The specialist Basque appellation of Irouléguy, above the pilgrim pit-stop of Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port in the Pyrenees, is home to a single cave co-opérative and a handful of independent wine-makers including Peio Espil from whom we have been shipping since 1997. Wine has been produced here since the Abbey of Roncevaux planted vineyards in the Middle Ages but a trio of mildew-plagued vintages in 1907-1909, followed by phylloxera arriving in 1912 almost put paid to viticulture in the vicinity altogether. Happily, a few dogged vignerons kept the faith and in 1952 the VDQS classification was awarded, followed, finally, by full Appellation Contrôlée status in 1970.
Peio is the appellation's longest-serving vigneron independent and he presides over 8 hectares of red grapes and 2 of white grapes - all of which are farmed organically - at his Domaine Ilarria. His characterful Irouléguy blanc is made from a blend of Petit Corbu and Petit Manseng that are left on their fine lees over winter prior to a spring bottling. The finished wine has appealing herb and wildflower scents and a ripe orchard fruit palate with a persistent dry finish. It makes a fine foil for the local cuisine that is rich in olive oil, garlic and spicy piment peppers. Peio's Irouléguy rouge is blended from 35% Cabernet Franc, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon and 40% Tannat. With a bouquet of dark cherries and bay plus a palate of forest fruit supported by earthy tannins, it comes into its own with 2-3 years bottle age and will cellar well for a decade.