Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Wine from the Côtes de Gascogne and a New Discovery!

As I have been writing about the wines of South West France Nick has been busy hunting new wines from the area and I am delighted that he has now sourced one for the wine shop. Sancet comes from the Côtes de Gascogne appellation which is located in Gascony. The Armagnac area and the Côtes de Gascogne have the same borders and the region lies just south east of Bordeaux, between the Adour and Garonne rivers in the foothills of the Pyrenees. Wines from Gascony have been seeing a revival over the past 5 or 6 years, winning awards and stamping their mark on the map.

Centuries ago Gascony's prestige was well known and Château de Briat has a link to a Bordeaux via the Pichon-Longueville family who owned the famous vineyards of Chateaux Pichon Baron and Pichon Lalande in Pauillac. Built in 1540, the Château de Briat is a former hunting manor commissioned by Queen Jeanne d’Albret for her son Henri de Navarre, later Henri IV King of France. The Briat estate was purchased by Raoul de Pichon Longueville in 1864.

The Côtes de Gascogne is unusual in that it mainly produces white wine: only 8% is red and 1% is rosé. Gascony's fine wines and warm hospitality go back a long way. The Gallo-Roman mosaics at Séviac in Montréal du Gers bear witness to the fact that Gascony had vineyards as far back as the 5th century. In those days, the Adour and Baïse rivers were the most important routes for transporting wine to the Nordic countries. This region tucked between the foot of the Pyrenees and the gateway to the Atlantic has always been a lush land of hillsides and valleys almost entirely devoted to the art of wine growing.

With its oceanic climate tempered by the Landes forests to the west, the Pyrenees to the south and just the right mix of sunshine, rain and coolness the Gers provides ideal conditions to get the best from is vineyards. When fully mature the wines develop their own particular identity - a rich aromatic palette that is complex and seductive.

Domaines de Sancet is located in Saint-Martin-d'Armagnac in the Bas Armagnac area. This area is very well-known for its strong culinary tradition with duck and foie gras and the production of Armagnac (the oldest distilled spirit in France, dating back to the 12th century). Domaines de Sancet is owned by the mayor of the village, Alain Faget, who also makes Armagnac, Floc de Gascogne, liqueurs and wines under the Madirans and Pacherenc appellations.

Sancet is made from a blend of 45% Colombard, 30% Ugni Blanc, 15% Gros Manseng and 10% Sauvignon Blanc grapes. Colombard is traditionally grown in Gascony for distilling into Cognac and Armagnac. It's thought to have originated in the Charentes region and is possibly the offspring of Gouais Blanc and Chenin Blanc. In France Colombard was traditionally grown in the Charentes and Gascony for distilling into Cognac and Armagnac and the white Floc de Gascogne.

Until Chardonnay became so fashionable it used to be California's most favoured white grape variety. Today it is still among the permitted white grape varieties in Bordeaux. The name seems to come from the French for dove “colombe” - perhaps because the ripe grapes were a favourite of the bird. Colombard makes a fruity wine with a powerful and unique aroma with hints of citrus fruit, mango, pineapple or passion fruit. It is an early fruiting variety which is used to provide backbone, due to its natural acidic character.

Ugni Blanc is also known as Trebbiano and although fruity its high acidity makes it important in Armagnac production. This is a very old grape and it's thought to have originated in Italy. Pliny describes a Vinum Trebulanum which some historians believe to be a wine from Trebula in central Italy and that the grape was named for the ancient region from which it sprang. Trebbiano made its way to France, possibly during the Papal retreat to Avignon in the 14th century. It is mentioned in 1730 in Cadillac and local names for it support this (Cadillac, Cadillate, Blanc De Cadillac, Boriano de Cadillac). I don't know how it became known as Ugni Blanc so if anyone does please let me know!

