You should just jump on these wines... Picture : Riouspeyrous Family

The very rare and remarkable "Haitza" (library release), "Schistes" & "Grès" from Domaine Arretxea: an absolute treat (and must) for any serious wine lover!  

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We are very happy to offer a tiny quantity of the very rare and extraordinary special cuvées from Domaine Arretxea in Irouléguy and we thank Pascaline Lepeltier, Meilleur Sommelier de France 2018, MOF and Managing Partner of Racines NY, for the article that follows...

A couple of months ago, I did a deep dive into the beautiful region of the South-West of France, paying tribute to the superb white wines of the region, including the outstanding Irouléguy blanc made with Mansengs and Courbus (here is the link). Today, I have the opportunity to present to you more gems from this appellation! Frist, the remarkable "Haitza" red blend of Tannat, Cabernets Franc & Sauvignon which will delight the Right Bank Bordeaux & Loire Cabernet Franc aficionados.  And what a better way to discover it than with some library releases from one of the most important estates of the region, Domaine Arretxea? And, to double the pleasure, we also received their fantastic, extremely limited "Schistes" and "Grès" which I consider simply as some of the absolute best white wines of (Southern) France! The wines offered today are just exceptional, and a steal for the quality!

The magical landscape of Irouléguy. Picture : Teo Riouspeyrous

 

The red wines of Irouléguy, and a quick note on the whites

 

Thérèse Riouspeyrous & some beautiful Tannat
Picture : Teo Riouspeyrous

For those who don’t yet know Irouléguy, you can find a detailed presentation here. In two words, it is a beautiful emerald region nestled in the foothills of the Pyrénées, 30 miles from the Atlantic, with undulating vineyards following the slopes of the Jarra and Arradoy hills. Despite being one of the rainiest wine regions in France, 40% of its 240 ha are farmed organically, in a context of mountain & heroic viticulture. The13 estates and the cooperative are very committed to show the exceptional quality of the area! Due to the steepness, a lot of vineyards are cultivated on terraces to allow the grapes to ripen, and the work to be done. In a paradoxical way (wet climate, elevation: an environment usually more suited for white grapes), 80% of the plantation are dedicated to the red varieties Tannat, Cabernet Franc & Sauvignon, growing on a very complex diversity of soils: sandstone, schists, ampelites, ophytes with very little to no clay. This helps with water drainage, but can be an issue for reaching physiological maturity with the Cabernets: this is why Tannat dominates.

Tannat. Probably a grape you rarely tasted on its own. Originally from the Béarn or the Gers, this variety got its name from the local term “tan” for its dark color, and then it got connected to the word  “tannic” due to its high content of these polyphenols. Most of the time it is blended to tame its power and its acidity. Patrick Ducournau in Madiran developed in the early 1990s the micro-oxygenation technique to help polish its structure! For a while Tannat was really considered as a rustic variety, but thanks to better farming and vinification, you start to see more and more elegant, subdued, refined interpretation of the grape, like in the hands of the Riouspeyrous. Their poor terroir, beautiful work in organic farming with inspiration from alternative agriculture techniques, leads to some Tannat with a velvet touch. They also have the patience to age it accordingly, both in the cellar then in bottle before releasing it.

And the white? 

Harvesting some Mansengs, the Pyrénées in the bac. Picture : R

Only 40 hectares are dedicated to white grapes, so the production is highly limited but is growing, as the potential is undeniable. You will find 4 varieties: the superb Izkiriota Zuri Tipia (Petit Manseng), Izkiriota Handia (Gros Manseng) Xuri Zerratia (Petit Courbu) and Courbu. Jurançon also grows them, but in altitude and closer to the ocean, they take a more savory turn, and are only vinified dry. If the Courbus tend to be shy, the personality of the Mansengs is potent yet without hiding their terroirs on which they are grown as we can see in the cuvées of Domaine Arretxea. It is really a treat to taste them, especially side by side, as I consider them to be some of the best white wines made in France! So if you like Chenin, Riesling, Savagnin, jump on these bottlings! 

 

A note on the Riouspeyrous.

Thérèse, Michel, Iban & Teo Riouspeyrous. Picture : R

Assisted by their two sons Iban (since 2018) and Teo (since 2019), Michel and Thérès Riouspeyrous produce undoubtedly some of the most impressive wines of Irouléguy (and of France), thanks to their remarkable vineyard work and true respect for their terroirs. After travelling the world as an agronomist and realizing the catastrophic consequences of industrial farming, Michel returned to Irouléguy.  This was the village where he was raised by his grand-father, a man who practiced polycultural farming, including a touch of vines. Starting from zero, he worked for a couple of years alongside Peio Espil at Ilarria, another hero of CSW!, before producing in 1993 his first red under the label Arretxea (“The Stone House”). The first white came in 1997, and took the name Hegoxuri, “White from the South.” In 2009, they started to bottle their white by terroir: Grès, Schiste, Pantxuri (Ophite), all blends of Gros and Petit Manseng with more or less Petit Courbu - less and less as time passes. 

