Wine Report: Jura
We’ll cut to the chase on this one: the Jura was phenomenal. We (our good friends Courtney and Ryan joined us on part of this leg) drink lots of wines from this region at home, and we were very excited to visit the source. For those of you not familiar with this region of eastern France, the Jura is most famous for its whites, particularly Savagnin, which can be produced with minimal aging or aged over six years in demi-muid (600 L barrels). With time, a thin layer of yeast (le voile de levure) grows over the slowly-evaporating liquid, yielding a wine that is peaty, slightly oxidized and deep yellow in color (hence its name vin jaune, which translates to yellow wine). But the Jura also makes terrific Poulsards, Pinot Noirs and Trousseaus, all with refreshingly low alcohol. If you haven’t tried these yet, you should.
Having now tasted our way through Rhone and Bordeaux (alas, we are quite behind on our Wine Reports), the contrast between Bordeaux and Jura could not be more stark. In Bordeaux, we learned of optical sorting tables, dry ice maceration, vintages aged in 100% new oak and fancy machines that did everything but drink your wine for you. “It’s impossible to make a wine without sulfur,” we were informed in Bordeaux. “The whites will oxidize. Anyone who claims to produce a sulfur-free wine isn’t being honest.”
If this is true, and we suspect it isn’t, then we met a whole pack of liars in the Jura. Wines from many producers in this region are about as un-doctored as one can get: grown in pesticide-free vineyards, harvested by hand, aged in giant casks called foudre to minimize the influence of wood, fermented with wild yeast and natural malolactic, little to no sulfur added in bottle—it’s about as pure an expression of wine as one can dream up, and it’s a real treat to taste.
“I make my wine in the vineyard, not in the cellar.”
So intoned Michel Gahier, a small producer based outside of Arbois who specialized in Trousseaus and Chardonnays. It was 6:30pm on a warm Franche-Comte evening. We were seated around a wooden table in his dimly-lit subterranean cellar, joined by a neighbor fluent in English (we suspect this was graciously arranged by M. Gahier, who spoke no English whatsoever). We tasted the 2011 Trousseau La Vigne du Louis. Delicious. We tasted the 2011 Trousseau Le Clousot. Wonderful. And when we arrived at the 2011 Trousseau Les Grands Vergers, we were smitten – it was sensational. Smoke, strawberry, and spice, well-rounded with a long finish. We expressed our liking in broken French, heaping praises on the winemaker for crafting something so delicious. “Nous aimons beaucoup Les Grands Verges!” we exclaimed. Our English-speaking companion quickly jumped in to correct our pronunciation. Apparently, vergers means orchards; verges refers to male genitals.
And no sooner had we finished sipping and praising the Big Penises when M. Gahier disappeared into his cellar, returning with a dusty unlabeled bottle in his hand. “I want to show you how this Trousseau ages,” he said, taking a seat. It was a 2000, and it was sensational – plenty of fruit and life. When he went back into his cellar and pulled out a 1995, we were bowled over with how delicate, and yet still fresh, the 18-year-old sulfite-free wine was.
Red wines in the Jura are so light-bodied and refreshing that they’re often served before the whites, and our tasting here was no exception. After tasting our way through reds young and old, we moved on to the whites. We started with the 2011 Chardonnay Les Follases, which was just bottled that morning. It was a perfect marriage of lemon and honey, and it was terrific. M. Gahier disappeared into his cellar and re-emerged once again with two unlabeled bottles, their corks kissed with mold. “Let’s see how this ages,” he said, opening each with care. The 1997 Chardonnay had so much life in it we would never suspect it had been collecting dust for 15 years. And the 1992 he finished with was still singing. We knew we had to order several cases, and we plan to open one every few years and think back to this exceptional tasting, perhaps the best of our entire two month trip. The crazed look in Evan’s eyes below is proof!
We spent 9 days in Arbois housed in a lovely little gîte directly opposite Domaine de la Tournelle, and we had ample opportunity to taste our way around town.
We stopped in at Rolet, A&M Tissot and the Fruitieres Vinicoles of Arbois and Pupillin (no establishment was too big or too small for us). Tournelle’s wines were terrific, particularly their Fleur de Savagnin and their Poulsard. Seated next to a little river, the view wasn’t too bad either.
We had lunch at Bistrot des Claquets, often spotting the Tournelle folks, and tried a delicious Poulsard from Domaine des Bodines there. We liked it so much, we arranged to taste there.
At Domaine des Bodines we met husband and wife winemakers Alexis and Emilie Porteret, along with their adorable daughter Lily. The Porterets own a modest four hectares outside of Arbois, producing roughly 10,000 bottles of wine each year. Domaine des Bodines, like others in the area, believes in natural winegrowing and winemaking. What happens when a rogue snow in May 2013 caused the late-blooming savagnin from bursting? Less white wine. A slug problem in 2012? Well-fed chickens, somewhat less wine. Pests who might get into their store of drying grapes intended for the Vin de Paille? A large cat roamed the property, happily tasked with controlling the mice population.
Everything about the Bodines property was dedicated to careful, judicious and undoctored winemaking. While we were there, a couple joined us for the tasting from a nearby town only a couple of hours away. They were modest farmers, so we were shocked when they bought 10 cases of wine and loaded up their pickup truck. They were buying wine for their entire extended family for the year and recognized great quality wine at a great price. We tasted through their current releases while their daughter Lily did pirouettes in the driveway. The next day, when we saw the Lily at Bistrot des Claquets, we were thrilled when Lily gave us both kisses on the cheek like a proper little French girl. All of the wines were delicious, but we thought the light and fresh 2012 Poulsard would make a lovely addition to the wine club.
Of course, we ate a lot of food to balance out our consumption of wine. We gorged ourselves on the chocolates of Hirsinger (some regard them as the best chocolate makers in France).
We ate aged comté for breakfast, dinner and dessert.
(We got this 1 kilo piece of comte, aged 24 months, for 8 euros!)
As the Jura is in the heart of farm country, the fresh fruit and bread was to die for as well.
And we had spectacular lunches at Le Grapiot in Pupillin, Le Bistrot in Port Lesney, and Bistrot des Claquets in Arbois. Kate did a spectacular job translating in this region considering no one spoke English. No one. At lunch at Le Grapiot in Pupillin, while Kate used the restroom, Evan tried to order us glasses of water and we ended up with 4 glasses of whiskey. Santé!
We survived this meal with our taste buds intact but made sure to leave the ordering to Kate.
We had dinner at 2 Michelin-starred Jean-Paul Jeunet, though decided it perhaps had one too many absinthe foam courses for our liking.
At the famous Les Bistrot in Port Lesney we had a dessert that Evan described as the best he had ever had. It was called a Paris Titt! (Kate’s note: It was actually called Paris Brest, but Evan wrote this with such fervor that I’m letting it stay)
While in Bordeaux and Rhone, Since Jura was such a treate we couldn’t help but talk about our experience there while in Bordeaux and Rhone. Each time we did, we were met with puzzled looks and statements like “I’ve heard they are doing interesting things there, but I haven’t been.” We can’t wait to come back because this it really is the perfect example of what expert farmers can do with great grapes. I hope you get to enjoy some of it too.