Actually, I should clarify that I am not actually in Basqueland. My travel plans for the month of February include a comfortable armchair, a copy of Mark Kurlansky’s A Basque History of the World and a few tasty bottles of wine from this breathtakingly beautiful and rugged country. Below are two selections from the Basque appellations of Iroulegey and the Jurancon, located at the base of the Pyrenees in southwest France. I am sure you will appreciate them, both for their sense of terroir and for being dang tasty. Please read on! Clos Lapeyre in Jurançon is a 12-hectare domaine owned by the Larrieu family. The goal of owner/winemaker Jean-Bernard Larrieu is to produce wines that express the specificity of the grape varieties (namely gros and petit manseng) and the soils (clay/limestone and silex) found on his steeply planted vines (250 meters!). The 2004 Domaine Lapeyre Jurancon Sec ORGANIC ($13.99) comes in a nifty screw cap, and oh what fun it is to drink! Comprised of 100% gros manseng, this is a firm, mineral-driven white with notes of fresh herbs, green apple and quince. This Basque white is delicate and refreshing, however its complexity and concentration will undoubtedly impress you. Enjoy a glass while cooking dinner, or pair with Basque style sizzling garlic shrimp! One of the most picturesque and breathtaking villages in all of France MUST be Irouleguy! Rustically inspired Basque-style architecture as well as amazing wine and food lend a uniqueness to this village. The 2003 Iroulegey Rouge Domaine Illaria ORGANIC ($13.99), from winemaker Peio Espil is a blend of cabernet sauvignon, tannat and cabernet franc. This is not a massive, oak-laden fruit bomb but rather a medium-bodied red with notes of crunchy cherry, plum and black currant. A perfect match for hearty dishes like roast lamb in rosemary sauce or a traditional Basque-inspired grilled filet mignon with roasted red peppers. Enjoy a glass of this delicious and authentic red and take a trip to Basque country! —Mulan Chan
Psst...wanna know about one of the best kept secrets in French wine? Rhone whites! You will absolutely fall in love, LOVE, with the following terrific, overachieving whites. Try one, or try them all! 2004 Domaine Combier Crozes-Hermitage Blanc ORGANIC ($17.99) Fleshy marsanne is in evidence in this honeyed, thick and luscious northern Rhone white that is held together with a long, tight seam of minerals and grippy acidity. The nose is effusive with white flowers and hints of ripe nectarine. Enjoy this elegant white before a traditional Provencal meal or a St. Marcellin cheese. 2004 Costieres de Nimes Chateau Grande Cassagne Blanc ($9.99) Grenache blanc and roussanne are behind this crisp and rich white from the South of France. The very floral nose will set you squarely in the southern Rhone, at a village market, say, where lavender and white flowers mingle with green olives and citrus. A tingle of oak on the finish adds complexity and remains a backnote. Perfect with brandade or a slice of fougasse (flatbread with onion, black olive and anchovy). 2004 Côtes du Rhone Blanc Domaine de la Becassonne ($13.99) Châteauneuf-du-Pape legend Andre Brunel fashions this rich, full-bodied Rhone white from 50% roussanne, 30% clarette and 20% grenache blanc. This offers aromas of sweet honeysuckle and flavors of apricots, peaches and minerals. Pair with virtually any Provencal fare, including roast chicken, fennel roasted pork loin, picholine olives! A truly exceptional wine value from the South of France! —Mulan Chan
2004 Highfield Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough New Zealand ($13.99) This is a new offering in our portfolio of Kiwi sauvignon blancs, and a fine one indeed. Meticulous vineyard work and grape selection along with cold fermentation contribute to the perfumed nose of lime blossom, pink grapefruit, red bell pepper and minerals. 2004 Thorn Clarke Terra Barossa “Importers Reserve” Cabernet Sauvignon Barossa Valley South Australia ($10.99) It’s tough to find good cabernet at this price, but once again they deliver. The bouquet shows notes of plum, cherry, black current, earth and a hint of herbs. Aged in French oak, there are hints of spice along with the fruit character framed by supple tannins leading to a fine finish. 2003 d’Arenberg “Laughing Magpie” Shiraz-Viognier McLaren Vale South Australia ($19.99) A blend of shiraz co-fermented with 6% viognier. Showing aromas of honeysuckle, marmalade, blackberry, and a hint of pencil lead, on the palate this is full bodied with wonderful balance, fine dusty tannins and great length. This is a superb price. I’d recommend putting some aside to drink over the next 3-5 years. 2002 Penfolds Bin 389 Shiraz-Cabernet South Australia ($18.99) Know as Baby Grange or Poor Man’s Grange, this wine shows elements of pepper, earth, black cherry, cassis, current and notes of cedar, spice box and mocha. I had the 1986 of this wine not long ago and it was absolutely terrific. A great cellar candidate, too! —Jimmy C
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