If Wink Lorch, who has worked in the wine world all of her adult life, is fascinated with wines from the Jura (and has written the definitive book about the region), then we all should listen to what she says…and taste what she suggests. I was fortunate enough to be invited to a Master Class in Chicago to learn about Jura wine a few weeks ago. Led by this industry icon, I was thrilled to visit a region, if only in my glass, that has enticed me since my first sip of MacVin at a restaurant in the Chicago area last year.
“The region may be small, but its wines tell a story of diversity from sparkling to dry to sweet to the unexpected. Jura wines, with their bright-gold and ruby hues, owe their excellence to terroirs and traditions. Singular, generous, exotic, smooth, sweet, wild, subtle, harmonious, light or powerful: there are a multitude of styles to savor.” Vins du Jura – Comite Interprofessionnel des Vins du Jura
Spending her time between France and England, Wink is, in my opinion and I’m sure in others’ who know her well, the hands-down expert in wines from the Jura. She began tasting wine from the region in 2000 and since, has learned to appreciate this small, diverse area and its surprising wines. So much so, in fact, that Wink Lorch is the author of Jura Wine, winner of the Andre Simon Book Awards Drinks Prize in 2014 and shortlisted for the Book of the Year in the Louis Roederer International Wine Writers Awards 2014.
I laughed because that was the perfect response. And frankly, until I attended the Master Class, I, too, knew little about this region. Few have written about it and its wines may be difficult to find.
Where is the Jura?
Tucked in the foothills of the Jura mountains, in the eastern portion of France that borders Switzerland, this tiny, isolated area of just over 80 kilometers through the Revermont region includes four geographic AOCs (Arbois – all styles, Etoile – only white wines, Côtes du Jura – all styles, and Château-Chalon – only Vin Jaune) and three product AOCs (Crémant du Jura – white or rose, Macvin du Jura – white, rose and red wines, and Marc du Jura – spirits). The only permitted grape varieties for the AOCs in the Jura are Savagnin (white – 23% of production), Chardonnay (white – 42%), Ploussard (red – 14%), Trousseau (red – 8%), and Pinot Noir (red – 13%).
At a relatively low altitude of 250-450m, the region sees 1,850 hours of sunshine a year and 1100 mm of rainfall (50% more than Burgundy). A cool, damp Continental climate offers cold temperatures in winter, a risk of spring frost and summer hail, and warm summers. During the Master Class, Wink shared that “Autumn saves the harvest…usually”; the weather is a consistent challenge.
“Although I do not consider the Jura to be a mountain wine region, this does not mean that the Jura Mountains are not an influence – they are very much part of the terroir here. The vineyard region exists only because of the effects of the younger Alpine range of mountains pushing the Jura mountain range to the west towards the Bresse plain. The soils were created by this geological shift and the climate in the Jura is certainly influenced by the proximity of the mountains.” Wink Lorch, Jura Wine
Soils are of marl, clay and limestone and vary in amount depending upon the location. In Jura Wine, Wink wrote, “I have been convinced that the variations influence the wine flavours much more than in most wine regions.”
How Do the Wines Taste?
With each sip of the wines poured at the Master Class, I discovered those that were captivating. Despite the small size of the Jura, the range of wine styles is surprisingly broad and unique. Paired with local Jura specialties such as Bresse chicken, Comté cheese, Montbeliard sausages, and Morteau sausages, each wine expresses a unique profile.
I’m familiar with Pinot Noir, but Ploussard or Trousseau? Not so much. The red wines I tasted were bright and fresh, well-rounded and distinctive. The Ploussard de Feule 2016 from Domaine Desire Petit in AOC Arbois-Pupillin presented aromas of bright ripe raspberries and strawberries on the nose and tart flavors of dry red fruit. Balanced with medium acidity and tannins, the finish was lovely. A wine of 100% Pinot Noir was the Rouge 2011 from Château d’Arley in AOC Côtes du Jura. Fresh and spicy, red fruits and florals were prevalent on the nose and full-bodied palate. One of my favorite reds was Trousseau Singulier 2015 from Domaine Andre et Mireille Tissot found in AOC Arbois. Intense aromas of fresh fruit led to broad notes of red fruit, currants, and minerality and an elegant finish. What a wonderful discovery!
From Domaines Henri Maire in AOC Arbois was Domaines Henri Maire Vin Jaune 2008. Vin Jaune is made exclusively from Savignin grapes – I craved each sip of this wine that boasted notes of wet walnuts and glazed fruit. This special wine, also called “gold of the Jura” went through extensive aging under a veil of yeast.
Our final wine, Macvin from Domaine Baud Winery-Generation 9 in AOC Macvin du Jura was made by stopping the fermentation of 2/3 Chardonnay must (freshly pressed juice that contains the grape’s stems, seeds, and skin) with the addition of 1/3 Brandy from Marc du Jura. Delicious as an aperitif, with dessert, or even with a cheese plate, this is a luxurious fortified wine to discover. Rich and smooth with a nutty character, this wine was just as memorable as the morning’s Master Class.
Cheers! ~ Cindy