Up in the steep foot-hills of the Pyrennees on the Southern side of Pau is situated the vineyard of Jurancon (700 ha spread over 25 villages), famous since for its luscious sweet wines. I remember when I first started in the wine trade at the traditional wine merchants Lay & Wheeler in Colchester we used to sell a dry white wine from Jurancon and a sweeter version. It is the sweet Jurancon that is traditionally produced in these sunny hillsides by small producers. Vineyards are located in between meadows full of flowers and fruit orchards. We visited Jurancon on a sunny weekend in February. The vineyards were bordered with spring flowers and Mimosa and blossom adorned the trees unseasonally early.
We met a young Jurancon producer, Jean-Bernard Larrieu from Clos Lapeyre in the charming village of La Chapelle de Rousse. He had taken over from his father a decade or two before and had made the decision not to continue selling his grapes to the local cooperative but to start making wines himself – bio to boot. He trained in Bordeaux to be an oenologist but was happy to get back to the openness of the Jurancon producers who are happy to join forces and market their products in unison. The Maison des Vins du Jurancon at Lacommande acts as a centre for tasting and events. They even organize poetry get-togethers in the cellars combining of course the other local delicacy, foie gras. Its richness marries wonderfully with the region’s delicious apricot-sweet but refreshingly acidic moelleux and liquoreux (sweetest category) wines Most producers employ an open doors policy for visitors.
The key grape varieties are Petit (noblest) and Gros Manseng. No botrytis here. The grapes are left super long on the vines to benefit from the warm sunny autumn further warmed up by the warm wind funnelled up from Spain, the ‘Vent Balaguer’. This helps to dehydrate the grapes which literally ‘raisin’ on the vine. The sweetest wines benefit from an added sugar boost by being left in trays (originally on straw mats) in the sun – ‘passerillage’. Harvesting is done mid November and the sweetest wines are not harvested until December.
Eight of us (half kids under six) descended unannounced on a early Spring Saturday afternoon. The kids were given their own wine (local Bio apple juice) and played happily with Bachus his patient dog. The adults meanwhile enjoyed the region’s real nectar.
2006 Lapeyre Sec, Jurancon 100% Gros Manseng: Light and fresh with its citrus aromas. High level of acidity which gives a delicious minerality to the wine. (also do a Petit and Gros Manseng blend in oak which is complex and serious stuff). 2005 Lapeyre Moelleux, Jurancon; 60% Gros Manseng and 40% Petit Manseng. Picked in successive tries. Only the grapes which are ‘passerillees’ are picked. Wonderful balance of sweetness with a dried apricot acidity which gives the wine a freshness and overall balance. Delicious as an aperitif or with foie gras. 2003 Cuvee Exceptionelle Vent Balaguer (50cl)Incredibly rich but with wonderful balance from the refreshing high acidity. Very complex. Awe inspiring!
Chapelle de Rousse