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Jean-Luc Barnabet: Restaurateur


The wines of the Auxerrois region of Burgundy have a long history. The famous César grape variety so synonymous with the region has left its trace. In the roman remains of the village of Escolives-Sainte-Camille, only a few kilometres from Irancy, one can see a sculpted frieze showing a figure working on a vine. Most probably César. The very same grape variety remains today part of the uniqueness of the Irancy AOC.

During the midde ages the river Yonne became navigable and the wines of the region saw a rapid expansion of their commercial market. Reputation and success followed. However, success does not always all bring only advantages. The huge demand saw an increase in planting throughout the Auxerrois region with a focus on larger yielding varieties. By the 18th century the wines, previously so much in demand, had become mediocre and cheap. In the late 19th century the phyloxera crisis added to this situation putting an end to much of the production in the region.

It is only in the 20th century that the wines of one village, Irancy, start progressively to re-find their quality and in particular thanks to one parcel of vineyard known as ‘Palotte’. Thanks also to the plantation of mainly Pinot Noir. The grape variety César remained but only in very small quantities.

The long quest for quality in Irancy led it from a regional ‘Bourgogne Irancy’ in 1977 to the accordance of AOC Village status in 1999: Appéllation Irancy Contrôlée.
It was at this time that I discovered this region when my wife Mary and I opened our restaurant ‘La Petite Auberge’ in the neighbouring village of Vaux.

Irancy was the best seller on my wine list. I have to admit that I was lucky enough to be on very good terms with several wine producers which allowed me to offer a large selection of Irancy wines and several older wines. Irancy wines have no problem with ageing!

I also used Irancy extensively in my recipes. The red wine sauce accompanying my burgundy snails in a meurette sauce was a great success as was my roasted veal livers. I also used Irancy to poach figs in spices to accompany wild duck or simply to serve as a dessert with autumn fruits. I also used the lees to make a sweet and thick deeply coloured vinaigrette to accompany a gratin of pig’s foot salad.

Throughout the years I have seen Irancy wines progress. From father to son and over time, the work in the vineyards has improved. Vinification methods have become more precise and climatic change has helped in improving the maturity of the grapes before picking.
Moreover, and as is often the case, competition seems to me in the end to be a positive force; Irancy wine producers work several parcels of vines and if in the past, the tendency was to assemble wines from a selection of grapes from these parcels, today we see a tendency to vinify parcels of vines separately, to accentuate the nuances in expression of each terroir: Palotte of course. But also Mazelots, Côte de Moutier, Paradis, Les Cailles etc…

Just how far one should favour these ‘cru’ wines at the risk of the less known? If the cult of excellence is largely a positive one it can also have some limitations. The average price must be representative of the appellation as a whole and it is the whole of the appellation which, in the end, should be appreciated. The debate is open and history is still being made in Irancy.

Jean-Luc Barnabet, 27 July 2015