Given the current popularity of the Santiago de Compostella pilgrimage, which is ineluctably attracting more hikers to the medieval penitent paths each year, it is surprising that the wines of Irouléguy aren't better known. Vineyards were cultivated here in the Middle Ages by the monks of the Abbey of Roncevaux in order to slake the thirst of weary travellers passing through Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port en route to Spain and Absolution. There is surely a marketing opportunity here if only we can get to grips with those tricky Basque spellings.
At their Domaine Ilarria, Peio and Lucie Espil tend 10 hectares of vines which are all certified as organic. Their distinctive Iroulégy blanc is made from a blend of 60% Petit Courbu and 40% Petit Manseng. It has appealing mountain flower and fennel scents, a savoury palate of orchard fruit and wild herbs with a long, dry finish. It makes a fine foil for the local speciality of piperade – a dish combining capsicums, onions, tomatoes and fiery Espelette chilli peppers. The Domaine Ilarria rouge is made from Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Tannat in descending proportions. It has tertiary 'forest floor' aromas and a pitchy palate of dark fruit and cracked pepper offset by earthy tannins that will support a decade's bottle age.