Ugni Blanc brings a floral bouquet (violets and geraniums), as well as the vivacity and balance that is crucial in any wine. The Colombard/Ugni Blanc blend is the flagship of Côtes de Gascogne white wines. Gros Manseng produces intensely flavoured wines with high acidity, apricot and quince fruit along with spicy and floral notes. This variety from the Béarn adds a special touch to the combination of Colombard and Ugni Blanc.

Sancet is a lovely representation of these grapes - it's beautifully balanced, bright, and refreshing with lush flavours of ripe pear, melon, guava, cucumber, apple and lemon. There is a light beeswax note which adds complexity, a hint of slight sweetness (this should not deter lovers of white wine) and a touch of minerality on the finish.

This wine is well structured wine and is food friendly. It pairs well with all fish dishes, seafood (particularly oysters and scallops), Mediterranean fayre such as Bouillabaisse or Paella, pork and poultry as well as game birds (Guinea Fowl), and strong cheeses. It adapts well to the spicy flavours of Asian cuisine and is good with Chinese sweet and sour dishes as well as foods from Thailand and the Philippines. If you are interested in sampling Sancet for yourself you can find it here.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Crème de Cassis, Blackcurrants, Hollyhocks and Marshmallow

Crème de Cassis (blackcurrant liqueur) is better known than its cousin made from blackberries, Crème de Mûres. Burgundy is renowned for its Crème de Cassis and the blackcurrant grows abundantly there, thriving in the same soil and climatic conditions as the grapevines. In early July you can see armies of workers collecting blackcurrants in the fields around the Côte de Nuits and the Hautes Côtes, famous areas such as Chambertin, Aloxe Corton and Volnay.

The blackcurrant has only been cultivated for around 500 years, previously it was collected from the wild. During the Middle Ages and for centuries afterwards blackcurrants were used as a medicine. In the 16th century German herbalists recommended the berries for treatment of bladder stones and liver disorders. The berries were also made into syrups used for coughs and lung ailments.

The first written mention of Cassis in France is found in 1508, when the bush was apparently widely cultivated for table fruit. In 1712 the Abbey Bailly de Montarand, a doctor at the Sorbonne, published a study entitled "Les Propriétés Admirable du Cassis". The work described a veritable host of medicinal uses not only for the ripened fruit but for the buds, bark, and leaves as well. It was the home remedy "par excellence", and most households prepared their own syrups and infusions from their own blackcurrants with wine, marc or eau de vie.

The blackcurrant's folk reputation is not unfounded. The blackcurrant bush's anti-rheumatism properties are due to a small nodule on the stem which secretes a beneficial oil which rubs off on contact with the berries and leaves, and remains in the finished product. In addition to organic acids and mineral salts, black currants naturally contain one-half gram of vitamin C per 100 g of fruit, seven times that found in oranges.

Large-scale, commercial production of Cassis liqueurs did not begin until 1841, in Dijon. Its production expanded during the phylloxera crisis of the late 1800s, when blackcurrants were cultivated as an economic alternative to the vine. The famous cocktail Kir (the favourite drink of Agatha Christie' fictional detective Hercule Poirot) is named after Cannon Félix Kir, Mayor of Dijon. Félix Kir was a priest and hero of the French resistance during World War II. He served the apéritif at official functions during the post-war years when the grape crop was failing and wines needed a bit of help. It became so popular that the apéritif was named after him. A true Kir is 1/5th Cassis and 4/5th Burgundy Aligote (white wine).

Crème de Cassis is also the name of one of my favourite Hollyhocks. The first black Hollyhock was written about by John Parkinson in 1629 after they had been introduced to English gardens from Syria in 1573. Hollyhocks belong to the Malvaceae (Mallow) family and are native to south west and central Asia.

Hollyhock flowers have a very long history – in fact, remains of their blossoms were located at a Stone Age burial site in the Shanidar Cave in Iraq. They could be one of the earliest domesticated flowers.

