During my earlier tour of Chablis domaines, I tasted the Irancy of Simonnet Febvre – for my palate, it was clearly the most interesting wine they had in their cellar. It’s really in homage to that wine, that I decided to do a large blind tasting of 2012 Irancy – was it good enough to spend time with the growers? Of-course it was! Fortunately (for me) that Simonnet Febvre also made the cut when tasted blind too! Here is that note on that wine from back in April, the one that started it all off:
2012 Simonnet Febvre, Irancy
Here is a really beautiful nose of fresh fruit and energy – pinot fruit. I find this aroma really compelling. In the mouth it’s round, slightly padded and seemingly of modest acidity, yet plenty of flavour. I’d drink this straight away as a brilliant aperitif!
Irancy in perspective
The first historical note of this small village comes from the 9th century. The village lies at the base of a small amphitheater of hills, and here on these hillsides are the vines. We are only 15 kilometres from Chablis, but, facing to the west, we are also only 60 km from Sancerre!
Irancy is rather picturesque; the vineyards punctuated by rows of cherry trees – thirty years ago there were even more trees, but the grape is slowly taking over. That said, there are just 159 hectares of potential vineyard surrounding the village – a few metres further, beyond the village boundary, and the label changes to Bourgogne Côtes d’Auxerre. There is a little chardonnay and also gamay for passetoutgrains grown here, but like the local rosé (an old tradition here), this carries a ‘Bourgogne’ label. Amongst literally dozens of lieu-dits, Irancy may have some well-known (better) vineyards, Palotte being the most famous, but the Irancy appellation allows only ‘Villages’ wine – there are no premier or grand crus. Yields of 50 hl/ha are allowed here, but elevage must be at least 1 year or, again, the Irancy label is exchanged for Bourgogne. You will note from the producer visits in this ‘report’ that recent yields are significantly lower. The village and its vines are protected from the north winds due to the shape of its ‘amphitheatre’ – only the winds from the south can directly enter the valley – this makes it a much drier climate than nearby Chablis – similar to Alsace. A near neighbour of Irancy is Saint Bris – famous for its Burgundian Sauvignon Blanc – and the two appellations border each other in various places. Two other village areas also touch on, and partly have vines allowed to wear an Irancy label; Vincelottes and Cravant.
Irancy actually received its AOC on the 7th May 2000, so the earliest cuvées that saw the Irancy label were 2-year-elevaged 1998s – before it was a simple Bourgogne label.
Despite what I find to be a fine character and brilliant value, the wines are little known outside France, indeed, little known outside of Paris. Irancy is directly connected to Paris by water so as much as 80% of the wine of the appellation has, for hundreds of years, found a home there. Very little is exported, despite local price tags of €9-15…
One of the most unusual characteristics of Irancy, is that another grape is allowed to be part of the red blend – cesar. There are about 5 hectares of cesar, dotted around the Irancy vignoble but it is limited to a maximum of 10% in any blend – more and the resultant wine will lose it’s AOC – but 0% is also allowed with an Irancy label.
Growers will tell you that cesar ‘adds a little punch’ to Irancy wine, perhaps some rusticity too. The mature cesar grapes are more like table-grapes in size you can compare the rounder leaves of cesar to pinot, in the left-hand, and add plenty of tannin and colour to the wine, and some say some spicy pepper to the nose too. But cesar is not the easiest to combine with pinot noir, it flowers a little earlier so is more sensitive to frost, and it reaches maturity later too. One grower who has no cesar confides “It’s a bit too complicated to combine with pinot.” Yet other growers seem to cope.
There are just 11 vignerons in Irancy, who make Irancy – there are, of-course, others outside (such as Simonnet Febvre) who produce. There is a similar ‘machine harvesting culture’ here in Irancy that you will find Chablis, only 6 domaines in Irancy have manual harvesting, confides a manual grower! I largely turn a blind-eye to that in Chablis, as (I believe!) chardonnay is more tolerant of machines than pinot – in the interests of science(!) I chose to do the same when tasting in Irancy and let the wines speak on their own!
There’s a character to the wines of Irancy that some vignerons try to soften and make a little ‘easier’ – many call the wines rustic, yet the tannins are not particularly astringent, grainy or furry. If I was to pick the nearest style of red from the Côte d’Or, I’d say Chassagne for the herbal aromatic element and the dark-fruited muscle of the palate. Maybe Irancy isn’t always as concentrated, but Irancy is also allowed to produce with 50 hl/ha! Versus Chassagne, I find that Irancy offers a more consistently pretty floral aromatic dimension too.
Essentially a great Irancy can be, and usually is, cheaper than a so-so Bourgogne rouge from a Côte d’Or producer and very often will show more character. They might not be the easiest wines to locate, but they deserve your attention…
Enjoy the notes and reports from domaines in Irancy in this issue, and to finish, a few views of Irancy: