Thierry Richoux Irancy 2014
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.
2014 was a year for maxims in Burgundy. One was the ‘don’t count your chickens’ warning. And another, a keystone in Burgundy wine making, was ‘September makes the wine’. Simple truths to heed.
After three very small harvests, Burgundy urgently needed to fill its cellars. And despite some heart-breaking setbacks and a growing season that was jumbled in disorder, a decent amount of wine was produced. Not enough, of course. But ‘correct’, as the French would say.
There was no winter to speak of, followed by a mild and sunny period from February through April that saw some rain, but less than normal. The vine got going early, and talk was of a late August harvest.
But May was cool and rainy, which slowed the development. The vine began to flower in the last week of May in the southern part of the region. So at that point, counting the traditional 100 days from flowering to harvest, picking would start in early September. The weather during the flowering period was sunny and warm with just enough rain for this critical period to unfold and to finish.
And then early June was hot. Summer hot. As June was in 2003, some have said. This speeded things up. The flowering in the northern part of the region, and in those vineyards at higher altitudes, got a kick that would help them to phenolic maturity later.
With these conditions, fruit began to appear soon thereafter, and by the end of June small grapes had formed and clustered. The hot dry conditions however led to both millerandage (unevenly formed bunches made up of normal grapes and thick-skinned seedless berries ) and coulure (buds that never flowered), both of which reduce the overall crop, but which can give concentration to the remaining fruit.
Flowering and fruit set was certainly among the earliest of the past twenty years, with as much as a week head start on what would be considered normal here. And if you compare 2013 to 2014, we were three weeks in advance.
Then disaster struck. At the end of June, a series of violent hail storms ripped through the region. One in the Cote de Nuits, where parts of Nuits and Chambolle-Musigny were hit with 20% crop loss. The other two in the Cote de Beaune: the first, widespread, ranging from Meursault in the south and on up to the Corton Mountain and Savigny les Beaune, caused substantial damage; the other, painfully localized, tore through the premier cru hillsides of Pommard and Volnay. The latter was the newsmaker, with up to 80% crop damage in some sectors, but also because this was the third consecutive year that Pommard and Volnay had been seriously damaged. There have been subsequent financial worries for small producers who were not insured.
Yet, despite these disasters, from Macon to Chablis there was a serious crop on the vines. Weather in July was mixed. Hot and sunny, then cloudy and cool. Constant rumblings of thunder in the distance kept everyone on edge.
Hail damage often leads to mildew, so vigilant vineyard work was crucial as the rains came and August turned cool, wet and gloomy, more like winter than the previous winter had been. Maturity stalled on the vine. And with the ever-present risk of rot cast a pall on the chill August air.
As we reached September, with fingers crossed, Burgundians put their hopes in the maxim that ‘September makes the wine’. Because in 2014, it was make or break. We needed a glorious September, and that’s exactly what we got. Light, warm northerly winds. Warm days, cool nights. Everything needed to salvage the potential mess that August had served up. In the end, we had the best harvest conditions that we have seen in many years.
Picking started on 8 September in the south, around the 15th in the Cote and Chablis, and finished around the 26th in the Hautes Cotes.
The crop came in healthy. There was no rot. And with normal sorting work in the winery (mostly where there had been hail damage) we brought in one of the healthiest harvests in recent years. The whites are balanced and intense. The reds show good ripe fruit. Some say the best vintage since 2009. A miracle!
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.