The Jura may be small – at around 2,000 hectares, it’s 15 times smaller than its near neighbour, Burgundy. The whole region would fit comfortably within the single appellation of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, with about 1,000 hectares to spare. And yet, among wine lovers, it looms large, with its idiosyncratic Vin Jaune made from Savagnin and red wines from Poulsard (or is it Ploussard?) among other puzzles.
A small but perfectly formed group of AWE members, joined by CWW member Tania Mann, spent a memorable two days in the region led by AWE founder and THE authority on the wines of the Jura, Wink Lorch.
This was not my first trip to the area – back in 2007 I called in for a couple of days as part of a summer-long van trip around France. With husband and children of 4 and 6 on board, it was understandably not a wine-focused trip, but I managed to wander into a producer in Poligny and try some of his wines. When I asked when I should drink his Vin Jaune, he recommended I have it at 5pm with a slice of Comté cheese.
Our visit had coincided with La Fête du Comté in Poligny, so I felt I knew a little bit about that king of cheeses by then – and of course I had bought some. I was able to repair to the Camping Municipal and try the combination. Reader, he was quite correct. Fun Comté fact – any cheese that fails to make the grade is sent down to the La Vache Qui Rit factory in Lons-le-Saunier.
That toe in the water whet my appetite (to mix metaphors) and ever since I’ve been intrigued by the wines of the Jura.
Wink led us on a packed itinerary, calling on some of the leading lights of the region. Producers are generally small, many of them doing everything from vine to bottle themselves. After recent small harvests – and a disastrous 2021 vintage – many have few wines, if any, to sell. It speaks to the respect that they have for Wink that they were able to welcome us at all.
The Cave Fruitière Vinicole d’Arbois was a perfect starting-point, as they control 300ha via their 100 growers and make a wide range of wines. Watch out for their Crémant Béthanie, which includes some vin jaune in the liqueur d’expédition at dosage – a great proxy for autolysis. It’s available for around £20 from various independents and from Vinatis for Europe-wide shipping.
Olivier Badoureaux at the CIVJ (Vins du Jura Interprofession) provided a really useful update, as well as sharing some of the Jura’s geological highlights. The village of l’Etoile may be so-called (there are always competing theories) because of fossilised tiny starfish (see above) which are found in the soil there, a legacy of the sea that once covered both the Jura and Burgundy.
At the tasting room of Bénédicte and Stéphane Tissot we tasted 13 of their many cuvées. This was an opportunity to explore Savagnin in some of its many guises. Their Arbois Savagnin “sous voile” 2018 (available in the UK via WoodWinters and others) has been aged oxidatively (barrels not topped up) for 42 months. It is not a failed “vin jaune”, but made deliberately and I found curry leaf, fenugreek, nutty Comté and grilled onion notes – and that was just the aromas. The palate had the producer’s characteristic elegance and length. Sorry, I know reading other people’s tasting notes is a bore, but I had to include one somewhere, as these are not wine styles you routinely come across.
Torrential rain prevented us getting out into the vineyards at Domaine Fumey-Châtelain, but Marin Fumey, who is now taking over the winemaking duties from his parents, gave us a memorable tasting from barrel, tank and bottle. I learnt that “to make good Ploussard (or Poulsard) you need to not touch it”. Michael Sager of Sager + Wilde imports some of their wines into the UK.
Marie-Pierre at Domaine Chevassu-Fassenet basically does everything at her family’s 4.5ha and makes exquisite wines. We encountered a Côtes du Jura Chardonnay 2020 that is topped up (ouillé), but nevertheless had some oxidative sense about it – another Jura puzzle. Caves de Pyrène are their long-time UK importer. She was unable to show us any red wines, as there is essentially nothing from the awful 2021 vintage – a salutary reminder how precarious the life of a Jura vigneron can be.
Our final stop was Domaine de Montbourgeau in the village of l’Etoile, headed by Nicole Dériaux. Big things are afoot here, with a new winery and cellar under construction. Nicole has handed wine-making duties over to her two sons, who are taking things in a different direction – such as releasing individual “parcellaire” wines and some of those new-fangled ouillé cuvées. Things felt in a state of flux here and it was hard to get a handle on the overall style, but their delightful “En Banode” blend of co-planted Chardonnay and Savagnin aged sous voile is available in the UK via The Wine Society.
Overall what did I learn? That for a small region, the Jura packs in plenty of interest and complexity – and puzzles. Is it Poulsard or Ploussard – the answer is always “it depends”.Tags: French wines Jura wines