The Crusaders brought the single-flowered form back to England during the Middle Ages. The Anglo-Saxon name for Mallow, used medicinally throughout Europe, was "hoc", thus Hollyhock was the "holy hoc" from Jerusalem. The Tudors used the dried roots of the Hollyhock for additions to their wine to stave off blood clots. During the 19th century, the Hollyhock became a favourite of Victorian gardens as new colours and the double flowered forms were introduced from China.

Hollyhocks also have some interesting connections. For instance, Thomas Jefferson cultivated these plants in Monticello; in Japan, Hollyhocks became the seal of the Tokugawa Shogunate (the Last Shoguns of Japan), and Frank Lloyd Wright named his first Los Angeles project, “Hollyhock House,” after the owner, Aline Barnsdall’s, favourite flower. In addition to having cultural connections, Hollyhock flowers have also become an important part of art. Not only can the flowers themselves be used to create a rust red-coloured dye, they have also made many appearances in fine art paintings.

The Hollyhock and its cousin, the Marshmallow, are common in North Africa and the Middle East and it's thought that the Egyptians were the first to make a sweet from the roots. The recipe called for extracting sap from the plant and mixing it with nuts and honey. Candy makers in early 19th century France made the innovation of whipping up the Marshmallow sap and sweetening it, to make a confection similar to modern Marshmallow. The later French version of the recipe, called pâté de guimauve, included an egg white meringue and was often flavoured with rose water.

Marshmallows are easy to make at home and with the nights starting to draw in and Autumn round the corner this recipe will come in handy for Bonfire Night.

2 tbsp icing sugar
2 tbsp cornflour
vegetable oil (for oiling the cake tin)
splash of rose essence (you can use violet, mint or vanilla etc instead)
25g gelatine powder
500g granulated sugar
2 egg whites
splash of food colouring (optional)

Sift the icing sugar and cornflour together into a small bowl. Rub a shallow cake tin with a few drops of vegetable oil and shake a little of the icing sugar mixture around the tin to coat the base and sides. Add a splash of Rose essence to 125ml of nearly boiling water and leave to infuse for 30 seconds. Add the gelatine and stir until dissolved.

Put the sugar into a saucepan with 250ml of water. Warm over a low heat, stirring until all of the sugar has dissolved, then raise the heat, allowing the mixture to boil fiercely without stirring. Remove from the heat and pour the gelatine mixture into the hot sugar syrup, stirring until everything is well blended.

Pour the egg whites into the large bowl of a mixer and beat until stiff. With the mixer going at a low speed, slowly pour in the sugar mixture in a steady, gentle trickle. After you’ve added all of the syrup, leave the machine to carry on beating until the mixture turns really thick and bulky but is still pourable – when you lift up the beater, it should leave a ribbon trail of the mixture on the surface which takes a few seconds to sink back down into the mix.

Pour the marshmallow into the prepared tin. Leave to set in a cool place (do not refrigerate) for an hour or two.
Dust a chopping board with the rest of the cornflour and icing sugar mixture. Coat a knife with a little oil. Carefully ease the marshmallow out of the tin onto the board. Dust all of the surfaces of the marshmallow with the icing sugar mixture. Cut the marshmallows into squares, oiling and dusting the knife as needed. Store in an airtight tin lined with baking parchment.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Tannat Liqueur, Blackberries, Perfume and Chutney

Whilst writing about the wines from the far south west of France I came across an unusual liqueur made by Domaine Berthomieu at the village of Viella in Madiran. Tanatis is a Vin de Liqueur made from late harvested grapes. These are 100% Tannat from vines which are more than 50 years old. After 10 days of maceration to extract colour and tannins from the flesh, skin and pips, the fermentation is prematurely stopped by the addition of spirit alcohol - in the same manner as the making of Port. The tasting notes suggest highly concentrated flavours of blackberries, bitter sweet cherries and prunes.

