Domaine Brana : showing the way in Irouléguy #Winophiles

I’m joing the #Winophiles this month in their exploration of Irouléguy, a wine region in French Basque Country. I’m very excited about this, as it brings back memories of my hiking holidays in the French Basque Country in 2015. This region is very beautiful, at the foot of the Pyrenees but also on the Atlantic coast, where surf’s up. If you hesitate between the mountains or the sea for holidays, you have both there!

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I was hiking in the region with a group, so there was no time to go visiting wineries. But when we were in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, we were given two hours to see the town. I have to admit : I didn’t see town. I took this opportunity to go the winery shop of Domaine Brana instead!

The Brana family was active in the region already since the 19th century, but it was only in the ’70s that Etienne Brana lay the foundations for the current Domaine by starting a distillery. In 1984 he launched himself in the wine business and contributed to putting the AOC Irouléguy on the map. Not that Irouléguy is now known all over the world, or even in France for that matter. There is simply too little wine being produced for that, and finding Irouléguy wine outside France is no simple matter.

It’s for that reason that I bought a mix of Brana’s wines to take home. The whites and rosé didn’t last long, they were simply too good. Nowadays it’s not so unusual anymore to find white Irouléguy, but Etienne Brana made a point of making also white wine of petit courbu, petit manseng and gros manseng (also known from Jurançon) as that was a tradition before in Irouléguy.

His Ilori Blanc 2014 was a very fresh wine with lots of flowers in the nose and a rather high acidity. The Albedo Blanc 2014 was almost completely the opposite, with loads of ripe fruit like pine apple and apricot, a touch of wood and even a bit of honey as it opened up. There was a lovely contrast of ripe and fresh in this wine, the fruit being opulent and the acidity rather in the style of a Chablis. An intriguing wine.

I have a special place in my memories, however, for the Harri Gorri rosé 2014, one of the best rosés I ever had in my life. This was a wine I could sniff on forever, with red currant, strawberries, green herbs and beautiful minerality. Again the profile of this wine was very fresh and precise. Finally a rosé that has its own identity and is more than a white wine with a pink taint! I absolutely loved it. I have spent endless hours looking on the net for a place where I could buy it, but alas…

For the reds Brana also set out to choose his own path, favoring Cabernet Franc over the more common Tannat. Brana argued that Cabernet Franc was a grape that actually originated in the Irouléguy region, and that Tannat is the grape of Madiran. That might have been a smart move. It’s only a few days ago that Peter Dean reported in The Buyer that the Gascogne-based cooperative Plaimont Producteurs is gradually switching to Manseng Noir, as Tannat is producing alcohol levels that are hard to keep under 16°C in recent years.

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When I visited the winery shop in 2015 I tasted the Irouléguy Rouge 2010, but back then, it wasn’t fully coherent yet, and the wood was pretty dominant still. Nevertheless I bought two bottles, knowing this was a wine with great ageing potential. I was a little afraid that it would still be too early to open a bottle now, but a quick sniff after opening the bottle made it clear from the start : this is a beauty! Blackberries, blackcurrant, cigar box, graphite, laurel, all jumping out the glass in a beautiful bouquet. Complex like a maze, precise like a Swiss watch, and fresh like a first year student. My fear of sturdy tannins was ungrounded, the structure being velvety instead.

There’s an additional thing that’s interesting here as well. During my sommelier training we always had to discuss a wine systematically, including things such as color and viscosity. The latter is something I nowadays don’t do anymore as I don’t find it very relevant. But from the first sip of this Irouléguy, I immediately noticed that this wine was very concentrated, the viscosity reminding me of a Valpolicella Ripasso for example, but then without the sweetness. Very remarkable! This is a wine with character. Cool climate character by the way. And not unlike certain Bordeaux. That should not come as a surprise, the blend consisting of 60% Cabernet Franc, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 30% Tannat.

It’s still early days to be thinking of lists, but I’m pretty sure this wine will be in my best of 2019 list somewhere. If I think of how it was when I tasted it in 2015, it’s clear this wine has come a long way. This goes to show that we often drink this kind of wines too early. And it’s nowhere near its end. Quite the contrary I’d say. My next, and sadly last, bottle will probably open in three or four years. If only I could find more of Brana’s wines. It’s clear that this is a visionary winery, a flag bearer for the appellation.

