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Jura Tasting with the San Francisco WSET Tasting Group

July 15, 2010

SF WSET WINETASTING GROUP JURA TASTING – David’s house, San Francisco, CA (7/14/2010)


This was a fascinating tasting of five of the prominent types of Jura wines: sparkling (Crémant du Jura), Poulsard (red varietal found virtually only in this region), Trousseau (another red varietal), oxidative whites and Vin Jaune. Many thanks to Paul Homchick and Jim Hanlon for organizing and David for hosting. Special thanks to Jim again for his very informative background materials on the wines and region, from which I am quoting liberally for this report, as Jim has become quite the expert on the region, having visited vignerons there and done extensive tasting.

The Jura is a very small region, lying between the Burgundy region and the Swiss border, planted to only 4,700 acres. There are four geographical AOCs–Arbois, l’Etoile, Chateau Chalon and Cotes du Jura–and the sparkling wines have their own product AOC, Crémant du Jura appellation, which includes much of the area of the other four. (A sixth appellation, another product appellation, is Macvin, for the Vin de Liqueur, which covers the area of the four geographical AOCs, but we didn’t try any examples of this in our tasting.) There are five permitted grapes in the region, two white (Chardonnay and Savagnin) and three red (Poulsard, Trousseau and Pinot Noir). Each may be bottled on its own, or in blends. For the Chateau Chalon appellation, however, the wine must be 100% Savagnin, and red varietals are not grown in l’Etoile either.

Crémant

Crémant de Jura is made by the méthode champenoise, is required to be held for at least a year in bottle before release, and comes in both white and rosé styles. By 2005, over 20% of wine production in the Jura was Crémant. Both of our Crémants in this flight were 100% Chardonnay.

Domaine Tissot’s Stephane Tissot is probably the most well known Jura vigneron. Domaine Tissot farms biodynamically and has relatively large holdings in many of the best terroirs around Arbois. The first fermentation of their Crémant is with native yeast, and the second with yeasts cultivated from the Domaine’s production of vin de paille, so the name of their Crémant, Indigène, refers to the use of these indigenous yeasts. Domaine de Montbourgeau is the leading producer in l’Etoile and farms organically. Their Crémant typically comes from a single vintage, but is not labeled as such.

The Montbourgeau version struck us as very green, suggesting that the Chardonnay was picked at less than 20 brix. The acidity was also quite high. The Tissot version was, by contrast, quite appealing and complex.

  • N.V. Domaine Tissot (André & Mireille now Stéphane) Crémant du Jura Indigène – France, Jura, Crémant du Jura
    Light pink yellow color; a little oxidation, caramel, toffee, cream, mineral, dried peach, peach skin nose; full, tart peach, mineral, peach skin palate with medium acidity and grip; medium-plus finish 91+ pts. (fabulous pairing with charcuterie, cured meats) (91 pts.)
  • N.V. Domaine de Montbourgeau Crémant du Jura – France, Jura, Crémant du Jura
    Very light green-tinged yellow color; green, lime, cream, almond, autolytic nose; tight, lime, mineral, green fruit, tangy, very tart green apple palate with medium-plus acidity; medium finish 87+ pts. (87 pts.)

Poulsard

I’m quite taken with this varietal, which I’ve had several times now, including a delicious ’02 from the same producer, Emmanuel Houillon, whose ’08 we sampled this evening. Poulsard tends to be very lightly colored, with a nose much like red Burgundy, but oftentimes with a floral and dried fruit dimension. It can be complex but very delicate on the palate, with tannic grip nonetheless.

Jacques Puffeney is the best known traditionalist winemaker in the Jura, having made wine for nearly 50 years now. He makes two Poulsards, the “M” that we sampled this evening and another bottling just labeled “Poulsard.” The M is sourced solely from Puffeney’s home village of Montigny-les-Arsures north of Arbois. The wine undergoes a 15-20 day cuvaison and is then racked into old foudres, where it undergoes malolactic and remains for about two years before bottling. Puffeney farms organically and uses only ambient yeast.

