Imagine my excitement when I found out that this months installment of Wineblog Wednesday featured white wines, and in particular, wines made by none of the big three (Chardonnay, Sauvignon and Riesling). No shortage of that stuff lying around. Thanks to the folks at wine for newbies for going white.
So I went down to one of my favorite areas for white wine these days, France’s southwest. From just south of Bordeaux thru to the Spanish border, this is the domaine of grapes such as Grenache Blanc and Gris, Macabeao, Pacherenc, Courbu and my personal favorites, the Manseng duo.
The Basque homeland straddles the Pyrenees on both sides of the French and Spanish borders. It is a credit to their fierce nationality that they still speak their bizarre native language, and aside from a certain penchant for bombing things, they seem as a whole to have been able to walk that fine line of holding true to tradition, while embracing modernity.
This is perhaps best exemplified by their food and wine. As a region, they have the most Michelin stars per capita in the world. Led by El Bulli (where they receive 250 000 reservations for a mere 3000 dining spots), it is considered the new frontier of cooking, and a reference of modern cuisine. In terms of wine, the tannat based reds are too big for my taste, but boy do I love the whites. As the region is influenced by the cooling influence of the Atlantic, and as the grapes are grown at a certain altitude, the wines always seem to maintain the perfect acidity, independent of the richness that it’s grapes bring to the mix. So here is one my favorites, the Hegoxuri from the Domaine Arretxea.
Irouléguy 2002, Hegoxuri, Domaine Arretxea ($30…importation)
Organically grown with minimal sulfites (which explains a bit of a reductive cheesiness on opening the bottle), the Hegoxuri is a blend of 65% Gros Manseng with 25% Petit Manseng and 10% Petit Courbou. This one kind of stumped the table. It had a strange minerality reminiscent of Ostertag’s exceptional Franholz Muscat; that being an impression of vanilla infused, damp stones (like the Ostertag, one would easily be fooled and confuse this aroma with a wine that spent some time in oak). For a four year old white, it still had a remarkable acidity that acted as a wonderful counterpoint to it’s creaminess. I served it at 8 Celcius (45F) and as we worked our way down the bottle, it moved into Chardonnay territory with a buttery richness, but with always with that ever present citrus spine.
The last time I drank this bottle was the 2000 cuvée, and ate a steak tartare (which was phenomenal and according to Ryan , a natural accompaniment to raw meat tapas). While the ’02 still had enough acidity and freshness to work with our salmon roulades, if I drank this bottle next year, I will probably have to work with a heavier sauce, or an even richer fish.