It made my mouth water and having spent yesterday blackberry picking in the hedgerows I wondered if any of you have come across the blackberry liqueur Crème de Mûres? In Jurançon they make a super aperitif which is similar to Kir (which uses the blackcurrant Crème de Cassis). The Jurançon version is called Le Murançon and uses Crème de Mûre à l'armagnac and Jurançon white wine. Jean Boyer is a producer from Saint - Geours de Maremne in the Landes (which is sandwiched between the Gironde and Pyrénées-Atlantiques). They make artisan aperitifs and liqueurs and come highly recommended.

Here in the UK we must pick our blackberries by Michaelmas (29th September) lest the Devil spits on them. There is some truth behind this myth as after the end of September the blackberries turn wishy washy, mouldy and bitter. Did you know that blackberries grow on every continent except Australia and Antarctica? Blackberries have been used as food and as medicines for thousands of years. The Greeks used the blackberry as a remedy for Gout, and the Romans made a tea from the leaves of the blackberry plant to treat various illnesses. They are rich in anti-oxidants and vitamins along with being a good source of the minerals potassium, phosphorus, iron, and calcium.

The blackberry has quite a lot of mythology around it – in Brittany, it was considered a fairy fruit and consequently was untouchable. Another tale says that the blackberry was cursed by Lucifer when he fell from heaven and fell on the brambles. Blackberries are considered remedy against vampires - this lore is much older than the garlic one. The reason lies in the assumed fanaticism of all demons to count things. When you put blackberries on a threshold or windowsill, you can force a vampire to count over the thorns and berries until morning comes.

The fruity fragrance of blackberries is quite intoxicating and in 1920 René Lalique (1860 – 1945), one of the world's greatest glass artists and jewellery designers of the Art Nouveau and Art Deco periods began to make a blackberry perfume bottle called the Bouchon Mûres (French for "blackberry stopper"). He worked with François Coty, Roger & Gallet, Houbigant, Molyneux, d’Orsay, Molinard and Worth and his bottle designs, which evoked the enclosed fragrance, revolutionized the perfume industry. His glass creations are still collected by museums as well as glass enthusiasts – one of his Bouchon Mûres sold for £38,000 in 1990. Lalique’s son, Marc revived the family business under the name Cristal Lalique after World War II. The firm, currently run by grand-daughter Marie-Claude, produces new designs as well as favourites by René and Marc.

The perfume House Molinard is one of the few to still make a Blackberry perfume. Simply called Mûre has notes of Amalfi lemon, bergamot, African orange flower, blackberry, vanilla and musk. Mûre is from the collection "les fruits' which spotlights a single fruit note and all the ingredients are grown in Molinard's orchards in Grasse. Grasse is the birthplace of the worldwide perfume industry and lies in the Provence region of southern France. Maison Molinard was founded in 1849 and has remained an entirely family-run business right through to the present day.

With the scents of blackberries firmly in mind I decided to turn mine into a chutney rather than the usual jam. Chutneys as we know them today don't reflect their original form which came from India as we prefer ours to be sweeter - and the Indian ones are saltier, hotter and more intense. I thought a spicy hot blackberry chutney would be an unusual twist and that it would go well with beef cold cuts and the stronger cheeses.

Blackberry Chutney

12 oz. (350g) blackberries, hulled
¼ pint (140ml) white wine vinegar
1 onion, chopped
12 oz. (350g) cooking apples, peeled, cored and chopped
½ tsp salt
½ tsp cayenne pepper
½ tsp allspice
½ tsp cinnamon
4 oz. (100g) light brown soft sugar
1 tbsp mustard powder (or Dijon mustard if you are stuck)
1 tbsp root ginger, finely chopped
1 red chilli pepper, finely chopped (optional)

Place the blackberries and vinegar in a large bowl and cook until these blackberries have disintegrated. Sieve to remove pips. Add all the other ingredients and bring to a boil. Keep boiling and stirring until the mixture becomes so stiff that you can see the bottom of the pan when you draw a wooden spoon through it. Spoon into clean hot jars, seal and label.

