this was our best bet for two single portions. I asked Diana about a Roquefort, and while she had one, she suggested the Ewe’s Blue.
This award winning cheese is from the Old Chatham Sheepherding Company in Old Chatham, New York. It is a rindless cheese made from fresh sheep’s milk that is similar to Roquefort, and delicious!
On the way home, I found a recipe to riff on…here we go.
Pan-seared Fois Gras with apple puree and orange reduction.
Remember…this is just a riff on a recipe. I started with the puree. It was just butter, thinly slice apple, a little jam (I used mango passion fruit) and a little wine (think dry white, although I actually used the rose in my glass). Toss in a pan until soft then toss in the blender.
Cut a couple of circles of brioche and toast them in the oven.
Carefully score the two pieces of fois gras, add salt and pepper and put them in a pre-warmed pan at medium heat. 2 minutes per side, then on a plate to rest.
Lastly, use a bit of the drippings, add fresh squeezed orange juice and a little bit of wine (I used the Sauternes I had on hand and open), a little orange zest and some finely chopped rosemary. Reduce, stirring with a wooden spoon to incorporate the crunchy bits.
We also put together a board of the Ewe’s Blue, sliced apple, dried baby pineapple and roasted salted pecans.
The Wine – taste the Jurançon
This wine was lush with great acid as well as that sweetness. It was definitely a food wine and is my kind of sweet wine, not cloying. I got tart apple, and pineapple on the nose and palate.
To Match or Contrast
With pairings, often we try to either match flavors or contrast them. The foie gras was delicious and both the apple puree and the orange sauce matched the wine perfectly with their acid and flavor profile. The Ewe’s Blue did the opposite, the tang and salt contrasting with the wine. Quite honestly, as delicious as the foie gras was, the pairing with the Ewe’s Blue was our favorite of the two.
A surprising pairing was with dark chocolate, which Domaine Cauhapé suggested. Michael grabbed a bar and I was really skeptical. This turned out to be a surprisingly delicious pairing.
The wines of Jurançon are certainly worth searching for and exploring. I will look for some of the Jurançon dry white wines to explore in the future. For now…if you are searching for a sweet wine, expand a little further than Sauternes and try the sweet wines of the Jurançon. You won’t be disappointed and your wallet will be happy!
Read on for other great pieces on the French Basque Country and the Sud Ouest by the French #Winophiles!
- Camilla of Culinary Adventures with Camilla shares A Geography Snafu + Poulet Basquaise with Domaine Illaria Irouleguy 2016
- Martin from Enofylz Wine Blog shares “A Match Made in Heaven; Jurançon Sec and Instant Pot Shrimp Boil”
- Jane at Always Ravenous shares “French Basque Rosé Paired with Sicilian Pasta“
- Oliver at In Taste Buds We Trust shares “Domaine Brana : Showing the Way in Irouléguy”
- Cynthia and Pierre at Traveling Wine Profs share “Celebrating the Revival of Irouléguy“
- Gwen from Wine Predator gives us Madiran: French Basque Wine of Pyrenees With Pintxos
- Jeff at Food Wine Click! shares “Basque Chicken and Irouleguy, Perfect Winter Dish on the Hottest Day of the Summer”
- Payal at Keep the Peas give us Basque-ing in Irouleguy wines and more.