Wines of the Jura – A Very Brief Overview

Earlier this week I attended a seminar and tasting of the wines of the Jura wine region in France, organized by Evan Saviolidis of  Wine Savvy Consultants, who also led the seminar, and the Good Food Revolution.  I didn’t know much about Jura’s wines as we see very little of them in Ontario, so I was intrigued by this tasting.  I had heard about Vin Jaune, Jura’s most famous wine, and some of the region’s unique indigenous grape varieties, Poulsard, Trousseau, and Savagnin, but I had never had the chance to try them.  The seminar and tasting gave myself and numerous other wine-industry-folk the opportunity to experience the wines of the Jura.  The event certainly opened my eyes to some of the interesting wines out there in the world that unfortunately, we have very little access too.  The following is some of what I learned.

Jura is sandwiched between Burgundy to the west and Switzerland to the east and is basically an 80 km long stretch of land encompassing 100 villages and around 200 vineyards.  A wide variety of wine styles is made in Jura – Cremant du Jura (sparkling wine made in the traditional method); dry whites, reds, and rosés; Vin Jaune (Golden wine); Vin de Paille (sweet); and Macvin du Jura (a Mistelle).

There are 6 AOCs in Jura:  Arbois, Chateau Chalon (only for Vin Jaune), L’Etoile, The Côtes du Jura, Macvin du Jura, and Crémant du Jura.

There are 5 permitted grape varieties in the AOCs of Jura: Savagnin, Poulsard, Trousseau, Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay.

Tasting Notes from the Seminar:

Poulsard:  The second most widely planted grape in the Jura.  This grape has thin skins giving a very pale coloured wine with red berry aromatics.  It is often blended with Pinot Noir and/or Trousseau to give colour.

Domaine de la Borde Poulsard Arbois 2005: A pale garnet colour with aromas of mushroom, sour cherry, earth, mint, and spice.  Fairly light body, low tannins and good acidity with a lingering finish.

Trousseau: A difficult grape that needs to be planted on the warmest sites with lots of sunshine in order to ripen fully.  It’s often blended with Poulsard which can add finesse.  The grapes are a deep black colour producing wine that is darker and more tannic than Poulsard, and is suitable for extended ageing.

Domaine Rolet Nos Vendanges Trousseau Arbois 2006:  Still quite a pale garnet colour despite this grape supposedly giving darker wine.  Very savoury notes on the nose with a distinct herbaceous character.  Aromas of oregano, celery salt, cranberry, and cherry dominate.  Very savoury on the palate as well with light body, silky tannins, and a crisp acidity.

Pinot Noir: One of the most dependable vines in the Jura, Pinot Noir has been grown there since the 15th century – not surprising since it is so close to Burgundy.  It is planted on 13% of vineyard space and is used to make 37% of the red wines of the Jura.

Benoit Badoz Pinot Noir Arbois-Pupillin 2008: Pupillin is a specific village that is allowed to append its name to Arbois.  A medium ruby colour (surprising that the Pinot Noir in this tasting is the darkest red!).  This wine shows aromas of black licorice, cherry, damp earth, and brown spice.  Light in body and high in acid with an earthy, herbaceous character.

Chardonnay: Also known locally as Melon d’Arbois, Moular, and Gamay Blanc.  Chardonnay has been grown in the Jura since the 10th century and is now the most planted variety.

Marcel Cabelier Chardonnay Côtes du Jura 2005:  Medium gold in colour this wine displays a slightly oxidized, Sherry character that is typical of many white wines from the Jura.  Complex aromas of vanilla, butter, brioche, pear, dried green apple, and a nutty note are evident.  Good acidity and a long finish.

Savagnin:  Probably the most well-known grape of the Jura as it is used in the production of Vin Jaune.  Apparently this grape is a close relation to Alsace’s Traminer grape.  It’s a slow ripening grape that is often picked about 15 days later than other varieties.

Stephane Tissot Savagnin Arbois 2007:  This wine did age for a time under ‘voile’ but was aged for only 3 years so it is not Vin Jaune, which must be aged for 6 years and 3 months.  Shows similar characteristics of Vin Jaune with pungent aromas of nuts, dried apple, straw, and dried herbs.  Intense flavour on the palate with good acidity and a very long length.

Vin Jaune and Vin de Paille:

Vin Jaune (golden wine) is made only with Savagnin grapes and is considered to be one of the world’s great wines.  It is the ageing process that makes this wine so very special.  The wine must be aged for a minimum of 6 years and 3 months in oak casks.  During this time, the wine is not topped up or racked.  As in the production of some Sherry, a veil of yeast, called “La Voile”, forms on the surface of the wine protecting it from oxidation.  The ‘voile’ grows more slowly and thinly than the ‘flor’ in Jerez, Spain.  Since there is no topping up of the wine, as in the Solera system, the yeast dies earlier than in Jerez.  Vin Jaune is very reminiscent of Sherry, but it is not fortified.  It is then bottled in unique 620 ml bottles called “Clavelins”.  Vin Jaune can be paired with numerous cheeses, including the local Comté cheese, dishes with creamy mushroom sauces, foie gras, snails, walnuts, and dried fruit.

Chateau d’Arlay Côtes due Jura Vin Jaune 2003:  A beautifully pungent nose of almonds, dried fruit, brine, river stone, and dried herbs.  Bone-dry and intense on the palate with a long finish.

Vin de Paille (straw wine) is made using a unique process to dry the grapes prior to pressing and fermentation.  The best grapes are left to dry on a bed of straw or on wicker racks that are suspended from the rafters for a minimum of 6 weeks.  During this time, the grapes dehydrate, concentrating the sugars in the juice of the grapes.  When the grapes are finally pressed the resulting must is very sweet so fermentation takes place very slowly.  The resulting sweet wine is then aged in barrel for 3 years.  Vin de Paille can be made in the AOC appellations of The Côtes du Jura, Arbois, and L’Etoile.  Vin de Paille is great with foie gras, chocolate, and other desserts.

Chateau d’Arlay Cotes du Jura Vin de Paille 2005:  Very nutty on the nose with dried yellow fruit and dried herbs.  Medium-sweet with enough acid to balance the sugar and make this wine quite refreshing.

2 responses

  1. Hello, it seems as though the Jura is on an offensive, they just held events in Montreal and Quebec City this week.

    I sampled some fine vin de paille, and as much as I recognized the qualities, I was not won over to the paille side.

    That having been said, I found that the wine making there when it came to wines made especially from Chardonnay the quality of the region really shined. I am particularly turned on by the 100% Chardonnay “Creamants” de Jura. Cramy with pear and other fruit notes – great bubbles to go along with charcuterie hors d’oeuvres.

    • Hi Steve,

      Thanks for the comment. I think the wines of Jura are really trying to market themselves to the rest of the world and take advantage of the growing global interest in wine. I know they are also doing many events in NYC. Good for them!

      I was more impressed by the Vin Jaune than the Vin de Paille as well. I really enjoyed the style of the Vin Jaune as I am gaining more and more appreciation for Sherry and similar wines. I find the whole ageing process under a veil of yeast to be fascinating.

      I agree with you about the Cremant du Jura. Very tasty indeed and very food friendly!
      Sarah

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