Mountain Bordeaux: 09 Ilarria Irouleguy Bixintxo

Posted by Joe Salamone

Mountain Bordeaux
2009 Ilarria Irouleguy Bixintxo
Undiscovered France

Irouleguy may be one of the most obscure wine areas in France. And here lies the fascination and the value.

It's best to think of it as Bordeaux gone electric, and a little wild.

It's on Irouleguy's steeply terraced vineyards, with inclines up to 60%, that the heartiness of the wines of France's Southwest assume a mountain vigor.

In warm vintages, like 2009, the combination of concentration and energetic verve makes for impressive and singular wines. The Bordeaux comparison is apt, but in reality these wines stand alone in their uniqueness.

Think of powerful tannin-imbued dark fruits, crackling acidity and an emphatic, iron-y minerality. It's exactly this combination of muscle, poise and distinctive minerality that leaves you grasping, and failing, for an adequate reference.

We've been big fans of Ilarria's Irouleguy for some time - this in fact marks our third offer, which has to be a record of some type. What makes Ilarria's Irouleguy stand out is the incredible purity that it manages to deliver. There's plenty of Irouleguy's ruggedness, but there's also a very pleasing textural element here - even a quality that's almost silken in nature.

Today, we offer Ilarria's top wine, Bixintxo. Out of Ilarria's entire line-up, Bixintxo offers the most accurate snapshot of the level complexity and clarity-driven intrigue that Ilarria can achieve.

The name Bixintxo has likely clued you in that we're, indeed, in a very particular corner of France. Irouleguy is a very small appellation tucked into Basque country 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.

Down here the soils 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 Ilarria's standout purity.

Bixintxo beautifully captures this purity with a real sense of polish and depth. The dark fruits are quietly interwoven with smoke, incense, spice and that fascinating powder-y iron minerality. This sense of understated complexity continues into the very long, detailed and energetic finish.

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. This summer something like a grilled steak or duck breast would be a perfect partner. In the fall or winter, a piece of duck confit makes for a lovely pairing and Basque's veal aoxa, a hearty stew of veal, red peppers and Basque country's famous piment d'Espelette, may be ideal.

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 minerals.

Often it seems that every esoteric corner of France has been turned over. I mean, the Jura almost seems banal to the tuned-in wine geek. Irouleguy is one of the last undiscovered areas, but with wines like Ilarria's this won't last for long.

We strongly advise you to purchase multiple bottles and take advantage of the value and uniqueness this has to offer.

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

Joe Salamone
Wine Buyer
Crush Wine & Spirits