The WING Tutored Tasting Group is about to sample Jura Wines. So here is some basic information about the Jura. The wine tasting list, and my comments will follow in 3 or 4 days.

The Jura is a very small wine area. Located in the East of France, bordering Switzerland, it produces just 1.8% of all French wine.

Named after the department, it is part of the region East of Burgundy known as Franche-Comté.

The wine area is situated only 40 to 50 Miles due East of the Côte de Beaune and the Challonais regions of Burgundy, and it shares those regions’ famous grapes: Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. In addition it has 3 unique and distinctive varieties. On the red side are Trousseau and Poulsard. The former is sometimes vinified as a varietal wine, but Poulsard occurs more commonly as one of the grapes in Cremant (usually with Chardonnay and Pinot) or in the sweet Vin de Paille (with Chardonnay and Savagnin). It is this last grape – the white Savagnin – that is most unusual of all.

There are four appellations in the area:

Côtes du Jura
A catch-all appellation covering any style or grape variety and covering the whole region, particularly the vineyards of the far north and all of the south where most of the Jura’s chardonnay is planted.

The gorgeous town of Arbois in the north of the region,  gives its name to a large appellation covering all styles but with over half the production red and poulsard the most important grape. The village of Pupillin, a mile or two up the hill from the town can add its name to make Arbois-Pupillin.

Named after fossilised starfish found locally, this small appellation is only for white wine. This is a source of very good chardonnay and exceptional vin jaune in a style that is fresher and a little lighter than Château-Chalon. This is the Chablis of the Jura.

This hill-top village is one of the loveliest in France. The original castle was built under Charles the Fat, from memory, but the key to the success of the wine was the Benedictine Abbey which looked after the wines and whose high-born nuns made sure that this extraordinary wine was distributed around all the courts. HM Queen Juliana was supposed to have enjoyed a sip on the day of her coronation. Henry IV of France was a frequent drinker and admirer. The appellation is only allowed for vin jaune. The wines are nutty, exceptionally complex and long and usually the longest living of all vins jaunes.

The Wines
As well as vinifying the 5 grapes of the region in varietal wines and blends there are two distinctive styles that are unique in France. The first is created by the treatment of Savagnin. This grape is probably identical to traminer and thus related to its decidedly aromatic, pink-skinned variant, gewürztraminer.

Savagnin produces small pale berries with very irregular yields, sometimes almost nothing at all. It is well adapted to the climate and ripens very slowly and can even be picked as late as December in some years. It is not the easiest of vines to plant and growers only persist with it because of what it is capable of. Some Savagnin is made into wine in the conventional way and bottled on its own or sometimes it is blended with chardonnay. The wines are fresh, full with a hint of spice and bone dry. However, most Savagnin is reserved for Vin Jaune, for which it is the only permitted grape. Vin Jaune is the partner of choice with Jura cheeses, especially Comté (but good cheddar works just as well), also poultry, fish in rich sauces and curries.

For Vins Jaunes the Savagnin is harvested late, usually in late October but it can be November. The grapes have to weigh in with a potential alcohol of between 13% and 15%. Not surprisingly therefore vin jaune is not made every year. The wines ferment slowly and then are transferred to 228l barrels of old oak. The barrels are never topped up and the wines become partially protected from oxidation by a thin veil of yeast, called locally ‘voile’ which is very similar to the flor in sherry. To get the appellation Vin Jaune, the wine has to remain in barrel for not less than six years and three months by which time only about 62% of the wine is left after evaporation. Appropriately, Vin Jaune is then bottled in a special tubby bottle  holding 62cl.

The other distinctive wine of the Jura is Vin de Paille. Named after the old style of drying grapes on straw (paille), the wine is so rare that it is bottled in specially sized half bottles. Chardonnay, Savagnin or Poulsard grapes are used and bunches are now normally hung indoors or laid out on racks to dry and are then pressed before Christmas. The tiny quantities of very sweet wine are then aged in barrel, sometimes for several years, and the wines become deeply coloured and very complex with pronounced flavours of walnut and raisins.