Just north of Savoie, Jura is sandwiched in between Switzerland and Burgundy. Using a few of their local grapes, they have created some extremely interesting wines of varied styles up in this mountainous region. Dry, sweet, sparkling, still, Sherry like oxidative wines, and even a fortified wine up here round out their portfolio and match well with the hearty Alpine food.
Jura: An Overview
With a similar climate and landscape to nearby Savoie, Jura also has a cool mountainous climate. With short, dry and warm summers, they manage to ripen grapes and create an interesting array of offerings. The cool climate is better suited to whites, as this is the bulk of the local production.
Altitudes range from 700-1300 feet, making the wines cool and crisp, in line with regions of Northern France. But what they lack in grape varietal numbers like Savoie, or range of soils in Burgundy, they make up for with just about every wine style imaginable.
More common than on the market than Savoie, Jura has recently become one of the wine world’s new hot area, with its wines finding their way onto trendy restaurant lists and tucked away in specialty wine shops. This is all accomplished with 6 AOP’s, 4 of them being for dry/still wines.
While there are only 6 AOP’s, 4 being technically for still wines, this is a bit misleading. The 5th and 6th ones are Crémant du Jura AOP (traditional method sparkling) and Macvin du Jura (fortified wine). In the first four appellations, the well known “Vin de Paille” and “Vin Jaune” are also made under the regular labeling. But, more on that later.
The Grapes of Jura
Along with Chateauneuf du Pape in the Southern Rhone, Arbois was actually one of France’s first controlled and protected appellations established in 1936. Putting out the bulk of Jura’s wine, it is also the biggest in size. While most production here is red, most of Jura wines will be white.
Reds from Arbois will be blends, with a light colour, high acid, and peppery red fruit flavours. The whites, made from Savagnin and Chardonnay, can be made in both oxidative and non oxidative styles. When made oxidatively, the wines are aged for long periods of time in oak barrels taking on nutty and dried fruit flavours. Not for everyone, but great if you are into very funky tasting wines or enjoy a nice glass of Sherry.
Chateau Chalon AOP
While made all over the region, this particular appellation is all Vin Jaune. The most well known of all Jura wines, Vin Jaune here is made from 100% Savagnin grapes. Made very similarly to Sherry in Spain, these wines are harvested very late in the season to maximize sugar levels in the grapes.
After fermentation, the wines are stored in oak casks and are not topped up when wine evaporates. This lets the film of yeast grow at the surface. This helps to stop the wines from oxidizing, and giving them a yeasty and nutty flavour that increases with age.
A similar technique is used for Muscadet wines in the Loire Valley, but to a much lesser extent. This is also the ageing process for Champagne and traditional method sparkling wine producers, except they do the ageing in the bottle.
The final wines are very different from regular still wines: high alcohol, high acid, with very savoury and umami like flavours in the wines. You won’t find any fresh apple or lemon here, just nuts, toast, spice, and about a thousand other things.
Again, not for the faint of heart, but definitely worth tracking down if you like Sherry (and can find some).
In this starry named appellation, Chardonnay is king, making up the bulk of the plantings, with Poulsard trailing behind it. The dry whites are made both oxidized and not, but the real intersting wines from this AOP are the Vin de Paille, or straw wines.
Made like Amarone, these Poulsard grapes are harvested and then left to dry out on straw mats in the sun, concentrating flavours and sugars. After several months, the grapes are pressed and fermented, making some high strength wines with plenty of intense fruit flavours and sweetness to back it up.
L’Étoile is interesting because it uses the red grape Poulsard as its base in Vin de Paille, making it a red/rose version, as opposed to whites made in most other appellations of the region.
Macvin du Jura AOP
This fortified drink, or a “mistelle” to be more specific, can be made from any of the 5 allowed grapes of the area, allowing white, red, and rose styles to be made.
Unlike Port or other Vins Doux Naturels from the Languedoc-Roussillon, Macvin is fortified before fermenting the grape must. This does several things: it leaves much more residual sugar in the final wine, as the grape must hadn’t started fermenting yet. It also keeps the intense fresh fruit flavours of the unfermented juice in the wine.
After fermenting with a high strength brandy made in the same area, the wines are then aged in oak casks for at least one year, adding complexity to the final product. These dessert wines will also age for up to 20 years if stored properly, and due to their high levels of sugar and alcohol, will last for a few weeks after being opened.
If you happen to come across one of these at your local liquor store, grab it – it is one of the few wine styles I have yet to actually see in person (maybe it actually doesn’t even exist!).
Crémant du Jura AOP
Lastly, the good old Crémant of the region – Crémant du Jura. All 5 grape varietals of the region are allowed in these Crémant, but you can expect Chardonnay and Pinot Noir to take up the most space here.
With minimum 9 months spent ageing on the lees (yeast cells) these wines are standard traditional method bubbly. Great value, nutty, fresh, and a natural match with the hearty cheeses and foods of the area. Look for rose versions as well, and both come in brut and demi-sec (off dry).
Jura Wines and Food Pairing
With a wide range of wine styles, it goes without saying they can handle an equally wide range of food. Check out some classic pairings with local food, and a few newcomers below.
The standard cheese of the region, this semi soft cow’s milk cheese has nutty undertones to it that match well with the local Vin Jaune.
Croute aux Morilles
This morel mushroom snack is made with cream, garlic, wine, and served alongside some slices of toasted bread. The savouriness should make you think oxidized Chardonnay, but I think an earthy Pinot Noir or blend of the area would be just as good.
Go a little wild and poach some pears with some sweet Vin de Paille, and serve alongside in the reduced sauce. A perfect pairing, as the sauce is made from the wine itself, and will amp up the pear/apple green notes in both as well.