Here are the links to the other Winophiles’ posts :

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • Payal at Keep the Peas shares Basque-ing in Irouléguy Wines and More

 

 

 

Taking gewürztraminer to a higher level

The Alsace uses a concept of “noble varieties” to define which grapes can be used in the areas that are designated as “Grand Cru”. I’ve always wondered what could be meant with “noble” varieties. The grapes that are used to make the highest quality wines, I read everywhere. OK. Riesling is one of those grapes that no one will question, I suppose. But why do the noble varieties in the Alsace include pinot gris and not pinot blanc? Or pinot noir for that matter? And then there is muscat and gewürztraminer, both noble varieties in the Alsace. On the one hand, I’m very happy that there are still regions that want to cultivate the traditional varieties, and that do not massively plant sauvignon blanc or chardonnay. On the other hand, these are not my go-to grapes in general. The grapy character of muscat and the aromas of lychee and rose in gewürztraminer tend to be rather dominant. I like it when a wine invites me to sniff and sniff and sniff again before I even consider having a sip. Then when you do take a sip, the wine sinks in and makes time stop for a couple of seconds. It gives you that whoa-moment that every wine lover wants to experience once every while. I think I have not tasted the right muscats and gewürztraminers until now to experience that. Luckily I recently had a chance to taste the wines of Domaine Lissner…

It was without great expectations that I went to a wine fair in Ghent, called PURr, dedicated to natural and organic wines. I’ve been to a couple of such wine fairs before and had my share of, well let’s say, animal aromas… I don’t mind when they are there a little bit, they can actually add complexity, if you’re open for it… But when it’s too much, it’s just too much, off-putting even. In whites you will then find aromas of apple cider or ashes. It was therefore a nice surprise to taste very fresh and complex wines at the stand of Theo Schloegel of Domaine Lissner. We started off with a muscat that was not grapy at all, and that had a crystal-clear acidic structure. Very refreshing and salivating. It was the gewürztraminer, however, that made me silent for a moment.

IMG_1594This gewürztraminer comes from the Grand Cru Altenberg de Wolxheim. When Theo poured this wine, his tone became somewhat worried. He said : “Please, take your time to taste this wine, at least one full minute!” After he repeated this one or two times more, I was aware that this wine was a) very dear to him, b) not just a quaffer, and c) that he probably has his share of people who come to wine fairs to down as much as possible. He then said : “You should actually drink this wine in ten years time!”. He then repeated once more : “Really, take your time to taste this wine!”

The first sniff at my glass made it clear from the start : this is indeed not “just a gewürztraminer”. No can of lychees in my glass, but a mineral start, followed by orange, exotic fruit such as pineapple, and a bit of curry powder. Nothing overwhelming, rather a subtle, yet intense nose that makes you sniff and sniff again. The first sip revealed a bit of the spiciness that you can have with gewürztraminer, but again very well dosed. The mouth feel was very round and the concentration of the wine was enormous. You could almost chew on this. Definitely no simple summer quaffer. By then, I could perfectly imagine why this wine should be drunk in ten years time! And also why I needed to take my time… Another interesting thing about this wine is that it is completely dry. Gewürztraminer is sometimes made with a bit of residual sugar to make it off-dry. No such thing here. The remarkable consequence of that is that this wine has a whopping 15,5°C alcohol… Luckily well integrated.

As you might expect, this is the kind of wine that invites to eat with it. I matched this wine with rojak, a fruit and vegetable salad commonly found in Malaysia and Indonesia. It’s an eclectic mix of pineapple, mango, bean sprouts, toasted peanuts and, in this version, fried tofu. The dressing is a mix of lime zest and juice, oil, sambal oelek and sugar. A very refreshing, tangy salad, yet at the same time lightly sweet and hot. This turned out to be an absolute winner with the gewürztraminer, because the lime and the chilis added a bit of structure to the wine, while the wine beautifully echoed the mango and the pineapple. A great example of how one and one can be three…

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Hit the ro-jak!

So here we are. All of this goes to show that you just need to keep tasting and exploring! Otherwise you miss out on these hidden gems, made by super passionate wine makers, who put their heart and soul in it. And with stunning results…

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Cheers!

I joined the French Winophiles this month, a group of wine bloggers who publish one article a month on one central topic. Please join our chat on Twitter. Simply tune in to the #winophiles hashtag on Twitter this Saturday, June 16 at 10am CDT. You can also check out the #AlsaceRocks hashtag for more Alsace fun during and after the chat.

Here’s a list of Alsace wine suggestions from the Winophiles :