 

Some foudres & the local dolias. Picture : R

Dedicated to organic farming from the very beginning of the domain and very influenced by the work of geologist and agronomist Yves Hérody, the Riouspeyrous received organic certification for their vineyard in 1998.  They have been applying biodynamic principles with a certain intellectual independence since 2008 without being certified. They currently farm 8.5 hectares: 4 ha of Tannat, 1.1 ha of Cabernet Franc, .6 ha of Cabernet Sauvignon, 1.4 ha de Gros Manseng, a little less than 1 ha of Petit and the rest is Courbu. Recently, the estate acquired  3 additional hectares on ophite to be planted in white. They planted all their original plots, paying great attention to the vegetal material – Michel, with Peio Espil, is part of an association protecting the old vines and their genetic patrimony. On top of their quests of terroirs, the Riouspeyrous have been working for a couple of years with locally made dolia, a type of amphora Michel designed with Luc de Conti from La Tour des Gendres and a type they very much like for the Tannat. 

The whole range of Maison Arretxea is absolutely remarkable, and deserves to be in the cellar of any serious wine lover. So indulge yourself with some of these rare library releases & single vineyards to see how special these wines are!

A special thanks to Teo Riouspeyrous for the great conversation about the beautiful wines of his family! Pascaline Lepeltier.

The beautiful Irouléguy. Picture : R

 

No Longer Available

Arretxea 2017 Irouleguy Blanc Terroir Schistes

Schistes is one of the terroir-designated cuvées made by the Riouspeyrous since 2009, and it is without a doubt one of the greatest wines of (Southern) France. Of the two single vineyard cuvées offered, Schistes is always the most opulent, giving, and accessible without losing its unique equilibrium between power and vibrancy. Because of the relative deepness of the soil (with more clay) the wine has a more aromatic bouquet, going from fresh mango to yellow plum and freesia. All these cuvées are vinified the same: hand-harvested, the grapes undertake a long pressing before being aged in large formats including some Stockingers for a year. They are then kept a year in bottle before being released. 2017 was a fresher vintage, helping to balance the natural power of this terroir. On the nose, you pick up the yellow plum, some tangerine zest and peach blossom - it is a little less tropical than usual, going more towards a summertime orchard. On the palate, the acidity is just fantastic, balanced by the velvet touch of the glycerol. It is definitely larger than the Grès, making it maybe more approachable. More lemongrass, and flint are perceptible in the palate. Oak is perfectly integrated. This is a terrific bottle you may want to cellar 10 years, or drink decanted in a large Burgundy glass, not too cold. Some fried sweetbreads with fennel confit, a brown butter halibut with watercress and ratte potato or a mild blue cheese, are a couple of ideas coming to mind for pairings, but pairings are pretty much endless! 80% Petit Manseng, 20% Gros Manseng. Pascaline Lepeltier

  • Out of Stock
  • white
  • 0 in stock
  • $71.99

  • Organic
  • Biodynamic
  • Low Sulfur

Arretxea 2017 Irouleguy Blanc Gres

Grès (sandstone) is one of the terroir-designated cuvées made by the Riouspeyrous since 2009, and it is without a doubt one of the greatest wines of (Southern) France. Of the two single vineyards cuvées offered, it is always the most linear, the deepest with a certain restrained severity in its youth. Even though this plot of sandstones is south exposed and the ripeness is not a problem, the balance between alcohol and acidity is quite mind-blowing, and despite easily reaching 14+%, you never feel any heaviness or burn. This is the magical part of the Manseng, and why these wines are so great - for drinking, for pairing, for cellaring! And for the price it is a real steal! Hand-harvested, the grapes undertake a long pressing before being aged in larger formats including some Stockingers for a year. They are then kept a year in bottle before being released. A dominant of Petit over Gros without any Courbu in the vintage - all the Courbu go now in the Hexoguri cuvée - the wine in this vintage is showing the enticing notes of quince and mandarine, then followed right away by smoked salt, sorrel and frangipane flower. Don’t hesitate to decant to let it blossom. On the palate, the wine is more restrained, more savory, more spicy - think white pepper, saffron, dried thyme. It is a model of precision, building up its power, with a gentle attack to undwind a superb volume. Serve it not too cold in a Burgundy glass, or cellar it for 10 to 20 years. Pairings are numerous, but I could see some Ricotta agnolotti with a cheese rind and thyme broth, finished with mushroom or truffle, hazelnut crusted scallops with roasted celery, apple and chestnut or a 24-months Parmigiano. 60% Petit Manseng, 40% Gros Manseng. Pascaline Lepeltier. 