Houillon/Overnoy is a cult wine among Jura geeks, according to Jim Hanlon. Pierre Overnoy started the domaine with 2.65 hectares he inherited from his father in 1968. The domaine still comprises less than five hectares today, with all of its holdings being in Pupillin. There Poulsard is known as Ploussard, and the village of Pupillin is considered the greatest terroir for this rare grape. The domaine is now run by Emmanuel Houillon and his family, who previously worked for Overnoy, who never married and had no heirs. Rather than see his domaine broken up on his death, Overnoy is selling the domaine to Houillon and his siblings over a period of years, with the purchase funded by their work at the domaine. The farming is biodynamic, the fermentation based on ambient yeasts and carbonic, and no sulfur dioxide is added to the wine. The elevage is in old oak barrels, and production is small, with only 20 cases typically imported each year to the U.S. I loved the fascinating flavor profile of this wine, with its white pepper and tart cranberry, and I would expect it to age much like the ’02 I recently tasted, putting on additional complexity and tertiary flavors. I can see why this producer has a cult following.

The Domaine de la Tournelle was started in Arbois in 1991 by husband and wife Pascal and Evelyne Clairet, who had both worked as consulting winemakers. They now have 6 hectares, mostly east of the village of Arbois. Like Puffeney, they make two bottlings of Poulsard in most vintages, a wine meant for immediate drinking and a mid-term vin de garde. The bottling we sampled this evening was the one for short-term drinking. The farming is biodynamic, fermentation is with ambient yeast and carbonic, and the wine is bottled after resting in large plastic tanks. The wine sees no added S02. This was the least successful of our Poulsards in my view, with quite a bit of reduction, despite the lack of added S02.

  • 2006 Jacques Puffeney Poulsard Arbois “M” – France, Jura, Arbois
    Light medium strawberry red color with clear meniscus; nice, sous bois, tart cranberry, dried red fruit, reduction nose; very tart, cranberry, rosehips, tangerine, mineral, cinnamon palate, reminiscent of a high acid maturing Burgundy with grip and medium-plus acidity; medium-plus finish (89 pts.)
  • 2008 Emmanuel Houillon Poulsard Arbois Pupillin Maison Pierre Overnoy – France, Jura, Arbois Pupillin
    Medium dark strawberry red color with clear meniscus; saline, bicarbonate of soda nose at first, that changes over several minutes in the glass to more of a cranberry and white pepper nose; tasty, white pepper, tart cranberry palate with medium acidity, complex and intriguing; medium-plus finish 92+ pts. (92 pts.)
  • 2009 Domaine de la Tournelle Poulsard Arbois L’uva Arbosiana – France, Jura, Arbois
    Slightly cloudy medium watermelon red color with pale meniscus; floral, dried red fruit, rose petal, face powder, tart cherry, cherry skin nose; tight, tart cranberry, tart re fruit palate with a touch of rose petal and medium acidity, reminiscent of a young cru Beaujolais; medium finish (87 pts.)

Trousseau

Trousseau is the other indigenous red varietal to the Jura, with more color and tannins than Poulsard. There has been long speculation that it is the same as Portugal’s Bastardo, which was the only red grape traditionally used for vintage Madeira prior to phylloxera.

The Puffeney bottling is the only Trousseau Puffeney makes, and although labeled a cuvee, it is actually a single vineyard wine from Puffeney’s home village of Montigny. Michel Gahier’s domaine is also in Montigny, a couple of streets away from Puffeney. He is also a traditionalist, who farms biodynamically, using only a horse drawn plough. Fermentation is with indigenous yeasts and the wine is raised in old barrels, mainly barriques. As Jim told us during the tasting, with these two wines we had the same year, and same village, grown and vinified basically the same way. I preferred the Puffeney for its balance and complexity–the nose of the Gahier was off-putting, but it tasted fine on the palate. The Bornard was the weakest in this flight, showing a lot of reduction. Bornard also farms his 6 hectares biodynamically, but vinifies partially with carbonic maceration, unlike Puffeney and Gahier. After fermentation in fiberglass containers, the elevage is in large neutral barrels for about a year before bottling. Bornard aims for the wine to be drinkable young, and “Le Ginglet” is a local term that translates as easy to drink.

  • 2007 Jacques Puffeney Trousseau Arbois Les Berangères – France, Jura, Arbois
    Medium cherry red color with pale meniscus floral, dried roses, mineral nose with a vague sense of pepper; tasty, poised, tart cranberry, white pepper, mineral, hibiscus palate with balance; medium-plus finish 91+ pts. (91 pts.)
  • 2007 Michel Gahier Arbois Grands Vergers – France, Jura, Arbois
    Medium red color with clear meniscus; cinnamon, cabbage water, ethyl acetate nose; tart red fruit, tart cranberry, hibiscus, tangy, tart grenadine, tart pomegranate, floral palate with tart tannins and serious grip; medium-plus finish (90 pts.)
  • 2007 Philippe Bornard Arbois Pupillin Le Ginglet – France, Jura, Arbois Pupillin
    Bricking medium cranberry red color with clear meniscus; major reduction, floral, hibiscus nose; tight, pinched, tart red fruit, carbonic maceration, cranberry, hibiscus palate; medium finish (86 pts.)

