The Basque region of Europe straddles the Pyrenees mountains in Spain and France. Like in the Alps, the rugged terrain made it daunting for invaders and allowed residents of the region to develop their own independent languages, foods, and cultural traditions. Located on the western end of the Pyrenees, the Basque mountains rise steeply on the French side with rare passes and sharp glaciated arcs called cirques while on the Spanish side, you will find more rolling hillsides and extensive viticulture, for example in Navarra.
While a challenging region for grape growing on the French side, wine is still made and this month the French Winophiles, hosted by Jeff Burrows of Food Wine Click, seek to learn more about these wines from the south west of France.
While the only wine truly from the French Basque is Irouléguy, the prompt allows Jurançon and Jurançon Sec as wines are difficult to find.
That’s why Sue and I went to Wine House LA following the July LA Wine Writers lunch at Napa Valley Grille where we tasted and learned about a selection of German wines. We also picked up wines for the September Winophiles prompt for Corsica and a few other temptations– I think we walked out with over a case of wine!
While we saw plenty of wines from Irouléguy as well as Jucacon, somehow we ended up with a wine from Madiran, which is just outside the official AOC region, but Jeff said we could still participate as it is a wine nearby AOCs from Gers, Hautes-Pyrénées and Pyrénées-Atlantiques – and is a part of the South West France wine region where there are 3,200 acres under cultivation with much of it Tannat, the grape that must make up at least 40% of the vineyard, and some of the best ones are 100% Tannat. Cab Franc and Cab Sauv are frequently blended with it.
Our plan was to do our pairing and taste the day after I returned from Kilimanjaro– but then when my KMS flight from Amsterdam to LAX was cancelled and I took one the next day, we did it a few hours after my return!
Sue suggested we do a simple “happy hour at home” style dinner — and in Spanish Basque country, that means “pinxtos” — foods on a toothpick. At the end of the evening at a bar, the toothpicks are counted to determine your bill. So after she had worked all day getting her classroom ready for the new school year, Sue picked me up from the shuttle stop, and drove me home, then she looked over my pantry and fridge to come up with her grocery list while I tried to settle in, find the wines, and get organized for the tasting.
Once again, thank goodness for Sue!
By the time my family got home for the evening and our friend Kathy (aka Ima Zinner) came over, platters of pinxtos were on the table and we could relax and talk about the wine and my adventure on the Roof of Africa. (We also celebrated with a bottle of Delamotte Champagne! See photos from the trip and our thoughts on the sparkling wine here).
“Pintxos” Menu Day 1:
- Salmon with Egg, Shrimp & Anchovie “Pintxo Chomin”
- Yellowfin Tuna Salad with Anchovies “Pinchos Atun Claro Encebollado con Anchoa”
- Pintxos with Spanish Ham and Salami “Pintxos de Jamon y Salchichon”
- Potato and Cheese Croquettes “Croquetas de Patata y Queso”
- Also bread/brie/pate wheels
Dinner Menu Day 2:
- Grilled Ribeye Steak
- Mashed purple potatoes with blue cheese
- Grilled Squash
2014 – Domaine Berthoumieu Madiran – Charles De Batz – 14.5% alcohol – SRP $22
Purchased for $18 from Wine House LA.
90% Tannat, 10% Old Cabernet Sauvignon aged in new oak barrels; vines are over 50 years old.
The real name for the Musketeer we know as D’Artagnon is Charles De Batz. This cuvee is named in his honor. The winery was founded in 1850.
Color: Very rich and dense in color, so dense in color that you can not see through your glass or even to the bottom of the glass. The darkest of garnet with a ruby rim. Particles are left at the bottom of the glass when it has been emptied.
Nose: Spices of cardomon and vanilla, herbs of menthol, sage, and eucalyptus, cherry and dark bramble fruit.
Palate: While this wine is a tannic beast (because it is only a 2014) it is not unenjoyable. There is a richness and smoothness that is surprising. The tannins are like dark cocoa, ground coffee, or mocha.
Think dark chocolate covered coffee beans or dark chocolate covered dried cherry, both with a dusting of cocoa. Very mouthwatering yet drying to the palate, as if you have steeped your tea a little too long.
Black pepper on the finish. This is a very enjoyable wine now, and is going to be a fantastic wine in 20 years. At this price point, it is going to be a fabulous wine when cellared for a while. I wish I’d had more to sit on the counter for a few days!
Pairing: I want a rich cassoulette with this wine. Marshall makes a ham and bean soup that would be great. Kathy thought of rumaki, the chicken liver coated in bacon would be so satisfying. So yummy with the potato croquette: the nutmeg and salt brings out the cherry in the wine. I thought of grilled eggplant, and Sue thought about caponata, which would be fabulous with the wine. The salami and tomato pixtos paired well with the herbal qualities of the wine. The wine also went very well with the smoked salmon, egg, shrimp, and anchovy pixto, which was really surprising to us seeing you would think of white wine or sparkling to work with this bite.
The next day at the store I found a wonderful thick grass fed beef ribeye to pair with it along with blue cheese mashed potatoes and grilled zucchini from our garden. I was surprised that while not a terrible pairing, it wasn’t great: the wine didn’t do anything for the food and the food didn’t do anything for the wine. Disappointing!
If you’re looking for a meat choice, go with lamb chops or rack of lamb slathered in garlic and marinated in rosemary and other herbs along with potatoes given the same treatment. Possibly bacon wrapped filet mignon would work better.
Join us Sat. August 17 on twitter by following the hashtag #winophiles to learn more about the French Basque region .
- Camilla of Culinary Adventures with Camilla shares “A Geography Snafu + Poulet Basquaise with Domaine Illaria Irouleguy 2016”
- Robin of Crushed Grape Chronicles shares “French Poets, Philandering Kings and little sweetness from Jurançon“
- Martin from Enofylz Wine Blog shares “A Match Made in Heaven; Jurançon Sec and Instant Pot Shrimp Boil”
- Jane at Always Ravenous shares “French Basque Rosé Paired with Sicilian Pasta“
- Oliver at In Taste Buds We Trust shares “Domaine Brana : Showing the Way in Irouléguy”
- Cynthia and Pierre at Traveling Wine Profs share “Celebrating the Revival of Irouléguy“
- Here on Wine Predator we share “Madiran: French Basque Wine of Pyrenees With Pinxtos“
- Payal at Keep the Peas shares “Basque-ing in Irouléguy Wines and More”
- Jeff at Food Wine Click! shares “Basque Chicken and Irouléguy, Perfect Winter Dish on the Hottest Day of the Summer”