  • Out of Stock
  • white
  • 0 in stock
  • $71.99

  • Organic
  • Biodynamic
  • Low Sulfur

Arretxea 2016 Irouleguy Haitza

Haitza means oak in Basque. This is the flagship cuvée of the Riouspeyrous, a gorgeous blend dominated by Tannat, with a touch of Cabernets Franc & Sauvignon which can vary depending on the vintage - over the years, there are less and less. Organically grown on a diversity of soils - sandstones, schists, ophites - with very little clay, it is a great terroir to tame the natural power of Tannat: its acidity and tannins are softened up without losing their personality. Grapes are hand-harvested, destemmed, vinified separately, with a gentle maceration lasting for 3 weeks or so. Fermentations are spontaneous. The wine is then aged for 18 months minimum in foudres, then in bottle and sold when ready to drink - they don’t necessarily release them in chronological order. This is a baby Haitza you can enjoy now if decanted, or keep in your cellar for 10 to 20 years! The vintage being warmer, the wine has less acidity than usual - but still plenty, and has a delightful amiability particularly enjoyable now that Fall weather is on us. The nose is an explosion of violet, fresh red and black currant, and liquorice, with a touch of bitter chocolate. Once again, the palate is more savory with a lot of mountain herbs, smoked tobacco and potting soil. With more Tannat than usual - and not Cabernet Sauvignon - one can admire the work done by the Riouspeyrous in mastering the tannic structure in such an elegant way! Served in large Bordeaux glass, you need a little bit of fat and texture : think rack of lamb, beef briskets with confit red pepper or a slow roasted hen-of-the-wood with Bordelaise sauce. 80% Tannat, 20% Cabernet Franc. 

  • Out of Stock
  • red
  • 0 in stock
  • $54.99

  • Organic
  • Biodynamic
  • Low Sulfur

Arretxea 2010 Irouleguy Haitza

Haitza means oak in Basque. This is the flagship cuvée of the Riouspeyrous, a gorgeous blend dominated by Tannat, with a touch of Cabernets Franc & Sauvignon which can vary depending on the vintage - over the years, there are less and less. Organically grown on a diversity of soils - sandstones, schists, ophites - with very little clay, it is a great terroir to tame the natural power of Tannat : its acidity and tannins are softened up without losing their personality. Grapes are hand-harvested, destemmed, vinified separately, with a gentle maceration lasting for 3 weeks or so. Fermentations are spontaneous. The wine is then aged for 18 months minimum in foudres, then in bottle and sold when ready to drink - they don’t necessarily release them in chronological order. 2010 is drinking beautifully well right now, and it is surprising how its aromas sing youth while its structure is showing a peaceful harmony. The delicacy of tannins is so remarkable, it is hard to believe the wine is mostly made with tannat! Open and expressive right at opening, the wine is unfolding its layers over the course of a couple of hours, really peaking up after 24 hours. Full of wisteria, fresh black currant and fern, the nose hints at cold empyreumatic counterpoints. The palate is more savory bringing some forest elements - fern, mountain spring bank, truffle. This is a complex yet delicate bottle you can serve in large Bordeaux glasses and enjoy with a smoked quail with glazed parsnip and chicories or a wild caught salmon in a black truffle pot-au-feu. 80% or so Tannat, the rest Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon. Pascaline Lepeltier.

  • Out of Stock
  • red
  • 0 in stock
  • $72.99

  • Organic
  • Biodynamic
  • Low Sulfur

Arretxea 2008 Irouleguy Haitza

Haitza means oak in Basque. This is the flagship cuvée of the Riouspeyrous, a gorgeous blend dominated by Tannat, with a touch of Cabernets Franc & Sauvignon which can vary depending on the vintage - over the years, there are less and less. Organically grown on a diversity of soils - sandstones, schists, ophites - with very little clay, it is a great terroir to tame the natural power of Tannat : its acidity and tannins are softened up without losing their personality. Grapes are hand-harvested, destemmed, vinified separately, with a gentle maceration lasting for 3 weeks or so. Fermentations are spontaneous. The wine is then aged for 18 months minimum in foudres and demi-muids, then in bottle. It is sold when ready to drink - they don’t necessarily release them in chronological order.  In 2008, a colder vintage, Michel & Thérèse Riouspeyrous were very careful about the bottling of the wine and kept it longer in aging to make sure the tannins were balanced. They also decided to release it later, in order to offer a beautiful bottle ready to drink. It is the case today. If the nose is showing a hint of reduction, a quick decant reveals currant leaves, elderberry, violet, blond tobacco just starting to dry out and cedar. In the palate, time played its part: the tannins are remarkably polished, and the natural freshness of the Tannat & the mountainous terroir of Irouléguy can be felt. There is no asperity whatsoever, and the texture is not without reminding you of a Cabernet Sauvignon heavy Graves, but with more lift. Serve it in Bordeaux glass. This wine calls for a dry-aged strip steak with sautéed girolles and black garlic, or a roasted duck breast with sauce au poivre. 80% or so Tannat, the rest Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon. Pascaline Lepeltier.

  • Out of Stock
  • red
  • 0 in stock
  • $74.99

  • Organic
  • Biodynamic
  • Low Sulfur