The Mysterious Jura Wine Region of France
Don’t you feel that a place in France that has a history of winemaking that dates as far back as 82 AD would be more well known than it is today? But maybe keeping this region a mystery makes the wines we discover theremore interesting, fun, and even more flavorful! I am talking about the Jura region in northeast France which is the smallest wine region in the country! Jura lies between Burgundy and Switzerland and is a rugged wine region with about 5000 acres under vine. Most of the terrain and soils found here are predominantly limestone based with clay overlays of different textures and hues. Jura has a continental climate with hot summers and cold winters and many of these grape varieties bloom late in spring and are harvested as late as November each year. This is a true test of the winemaker’s nerves, patience, and faith in nature that the best is still coming!
There are five distinguished grape varieties that are accepted and grow well in the Jura region. Because of Jura’s close proximity to Burgundy, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are the obvious varieties grown here and always have been. A couple reds grown here are a little more discreet. One red grape is the Poulsard which is a black grape with a very thin skin, little color pigment, and low tannins. The second red grape is called Trousseau which also has little pigment but is a full bodied, robust wine with earthy, gamey flavors, with hints of strawberry. The white grape that gives the Jura region the most recognition is called Savagnin. Some Savagnin is made into wine which is dry, fresh, and with hints of spice. But most of the Savagnin grapes are responsible for making the famous “vin jaune” and Chateau-Chalon which is much admired for its sherry like sweetness and nutty, woody flavors. To get a true designation of the vin jaune title, the wine must stay in barrel for at least 6 years and 3 months. By this time, only 62% of the liquid is left in the barrel after evaporation and the remaining wine is bottled in a stubby, 21 ounce bottle called a “clavelin”. Many festivals and celebrations surround the release of the vin jaune wine each year and everyone who attends gets to sample this lush, golden liquid.
So The Jura is full of mysterious wines that are well known in Europe but hardly enter the minds (or palates) of wine lovers in the United States. After attending a recent wine tasting that focused on wines from The Jura and Burgundy regions, I realized that these wines were wonderful and needed their story told. These are wineries that are looking for distributorship in the U.S. and were sampling some of their best wines in hopes of getting them into the hands of wine lovers on this side of the pond. I came in contact with many great wines from wineries in both the Jura region and from Burgundy. Here is the “Golden List” of some wonderful wines and wineries to look for if you travel to France but hopefully you will find these wines locally in the U.S. soon.
Domaine Jean Bourdy – This is a family run and family owned winery estate for over 15 generations since 1579. They currently have approximately 25 acres under vine in 2 appellations – the Cotes du Jura AOC and the Vin Jaune Chateau-Chalon AOC. In 2006, both properties started cultivating their grapes using biodynamics and became certified as biodynamic in 2010. The wines here I enjoyed most were: 1. AOC Cremant du Jura which is a beautiful, creamy sparkling wine made from 100% Chardonnay. Flavors of apple, tangerine, and hints of lime and chalk. 2. AOC Cotes du Jura Rouge is an elegant blend of Poulsard, Trousseau, and Pinot Noir. Light in body with flavors of cherry, red berry, earth, and spices. 3. AOC Chateau-Chalon 2010 is the sweet “vin jaune” style made from Savagnin grapes. Aged 7 years in barrel before bottling. Flavors of crushed apple, pear, and butterscotch. Elegant and complex.
The Cellier des Tierclines Vins – Jerome Arnoux – The Cellier des Tierclines is a trading company who buys grapes from growers in the Jura region. Jerome Arnoux is a grape grower and winemaker with over 17 years experience and now is managing his own wines and label. Some wonderful wines to watch out for are: 1. Arbois Chardonnay “Initial” – Dry style Chardonnay that is medium bodied with flavors of peach, citrus, mineral, and light oak. Very refreshing and full of summer! 2. Arbois Chardonnay “Chantemerle” – A medium to full bodied Chardonnay with a bit more barrel aging. Flavors of fresh apple, tangerine, toffee, and oak makes this Chardonnay an excellent addition to your cellar! 3. Arbois Savagnin Ouille Entre Deux – “Ouille” means that this Savagnin was “topped off” and not left to oxidation or evaporation. Light body with notes of apple, citrus, limestone, and grassy flavors. 4. Arbois Pinot Noir Vieilles Vignes “Revelation” – Medium bodied with 12 months in oak leads to flavors of cherry, tar, tobacco, and earth. Layered complexity.
