France's Wild West, Electrified: 09 Ilarria Irouleguy Rouge

Posted by Joe Salamone

Wild Child of Southwest France
2009 Ilarria Irouleguy
Bordeaux Goes Old-Fashioned... and Electric

Lately, it's felt like there are few stones left unturned in French wine. I mean, Jura wines seem almost like old news to the tuned-in Francophile...

Well. If that's the case, here's something that remains (for now) decidedly under the radar:

Irouleguy is a very small appellation tucked into Basque country in France's wild, rugged southwest on the Spanish border. Picture lush green hills with grazing sheep (Ossau-Iraty, Abbaye de Belloc and other delicious sheep's milk cheeses are made here). Spain is just six miles away.

And the wines? Think of something akin to old-fashioned Bordeaux (not overly extracted, not touched with new oak, not polished) that was left to be raised in the brushy mountain hills; think of wines that are gutsy and robust with brisk acidity, rigid spines and iron-laden minerality.

Down in this obscure corner, you find honest, ageworthy wines that really, when you think about it, don't actually bear a close resemblance to anything else at all. And that might be just the reason why the value to be found here is so great. Take today's offer: 2009 Ilarria Irouleguy Rouge, which at $19.95 a bottle offers the sort of undeniable quality that strikes a fascinating contrast against its humble price point.

We've been big fans of Ilarria for some time. They make one of the most finessed versions of Iroulegey out there on the appellation's steep, often-terraced vineyards where inclines can reach 60%.

The soils here are very complex with sand, clay and volcanic elements, plus small sections of limestone - all stained red by the soil's high iron content. Ilarria sits on one of these patches of limestone, and the soil along with attentive organic winemaking surely help contribute to what makes Ilarria's Irouleguy stand out: its incredible purity.

There's plenty of Irouleguy's ruggedness to show for itself, but there's also a very pleasing textural element here - even a quality that's almost silken in nature.

In warm vintages like this 2009, the results involve concentration as well as verve - a very compelling combination that assures the volume of dark complexity doesn't hit you like a freight train. Instead, the way that the smoke, saline mineral, forest floor and spice notes intermingle with the layered dark fruits is surprisingly understated. The wine finishes detailed, pristine and with plenty of energy.

The cépage here is a blend of the notoriously tannic Tannat grape along with Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. These are intense wines, no doubt, and Irouleguy Rouge fairly requires a bit of age or a decant and the right food. Think steaks, cassoulet, duck confit, or go very Basque and whip up veal aoxa, a hearty stew of veal, red peppers and Basque country's famous piment d'Espelette.

There will be no harm in holding onto these bottles for ten years and, likely, many more. Tannat, for all its wild tannins, has an ability to grow deliciously soft and silken when mature, while the Cabernets in this blend will pick up evocative notes of sandalwood and incense. We strongly advise you to purchase multiple bottles and take advantage of the value and uniqueness this has to offer.

To order, email us at or call the store at (212) 980-9463.

Joe Salamone
Wine Buyer
Crush Wine & Spirits

2009 Ilarria Irouleguy Rouge