Jurançon has long played an important role in Gallic culture and has had many historic admirers from Henry IV - who was apparently baptised with it in 1553 - to Colette - who called it 'the great seducer' and was a lifelong advocate of its merits. Unfortunately, at the time of her death in 1954, the appellation was in pretty poor shape having endured phylloxera, two world wars and the Wall Street Crash. Happily, it survived and today an enthusiastic group of winemakers are catering to an international audience. Pascal Labasse typifies this new breed having left the local Cave Co-opérative in 1986 and crafts characterful wines with a strong sense of tradition and terroir.
Today, Domaine Bellegarde extends to 14 hectares of Gros and Petit Manseng on free-draining clay and limestone soils in the foothills of the Pyrenees. He is now assisted by his son Maxime - a former rugby player of some repute who played for Wharfedale RFC - so can be forgiven for speaking English with a Yorkshire accent. Their Jurançon Sec 'Énergique' is made from Gros Manseng that is hand-harvested and vinified with indigenous yeasts in thermo-regulated stainless-steel vats. The finished wine has zesty, citrus scents and ripe orchard fruit flavours offset by fresh acidity. It makes for an uplifting aperitif or partner to shellfish. They also produce a sweet Jurançon Moelleux 'Historique' from a blend of 20% Gros Manseng and 80% Petit Manseng that are late-harvested by triage and vinified in vat and barrel. With a golden colour, ripe pineapple aromas and a heady, honeyed palate with a long, elegant finish, it makes a decadent digestif or partner to fruit-based desserts. The jewel in the crown chez Labasse is their sensational 'Cuvée Thibault'. Made from pure Petit Manseng using fruit dried on the vine that imparts incredible richness, a deep amber robe, a bouquet of dried fruit and grilled nuts and complex core of sweet stone-fruit underscored by nervy mineral notes. It can age well for a decade or more and is a hedonistic bonne bouche to conclude a celebratory meal.