The Jura region is to some extent and easterly extension of Burgundy, sandwiched between the most famous vineyards of the Côte d’Or to its west and the Jura mountains to its east, with the border with Switzerland lying just beyond the mountains. Extending just 80 kilometres north to south, it is a tiny region – just half the size of Chablis. Yet despite its diminutive size (it accounts for only 0.2% of French wine production), it is a relatively complex region with five main grape varieties in common use (plus others that are permitted), six appellation contrôlée areas and a huge diversity of wine styles. At a recent press and trade tasting of Jura wines, expert Wink Lorch led a seminar on which this report is based.
Land of authenticity
Jura’s wines are fascinating. Although there is a diversity of styles, the famous ‘Vins Jaune’ are unfortified wines, yellow in colour, and made by encouraging a thin veil of yeast to grow on top of maturing wine in barrel – in a very similar fashion to how Sherry is made, and giving some similar characteristics. Often rather cloudy in appearance too, there is no mistaking their kinship with examples from the trendy ‘natural wine’ movement, yet these are far from bandwagon wines, the style being utterly traditional in the area. Wink believes this is a key to their appeal: “It is the authenticity that the region appears to offer that might have created so much interest in the past few years,” she said. And indeed, given their miniscule presence on UK wine shelves, the wines have been gathering disproportionate attention from critics and finding many new fans.
Grapes and wine styles
As befits a neighbour to Burgundy, Chardonnay (with 42% of plantings) is the main white grape of Jura, though perhaps it is Savagnin with 23% of plantings (right) that garners most attention. Vin Jaune is always made from 100% Savagnin, picked late but with no botrytis. After normal fermentation it is put into barrels that are neither filled nor topped up, to allow the Voile or Veil of yeast to form. It’s a tricky process as winemakers cannot rack or move the wine, so must watch out for volatility and acetaldehyde which can form ‘off’ aromas and flavours. The earliest bottling of Vin Jaune is after just over six years – in the January of the 7th year after harvest. It is always bottled in a characteristic 62cl bottle and is served at room temperature. Other white wines are ‘Ouille’ (topped up in barrel) in a more orthodox style without voile and without oxidation. In terms of red wine grapes, Poulsard (known in Portugal as Bastardo) is marginally the most planted with 14% of overall plantings, though Pinot Noir is almost as widely planted with 13% of the vineyard area. Just 8% of plantings are with the variety many think could be Jura’s red wine ace in the pack: Trousseau. Like Poulsard it is an indigenous Jura variety. Most of Jura’s red wines tend to be very light in colour and low in alcohol. Interestingly, they are often served before the powerful white wines of the region, certainly before Vins Jaune. Crémant is a significant part of the Jura production, accounting for 25% of total output, and there is also ‘Macvin’ – a blend of grape juice and marc, a little like a Pineau de Charentes.
Geography and soils
In text books – and indeed in certain aspects of their wines – Jura is always linked with the Savoie region, just to the south. But Wink says “That is purely for convenience.” Because the mountains are close by, Jura is often cited as a mountainous region, but in fact vineyards lie at 250 – 450 metres altitude, the vast majority below 400. That compare with the Premières Crus of Burgundy at between 250 and 350 metres. But the climate is influenced by the mountains. Cool continental weather sees plenty of rain, so fungal disease is the biggest problem in the region, though summers are very warm. The soils are clay and limestone. Again, this is the same as Burgundy, but whilst the ratio in Burgundy is around 80% limestone and 20% clay, in Jura it is the opposite. Around 15% of Jura’s vineyards are certified organic or biodynamic.
There are six appellations in Jura. The first four are geographic, with Côtes de Jura covering the whole region, Arbois towards the north, and two demarcated villages with their own appellation: Château Chalon and L’Etoile. The remaining two appellations cover specific wine styles rather than specific sites: Crémant-du-Jura and Macvin-du-Jura.
These were the wines shown by Wink Lorch as part of her seminar. Not all of these wines are available in the UK at time of writing, but I have given wine-searcher links to find current stockists for each. See all stockists of Jura wines on wine-searcher.
