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

11/20/20 -

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

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?

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.

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.

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.

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.

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