Saturday, October 30, 2010

Irouléguy "Ohitza," Domaine Brana 2003

Yesterday would have been my friend Marc's 38th birthday — should have been — had he not lost his life to cancer three weeks ago. I wrote about what it meant to me then, a part of my process of mourning and a way of paying respect to a great guy who I didn't appreciate nearly enough when he was still with us. Last night I was aiming more simply, wanting to celebrate his birthday like we should have, with good food and wine. While I thought about opening something "special" for the occasion, I ended up changing my mind, instead opting for something that made me think of him, something that I can remember him selling and discussing with just as much animation as did I back in the years when we worked together on a semi-regular basis. It just felt right. Happily, the wine did too.

Irouléguy "Ohitza," Domaine Brana 2003
$15 on release. 13% alcohol. Composite cork. Importer: Wine Traditions, Falls Church, VA.

Though arguably better known for their top-notch eaux de vie than for their wines, Domain Brana produce high-quality, traditional and expressive examples of Irouléguy in all three colors. The entry-level of their three reds, "Ohitza" is a fairly typical Irouléguy blend of Tannat (50%), Cabernet Franc (30%), and Cabernet Sauvignon (20%), all of which is manually harvested and completely destemmed before undergoing a 15-20 day fermentation followed by about a year of aging in previously used barrels.

Here's a $15 wine (a few years back at any rate) that's not merely lasted five-plus years but actually rewarded the time and patience spent in the cellaring. It's also an excellent example of wine from the oft scorned 2003 vintage. Where the heat and drought of the year brought out over-ripe, over-cooked flavor and structural tendencies in many a region, here in Irouléguy, at least in this case, the vintage conditions simply brought out a touch more roundness and generosity than in a more typical growing season. The wine is still fantastically balanced, as evidenced by a more than solid showing over the course of the last two days. When we're talking about terraced vineyards cut into 65% gradients on a meager soil base (red-hued, mica-flecked sandstone) at reasonably high-elevation, perhaps a hot year isn't such a bad thing.

That generosity of which I wrote showed most clearly when I first opened the bottle with dinner last night. Rich blackberry fruit mingled with aromas of rosemary and leather — not the dirty, brett-y side of the leather spectrum, just a resolved (and quite attractive) aspect of the inherently savage character of Tannat and Cabernet Franc grown in the Basque country. The longer it had to open up, the more aromatic and, seemingly, terroir expressive it became. Clove and cherry stones after about an hour; leafy, spicy, tree bark aromatics and red currant fruit another half-hour later. Tonight, it was still rock solid and just as, if not even more so, aromatically open, redolent of iron and drying tobacco leaves, showing less overt spice, more earth/mineral clarity.

Suffice it to say it was a damn nice bottle. And yes again, it definitely felt right.


Michael Hughes said...

I love that you celebrated your friend by opening something that spoke of him rather than a "splurge". That's sweet & seems to be more meaningful. Plus the wine sounds outstanding.

David McDuff said...

The wine was excellent beyond expectations, Michael. And you're right on in terms of the feeling behind the selection. Thanks for stopping by.

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