Caveau Des Byards – Much caring and tending of the vines is the mantra here keeping the vines in open exposure to the sunlight which best expresses the quality and ripeness of their grapes. New winemaking procedures since 1998 have given Caveau Des Byards wines that are proud of their signature. 1. Cremant du Jura Blanc Brut Sparkling – a wonderful Chardonnay that spent 16 months on lees provides notes of apple, citrus, pear, and yeast. 2. Cotes du Jura Pinot Noir – Light in body and very smooth and velvety. Using older barrels gives way to more fruit flavors of cherry, ripe red berry, and earth. 3. Macvin du Jura – Using Savagnin to produce the sweet “vin jaune” style. Very smooth with notes of apricot, Mandarin Orange, and hints of grain.
The Burgundy Region
Antoine Olivier Wines – A family estate based in Santenay, Burgundy, France. Antoine respects the terroir and his hard work by “doing a good job and enjoying what he does”. He is glad his vineyard practices are environmentally friendly. Lovely wines here and I enjoyed: 1. Bourgogne Chardonnay “Les 2 Dindes” – Wonderful Chardonnay and “2 Dindes” means “2 Turkeys” which he relates (with much love) to his 2 daughters. Creamy texture with flavors of Mandarin Orange, apple, pear, and mineral. 2. Santenay Temps des Cerises – 100% Pinot Noir but harvested from 6 different plots. Velvety mouthfeel with ripe black cherry, earth, and spices. 3. Santenay 1er Cru Pinot Noir – Medium to full body, very smooth with ripe cherry, red berry, earth, and cloves.
Domaine Belleville – Les Parcellaires De Saulx – The Domaine Belleville has approximately 45 acres of vineyards located from the Gevrey Chambertin to Mercurey areas. Each wine comes from a single plot of the estate to highlight the diversity of terroirs. Les Parcellaires De Saulx in the ‘negoce’ here. Look for: 1. Rully 1er cru – La Pucelle – This is a medium bodied Chardonnay with lots of ripe apricot, pear, and citrus notes. Good acidity and refreshing! 2. Meursault Chardonnay (Les Parcellaires de Saulx) – A very nice medium bodied Chardonnay that has expressive flavors of bright apple, pear, and mineral notes. 3. Mercurey 1er Cru “Clos l’Eveque” Pinot Noir – Silky and full bodied with flavors of rich black cherry, dark forest berry, earth, and spice. Wonderful!
Chateau De Villars Fontaine – This breathtaking estate, vineyard, and castle was established in 1973 and has been producing great wines since then. Approximately 75 acres is being used for grape growing where 40% are white and 60% is red production. This estate enjoys doing tastings with a line up of their older vintages so you can taste wines as far back as 2006. Come for a tasting and tour of this beautiful estate when you are in Burgundy. My favorite wines were: 1. Hautes Cotes de Nuit “Le Rouard” Chardonnay 2006 – Beautiful, full bodied, and creamy with lush flavors of exotic citrus, tangerine, and caramel oak finish. 2. Hautes Cotes d Nuits – Le Haut du Village Pinot Noir 2009 – Medium bodied with bright cherry, mint, tobacco, and a long finish with good tannin structure. 3. Hautes Cotes de Nuits “Les Genevrieres” Pinot Noir 2009 – Full bodied and velvety with ripe red cherry flavors and notes of tobacco, tar, and a long finish.
The Jura region may not be first on your list when you are thinking of planning a wine trip but if you were planning on visiting Burgundy, then Jura is a great addition. Lots of history there and you can solve your own flavor “mysteries” when you try many of the fantastic wines there! Now that I have Jura on your radar, then I hope to meet you when we all arrive soon!