This month we’re going to discover one of the gems of that wine list. Arretxea from the Irouleguy Appelation Controlee. Located in the French part of the basque country, that very old vineyard link with the rich history of the Basque people.

It’s also particular because the grape Tannat which doesn’t exist anywhere else. (except in Uruguay but the basque took it there in the first place).
40 years ago at the start of the renaissance of the Irouleguy vineyard, that wine was extremely rustic and of a quality completely different of the actual wine. Awarded in many competition, they always totally surprise people in blind tastings.

The history of wine-making in the area goes back to at least the 3rd century when the Romans commented on wine-making in the area. It was boosted by monks of the Abbey of Roncesvalles in the 11th century who planted the first large scale vineyards to provide wine for pilgrims travelling along the Way of St James. Following the Treaty of the Pyrenees in 1659, the monks had to give up wine-making and the vineyards which were taken over by the local villagers.
The region was hit hard by the great French wine blight of 1912 and a period of decline.
A cooperative was formed in 1952 under the lead of Alexander Bergouignan to rescue the rsituation and to work towards certification. The wines of Baigorri, Anhauze and Irouléguy were awarded VDQS certification in 1953 and Irouléguy was granted AOC status in October 1970. Today, some 210ha of land are cultivated again in the area.
The vineyards are often located on extremely steep slopes with inclines of up to 60°. This has led to the development of special growing and terracing techniques by Basque wine-growers to enable the cultivation of vines on these slopes.
Red grape varieties include Bordelesa Beltza (Tannat), Axeria (Cabernet Franc) and Axeria Handia (Cabernet Sauvignon), while white wines are made from Xuri Zerratia (Courbu), Izkiriota Ttipia (Petit Manseng) and Izkiriota (Gros Manseng)
They are cultivated on terraces between 100-400m above sea-level and although the soils vary, one of the chief characteristics of the soils in the region is a deep red coloration. This fact is mirrored in the name of the nearby town of Baigorri which is a contraction of bailara gorri “red terrace”.
Arretxea (from the Basque arre meaning stone and xea house) is a small six-hectare domaine entirely planted on south-facing terraces. Michel and Thérèse practise sustainable viticulture throughout their vineyard & use biodynamics in particular on the plot where they grow white grapes.
As for the Tannat-rich reds 4-5 week macerations, repeated pigeages and long elevage in oak with lees-stirring make for strong yet
harmonious wines. The ripeness of the grapes emerges in crystallised black fruit scents & a full palate perfectly structured by tasty tannins.