Friday, 10 September 2010

The White Wines of Madiran - Pacherenc de Vic Bilh

The white wines of Madiran fall under the Pacherenc de Vic Bilh appellation. The name comes from the Gascon Pacherenc which means vine stakes and Vic Bilh is the name of a village. Both dry whites and sweet wines are made – dry whites fall under the name of Pacherenc de Vic Bilh Sec. In the past the wines were known as Portet (named after a village near Vielha).

The Pacherenc is made from the grape varieties Gros Manseng, Petit Manseng, Arrufiac, Petit Corbu and Sauvignon Blanc. The sweet wines are made from late harvested grapes and not from noble rot (as in Sauternes) with a minimum potential alcohol level of 12%, and contain a minimum of 35 grams per litre of residual sugar. Top end sweet Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh wines are usually made from dried grapes.

The grapes are harvested from mid-October through to New Year's Eve and the wine is becoming increasingly popular. This is an old practice – a n edict of 1745 dictated that the Pacherenc harvest must not commence before November 4th. The sweet wines have aromas mixed with spices, honey, quince, ripe pear and tropical fruit and the dry whites have aromas of summer blossoms, lime, grapefruit and apricots.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Madiran – the Pilgrim's Wine

Hugh Johnson said of Madiran that it: "is Gascony's great red wine... After seven or eight years, fine Madiran is truly admirable: aromatic, full of flavour, fluid and lively, well able to withstand comparison with classed growth Bordeaux."

Like Bordeaux these wines have Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon in the blend but the third grape is where they differ: Tannat. Tannat makes a dark, strong flavoured red wine, rich in tannin with an aroma of ripe raspberries that ages gracefully. Interestingly Tannat was used in Bordeaux hundreds of years ago and was reputedly brought to the area from Bordeaux by monks. Fer Servadou is sometimes used in the blend and is locally called Pinenc.

Madiran wine is named after the village of Madiran in Gascony which lies east and south of Bordeaux, and is a part of the South West France wine region. Madiran is one of the oldest wine-growing regions in France and before it was classified as an AOC in 1948 it was known as Vic Bilh. The vineyards lie on the gentle rolling slopes at the foothills of the Pyrenees and the countryside is dotted with oak and chestnut forests. For a long time, the red wine produced here was known as the pilgrims wine, referring to the pilgrims who walked the famous pilgrims path Camino de Santiago to Santiago de Compostela in Galicia in Spain ever since the 11th century.

Wine making in the area goes back even earlier to Roman times and a 3rd century mosaic in the Roman villa of Taron depicts a grapevine. Wine making began in earnest with the founding of the monastery of Madiran in 1030 and for a long time, the red wine produced here was known as the pilgrims’ wine, referring to the pilgrims who walked the famous pilgrims’ path Camino de Santiago to Santiago de Compostela in Galicia in Spain ever since the 11th century.

It's thought that the name Madiran comes from the Latin Dona Maria (Lady Mary) which was the name of the patron saint of the church and the great monastery which existed there. However it's more likely that it comes from a Roman noble named Materius who ruled the lands.

Legend has it that the occupation of Beam by the Black Prince (the eldest son of King Edward III of England and Philippa of Hainault), who became the Prince of Aquitaine in 1360, lead to the English discovery of the wines of Madiran. He encouraged extensive trade with the valleys of the Pyrenees. King Edward III considered it as a wine for special occasions and the heavy oak barrels were transported by cart to Saint-Sever, and then by flat bottomed barge on the Adour to Bayonne. From the port of Bayonne, the wine made the long journey to Northern Europe. From 1688 the Dutch were importing between 1000 and 7000 barrels, followed by other Northern European countries with between 500 and 2000 barrels.

