Our friends John & Carolyn Scallan who run a classy Chambre d’Hote (sounds so much better than a B&B) at www.bandb-burgundy.com have provided us with an excellent introduction to the wines of the Jura, a less well-travelled area of France and one where the wines and grape varieties are even less well-known. To get this sort of insight from people who have the opportunity to get to know the area and its wines so well is worth a lot.
“Now”, in the words of a famous TV programme of yesteryear, “for something completely different”. Wines of the Jura. There will be those who think “They’ve gone barmy. Jura makes excellent Malt Whiskies but wine???” Trust us. The Jurassian wines are, in our opinion, a virtually undiscovered gem. The whole production of the areas vineyards amounts to just less than 1% of the French annual wine production and that means that for the most part even the French remain blissfully unaware of the regions produce.
The Jura has three grape varieties that are grown nowhere else in France. Trousseau and Poulsard (or Ploussard if you’re in the village of Pupillin) produces grapes for red wines, whilst the Savagnin produces grapes for whites and the regions speciality wine, Vin Jaune.
Cotes du Jura is the regions standard. The white is made from the ubiquitous Chardonnay but tastes as unlike a Chablis as you can get. Here you start finding out that Jura wines are different. This wine should be drunk cool, but not cold. Approx 30 minutes in the fridge is enough. L’Etoile (approx 10 miles from here) is high on the list of best areas. The Chateaux at Quintigny, L’Etoile or Arlay will each supply you a tasting with pleasure. The red is made predominantly of the Pinot Noir grape with an addition of Poulsard to give a distinctive colour and slightly lighter body. There is some Pinot Noir made on it’s own and the best we have found is from Chevassu’s vineyard at Menetru Le Vignoble. This can be a strong wine in years of serious sunshine, e.g. 2003 but is also an easy going very fruity wine in other years. Try his 2004, the 2003’s all gone.
Poulsard and Trousseau both produce red wines although in years without a huge amount of sun these reds are more like Rosés they are that pale. Tending to be on the “thin” side they lack the full bodied power of Bordeaux or some Burgundies but are full of flavour and are best kept for about five years, at which point the colour can change again, especially in the Poulsard, to an almost onion skin hue. It is the Savagnin (not Sauvignan) which is the true king of Jura grapes. Blended with Chardonnay in the Caveau des Jacobins Saint Avoye wine it produces a distinctive tasting wine that just hints at the flavours to come. A 100% Savagnin is a wine full of character and strength, again drunk almost at room temperature most people are taken unawares by it’s taste and richness. This wine can easily be kept for 10 years or more, rare in a white wine. Now we get to the masterpiece, the Vin Jaune, the best of which is labelled Chateau-Chalon. Aged for at least 6 years 3 months in oak barrels (bought second hand from Burgundy!) this wine is never topped up to replace the wine that evaporates during this period. As a result the wine ages under a protective layer of yeast which imparts a taste not dissimilar to that of a dry sherry. Again drunk at room temperature the wine comes as a shock to those not expecting something completely different and as a result many don’t like it. We’ve persevered, it was hell but definitely worth it. Served with Comté cheese or smoked sausage the wine takes on yet another flavour and it is a feature in the cooking of many fine recipes. Not cheap by any stretch and sold uniquely in 62cl bottles called “Clavelins” it can keep for up to 100 years. It should be opened at least 12 hours before drinking and once opened will keep for about two months with the cork replaced (but not in the fridge!).
The specialist wines from the Jura are “Cremant du Jura” the local sparkling wine made from Chardonnay grapes. This is at it’s best from Chevassu’s with a slight taste of pineapple cubes (!!!!) but we really advise against “Vin Fou” from Henri Maire, not good at all. Served chilled as an aperitif or dessert wine it is stunning value for money and a really good wine. Macvin is not a wine served at French MacDonalds as some have thought but a fortified wine made by mixing grape juice and Marc du Jura, the spirit made from the pips, skins & stalks of the grapes. Again served as an aperitif or dessert wine. For a real treat try the Vin de Paille. This is made from grapes which have been left to dry for three months in lofts so that they lose 80% of their moisture. The resulting juice is very sweet and smooth. It takes 100 kgs of grapes to make 18 litres of wine which is why it is fearsomely expensive at about 15 Euros, or more for a half bottle! (It is never sold in whole bottles). Serve chilled (or room temperature) as a special occasion wine. We had some last year with the Christmas Pud – superb.
Should you wish we can arrange for tastings at various vignerons cellars. The Caveau des Jacobins is open daily but Chevassu’s needs an appointment (it’s well worth it).
For more info on Jura wines see www.jura-vins.com/
A good UK stockist of these wines is Devigne Wines (Nationwide mail order)
www.bandb-burgundy.com offers excellent B&B with added wine knowledge and advice!!