The village of Irancy, one of the prettiest in all of Burgundy, is also famous for its black cherries. We’re not sure if it is subliminal, but this Irancy from Thierry Richoux always has a deep backdrop of black cherry. Floral and fine, it is a masterful wine from one of the great domains of Burgundy. Remember who told you that!
THIERRY RICHOUX IRANCY
On slopes above the Yonne river valley, 15 km from Chablis, a handful of winemakers are cultivating a reputation for red Burgundy at the northernmost limit of possibility. While Chablis, of course, is famous and white, Irancy has always been red and has always lived in the shadow of a bigger Burgundy. But Thierry Richoux, and his father Jean-Claude before him produce wines that will make you do a double take.
BURGUNDY 2017 VINTAGE
If 2016 tested the faith and resolve of wine makers in Burgundy, 2017 has to be seen as recompense, and as a miracle of sorts. While the rest of wine-growing Europe suffered crippling late-spring frosts in 2017, Burgundy for the most part (for once!) survived.
A mild winter and an accelerated spring left the Burgundy vineyards in a vulnerable position when, in the second half of April, temperatures across France barely rose above freezing for two weeks.
Three hard-frost nights pretty much did in Right Bank Chablis once again. But as the rest of Burgundy survived the first week, the growers found the will to fight back. And on the night of April 27th, a year and a day after the 2016 frost that took 80% of the 2016 harvest, a severe frost was forecast for the length of the Cote d’Or.
It’s now a part of local legend how, on the following morning, we awoke in a thick cloud of smoke. In the early hours, from north to south, the vignerons had mobilized to set alight dampened bales of hay, sending up a cloud cover to filter the first burning rays of dawn. And it worked.
The air was thick, and driving was tricky. A customer at the butcher shop in Meursault jokingly asked for a smoked chicken. And, of course, the authorities were up in arms over the pollution risks. But the crop was saved, and there has been ever since a spirit of cooperation and solidarity not often seen in farming communities.
After the freeze, May brought in an extended period of warm dry weather. No mildew or oidium to speak of, no thunderstorms or hail. Sunny periods, but no lack of rain. And the vines went in to flower at a very-normal first week of June. Pretty much ideal.
July had a couple of heat spikes, and a hailstorm hit the fancy vineyards in Morey St Denis on the 10th. But nothing worse. August was warm; the lead up to the harvest at the end of the month, hot and dry.
The first grapes were picked in the Cote de Beaune in the last few days of August. And most everyone was out picking in the first week of September.
There was (as there often is in Burgundy) serious disagreement in 2017 about when to pick. Do you pick early to preserve the acid-sugar balance and freshness? Or do you hang in there and wait for a little rain to kick-start a stalled photosynthesis, and thereby achieve the holy grail of phenolic maturity?
It’s hard to say who was right. There are very good wines coming from both camps. But there are iffy wines too. And that’s the key to understanding 2017.
Picked early, the best wines, both red and white, are fresh, fruit-driven and floral with long minerality. The iffy wines seem not have adjusted for the solid levels of tartaric acid which left them tart rather than bright, dry and tannic rather than juicy.
Picking late did not seem to have an effect on the balance between alcohol and acidity. But then, there was no ‘over maturity’ in 2017. The extra phenolic maturity seems to mean more density and riper tannins, with no sign of flabbiness.
The whites shine, particularly in hard-done Chablis (where there is better balance even than the marvelous 2014s). In the rest of Burgundy, the whites have the tension of 2014 but the open flattery of 2015.
The reds are juicy and crisp and open, and the regional appellations will be ready to drink soon. More serious appellations will be considered ‘typical’, in the best sense of the word: classic wines from a vintage that Burgundians will love. They are likely to be lost in the hub-bub that the 2018s will bring. But the yields were good in 2017, so you will be able to find them for a while. And you’ll do well to seek them out.
Irancy, in the Grand Auxerrois district of the department of Yonne, stands on the right bank of the Yonne some fifteen kilometers south of Auxerre and south-west of Chablis. It is typical of the wine-growing villages of the district, though one of the few to specialize in red wine only.. It was raised to the status of a village appellation, which it shares with the neighboring villages of Cravant and Vincelottes, in 1999.
On the label, the appellation Irancy may be followed by the name of a specific vineyard, known as a climat (named plot) from which the wine comes may appear immediately beneath the word Irancy in letters no larger than half the size.
The following climats are village wines from a single vineyard known as a lieu-dit:
Côte du Moutier
Irancy is a red wine made from Pinot Noir grapes. But winemakers may choose to include in its composition up to 10% of César, a traditional grape of this district. Rich in tannins, lively in color, César gives the wine more color and tannic structure than Pinot Noir alone. Cesar alone is dark crimson, whereas pure-Pinot Irancy tends to be a more delicate ruby. It is uncanny how this wine has aromas of the same cherry variety that is grown in the hills in and among the vines. Sometimes floral or peppery, Irancy at its best is marked by well-defined structure and good acid balance For all their finesse, these can be wines slow to open, as tannins melt into a velvety roundness.
The hill-slopes form a bowl surrounding the beginnings of a plateau below where the river Yonne cuts through. The slopes are for the most part composed of Kimmeridgian marls with an mixture of brown limestone soils. Here Pinot Noir flourishes at altitudes of 130-150 metres. Exposures vary, mostly southerly or south-westerly. Some climats have long been recognized as being of particularly interesting.
Reds only - Pinot Noir and César
The César grape, of which there are some 5 hectares in the Irancy appellation, is said to have been brought here by the Roman. It is a vigorous variety which produces largish bunches of black grapes. On its own it makes a deep colored wine with red-fruit aromas and fairly rustic tannins.
Production surface area
1 hectare (ha) = 2.4 acres
Irancy can be either solid or lacy (pretty much depending on the presence or absence of the Cesar grape), so matching them with food is a case-by-case decision. More tannic young Irancy would match grilled, even barbecued meats. While the more delicate versions are excellent with charcuterie: pâtés, terrines and saucisson. The cheese board could include almost any of the regional cheeses: Coulommiers, Brie de Meaux, Chaource, Langres, Époisses, Soumaintrain.