In the 1970s, the INAO limited the share of Tannat in the blend to a maximum of 40%, favouring the use of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Fer Servadou in order to make the wine taste milder and more approachable when young. However, the wine producers fought against this change, their main spokesman was the young winemaker Alain Brumont, who planted 4/5ths Tannat vines on his by now famous estate Château Montus. He experimented with extremely low yields, long skin contact, frequent racking and long barrel maturation. In 1985 he launched the first varietal Tannat red wine to have the format of a Bordeaux, he called it Prestige Cuvée, and attracted a great deal of attention.

In the meantime, many other producers have followed his example, and are experimenting with new methods, such as micro-oxygenation, which was invented here. The technique of micro-oxygenation, was developed by Madiran grower Patrick Ducournau in 1990 and is now widely used across France. It involves bubbling tiny amounts of oxygen through young wines, reducing the ferocity of the tannins and making the wines much smoother. The wine makers have adopted the symbol of the Roman God Janus as their emblem, January is named after him and he had two faces - one looking forward and the other looking backwards.

If you would like to hunt out some wines from Madiran to try for yourself try Wine Searcher – it is a wine search engine that will list all the suppliers and their location of the wine you are searching for. Happy hunting!

Monday, 6 September 2010

Our First Show at Moreton in Marsh

We had a wonderful time at the Show and here is Nick's account of our day!

Our first Show at Moreton in Marsh on Saturday was truly one of the best things we have done at Bordeaux-Undiscovered. It was fantastic to meet our customers who made the journey specially to say “hello” and to see all the visitors who came in to meet us for the very first time. We would all like to say a massive, heart felt “Thank You” to all of you!

It was an early start for us at dawn – and what a dawn it was with the pink sunrise shining through low mist hovering over the Cotswold fields. We brought as many cases of wi
nes as we could possibly fit into the vehicles and 5 oak barrels that Jean Francois Julien had kindly given us courtesy of Chateau la Fleur Morange which we used as tasting tables. Our stand was a large one – and given the amount of visitors we had, I am very glad it was! No sooner than we had arrayed our bottles on the tables and set up spittoons on the barrels than the first visitors arrived. And they didn't stop.

It was a genuine pleasure to enjoy our wines with visitors who were keen to try, discuss and discover in such a generous and positive manner. It was a win
e lover's paradise as far as we were concerned as we could chat with our visitors about what we all got from the wine, what kind of palates they had and which wines suited them. The feed back is very important to us as being an online company it was great to be able to really interact on a personal level and get down to “talking wine”.

It was also brilliant to be able to
share knowledge with existing customers who had not bought particular wines from the website before and let them sample them and explore their preferences. We learned a lot! Clear favourites amongst the red wines were Chateaux Puyanché, Peynaud, Roc de Pellebouc and Toumalin – as well as the single grape varietal wines Montagnac Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Amongst the whites Chateau Laures, Fleur de Luze and M de Malle were very popular as was the Montagnac Chardonnay. The Cremant d'Alsace wines were an eye opener to a lot of visitors who thought that they were as good as any Champagne.

We had no time for lunch or coffee as numbers swelled and I am grateful to my family who were on hand to assist! As the Show drew to a close and people started to drift away back to their cars we began the process of packing up. We were shattered, tired and
rather dumbstruck with the warmth and enthusiasm we had been so lucky to encounter from the people that we had met during the day. Just as we began the arduous task of clearing and packing everything away a group of Romans appeared on the horizon. Fortunately they did not have an invasion on their minds but were in search of refreshment after their successful day entertaining and educating at the Show.

They looked resplendent in their fighting gear
and – yes the swords and daggers were real! Their military sandals though had taken their toll and their feet were aching!

These weary Centurions were from
Roman Tours Ltd who have their base in Chester. They work with Schools, Clubs and Societies giving talks and lectures, providing Roman characters for promotions and re-enactment displays and organising tailor-made events. They were a great bunch and I am glad to say that none of them decided to put us to the sword and – even better – they liked the wine! Their good humour and high spirits were a great boost to our flagging energy as we packed up! To top it all as we drove away a stunning rainbow formed in the dark sky over the Bordeaux-Undiscovered stand. What a day! To everyone we met we'd like to thank you once again for making our first Show so special.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Irouléguy and its Wines

Whilst looking at wines from the south west of France I came across an appellation that I had never encountered before. Being my usual inquisitive self I decided to look a little deeper and I must admit that I have fallen for this amazing AOC. It's name is Irouléguy and it lies in the Lower Navarre and is often referred to as "the smallest vineyard in France, the biggest in the Northern Basque Country".

This is an area of true breath taking beauty and it's an ancient land with dolmens and iron age castles dotting the steep slopes. In fact Basques can trace their roots back to the Stone Age and are one of Europe's most distinct people, fiercely proud of their ancestry and traditions.

Irouléguy lies at the Spanish border with France and the pass through the Pyrenees was used for centuries by Celts, Romans, Visigoths and Carolingians. The Roman road Ab Asturica Burdigalam trailed its way through the mountains linking the towns of Astorga in northern Spain to Bordeaux and the Basque section of the road was still in use when Napoleon invaded Spain between 1808 and 1814 (and was known for a time as the "Route of Napoleon").

In medieval times the Roman road became the Way of St. James used by pilgrims on their way to his shrine at the Santiago de Compostela. It was nicknamed the Milky Way by travellers, as it followed the Milky Way to the Atlantic Ocean. You can see scallop shells on many of the surrounding town's heraldic crests – these shells were the emblem of St James, and Christians making the pilgrimage often wore a scallop shell symbol on their hat or clothes. The pilgrim also carried a scallop shell with him, and would present himself at churches, castles and abbeys where he could expect to be given as much sustenance as he could pick up with one scoop. Probably he would be given oats, barley, and perhaps beer or wine.

The history of wine making in the area goes back to at least the 3rd century when the Romans commented on wine making in Irouléguy. It was boosted by the Augustinian monks of the Abbey of Roncesvalles in the 11th century who planted the first large scale vineyards to provide wine for pilgrims travelling along the Way of St James.

Irouléguy nearly came under British rule when Sancho the Wise and Richard Lionheart agreed to divide the country, (Richard the Lionheart married the Basque princess Berengaria of Navarre – she was quite a character and accompanied her husband on the Third Crusade). There is another Basque link to Britain – it seems that we are descended from them.

DNA evidence gathered in the last decade has shown that many Britons share a gene pool that can be traced back to the Basque. Around three-quarters of the Welsh, Irish, Scots and English can be traced to those who arrived from the Basque country between 7,500 and 15,000 years ago. It's a shame that we have not yet discovered more of their wines – something that will change I hope!

The vines in Irouléguy are grown on terraces between 100-400m above sea-level and although the soils vary, one of the chief characteristics of the soils in the region is a deep red coloration. The steep slopes can have inclines of up to 60° and this has led to the development of special growing and terracing techniques by Basque wine-growers with the vines grown on trellising. Red, rosé and white wines are made from Tannat (Bordelesa Beltza), Cabernet Franc (Axeria) and Cabernet Sauvignon (Axeria Handia), Courbu Blanc (Xuri Zerratia) Petit Manseng (Izkiriota Ttipia) and Gros Manseng (Izkiriota).

Of the 15 wine-growing municipalities in the Irouléguy region, only the following nine grow Irouléguy vines on a total of approx 210 hectares: Anhaux, Saint-Étienne-de-Baïgorry, Ascarat, Irouléguy, Bidarrai, Ispoure, Jaxu and Saint-Martin-d'Arrossa. The wines are said to have a strong character, combining power and generosity - reds are said to have flavours of blackberry, liquorice and violet and the whites are fragrant and fresh.

Now, my mission is to taste one!