Domaine des Ronces, Crémant du Jura NV, France
Labelled as NV, but comes from the 2011 vintage. 100% Chardonnay, it has a pale yellow/green colour and very fine nose and bubbles. Aromas of creamy and taut apple fruit, hints of nettle and straw, but not too much yeasty character. The palate has delicious sweetness of fruit, the ripe apple and the cool, fine lemony fruit is clear and fresh and dry, with a subtle mousse that seems of lowish pressure, though there is good acidity and a softly foamy gentleness giving a zippy but easy balance. 88/100. See all stockists of Jura wines on wine-searcher.
Domaine de la Pinte, Arbois-Pupillin ‘L’Ami Karl’ 2011, France
100% Ploussard (an alternative spelling of Poulsard) and 11.5% alcohol. From a biodynamic estate and aged in large casks for a year. Pale and pink-amber coloured – delicious, coffeeish, fruity but has lovely mushroom and truffle dryness and complexity. Not hugely complex, but intriguing and delicious. 89/100. See all stockists of Jura wines on wine-searcher.
Domaine de la Touraize, Arbois Trousseau ‘Les Corvées’ 2012, France
The second red wine is 13% abv, also aged in large casks for a year, but much more vibrant colour: crimson and cherry bright. Intriguing nose, a touch of something fine and herbal, almost vaguely chemical like a natural soap, but the palate runs into quite solid, dry red berry fruits. Plenty of acidity here and there is a tug of tannin and roughening mouth-feel here, with a more structured character. Bone dry and has a bit of steel at its core. 89/100. See all stockists of Jura wines on wine-searcher.
Domaine Rijckaert, Arbois Chardonnay ‘En Paradis’ 2011, France
This weighs in with 13% abv and has a creamy, nutty and lightly oaky/toasty nose with a custardy roundness and approachability. There is a hint of bruised apple sourness of fruit. Quite Burgundian. The palate is bone dry, with lovely racy appeal, Again it is nutty and rich, but has a smooth texture and a pithiness of the acidity along with a hint of toast. 90/100. See all stockists of Jura wines on wine-searcher.
Champ Divin, Côtes du Jura Chardonnay/Savagnin ‘Castor’ 2011, France
Biodynamic and 13% abv, this is a 50/50 blend of the two varieties. It is instantly very dry, with a salty, introspective nose, tiny straw and underripe apple and pear notes, but closed and nuttily dry. The palate has a very dry appeal, all taut pith and peel of citrus, with a woody apple core dryness. But there’s a real core of sweetness to this, or rather of ripe intensity at the core. It does broaden a little in the finish, a touch of cream and honey, and a lovely wine. 91/100. See all stockists of Jura wines on wine-searcher.
Domaine Joly, Côtes du Jura ‘Ancestrale’ Chardonnay/Savagnin 2009, France
70% Chardonnay and 30% Savagnin, with 13.5% abv. A flor-affected wine, and though the veil of yeast can be inoculated, the best producers encourage a natural yeast flor. Oranges and nuts on the nose, with that salty almond and nut husk intense dryness. The sour and sharp bite of Cox’s Pippin on the palate, with walnut and coffee and lovely dry but full flavours. Deliciously tangy and salty in the finish. 92/100. See all stockists of Jura wines on wine-searcher.
Domaine Baud, Château-Chalon 2005, France
A Vin Jaune with 14.5% abv and made from Savagnin. Such depth and nuttiness here, such Shellac-like lift and concentration. Walnut husks, some herbs and really bone dry, peaty and complex. Salt and nervous, searing dryness almost assault the palate, but with such shimmering light and intensity amongst those crunchingly dry flavours. There are massively complex hints of coffee and lemon zest, all sorts of nutty richness, but just marvellously meaty and umami character, the curry-leaf and cumin character just wonderfully savoury. 96/100. See all stockists of Jura wines on wine-searcher.
Wink Lorch has published the definitive guide to Jura and its wines.