Oxidative Whites

Here we get to the Jura’s unusual whites. To understand these wines, it is helpful to learn how the region’s Vin Jaune is made, and the following information is largely borrowed from Jura and Savoie expert Wink Lorch’s article entitled “A Jurassic mystery.” Ripe Savagnin grown at low yields is first conventionally fermented and then transferred to old Burgundy barrels partially filled and place in a warm environment–the producer’s attic, cellar or a storage warehouse, someplace well ventilated and subject to temperature fluctuations. This allows for the voile or film of yeast (like the flor of Jerez) to form on the wine’s surface, protecting it from oxidation while it continues to develop and concentrate. Those barrels that ultimately become Vin Jaune are aged for at least six years and 3 months, during which each cask is regularly checked for VA levels, and the formation of ethanal, which helps provide the “gout de Jaune.” Slow oxidation takes place, but the voile protects the wine from turning to vinegar. Those casks that aren’t developing in the necessary way are withdrawn and sold as Savagnin whites, or blended with Chardonnay and sold as whites. For the most rigorous producers, the rejection rate can be as high as three-quarters of the original barrels. Those that make it to the six year and 3 month point are bottled in the 62 centileter clavelin bottles. The best can age for another 10 years or more.

In our flight, we had two Savagnins, one nearly 100% Chard and a 50/50 Savagnin/Chard blend. The oldest was our ’01 Puffeney Sacha, the blend. For this blend, the components are raised separately, with the Savagnin sous voile and the Chardonnay kept topped up (the term is “ouille” in the Jura). The components are blended shortly before bottling, and usually released about three years after the vintage. Unfortunately, although I’ve like this wine in the past, our bottle on this evening was just too reductive for me on the palate. According to Wink Lorch, ’01 was a pretty difficult vintage for Jura whites.

2004 was a significantly better Jura white vintage, and we had two samples, both Savagnins. The Houillon/Overnoy Savagnin is oxidative Savagnin from lots that were determined not to be developing as needed for Vin Jaune. All bottles from this Domaine have the same label, so the only way to distinguish them is by the wax seal, which is white for Chardonnay, yellow for Savagnin and green for blends of the two. I found it much like a lighter sherry, and quite drinkable. Our other ’04 was the Domaine de Montbourgeau Savagnin, which came from lots of Savagnin selected as not being suitable for Vin Jaune. It had a lot of apple flavors, in addition to the sherry-like flor and nutty notes.

Our final, youngest bottling, the ’06 Montbourgeau L’Etoile, is almost all Chardonnay, together with some field blend Savagnin. The vines are all grown on rocky limestone in l’Etoile. Fermentation is in stainless steel, and then aged sous voile in old oak barrels for two years before bottling. It typically has high acidity and can age for many years. This was the best of our flight for me.

  • 2004 Emmanuel Houillon Arbois Pupillin Maison Pierre Overnoy – France, Jura, Arbois Pupillin
    Medium gold color; nice nutty, caramel popcorn, sherry, mineral, dried mango nose; tangy, oxidized, light sherry palate with a citrus undertow and medium acidity; medium-plus finish (88 pts.)
  • 2001 Jacques Puffeney Arbois Cuvée Sacha – France, Jura, Arbois
    Sulfur, reduction nose; nutty, reduction palate that exhibits just too much sulfur to be appealing; medium finish (roughly 50/50 Savagnin and Chardonnay, hence the name; I really enjoyed and bought a bottle of this several months back, so I’m hoping my bottle doesn’t show the reduction that this one did) (83 pts.)
  • 2004 Domaine de Montbourgeau Savagnin L’Etoile – France, Jura, L’Etoile
    Light medium gold color; big apple skin, dried apple, flor yeast nose; tasty, tangy, mellower, apple skin, flor, nutty palate; medium-plus finish 89+ pts. (89 pts.)
  • 2006 Domaine de Montbourgeau L’Etoile – France, Jura, L’Etoile
    Medium gold color; flor, yeasty, VA, light caramel, hazelnut nose tasty, poised, light caramel, hazelnut, baked apple palate; medium finish (almost 100% Chardonnay,with a small amount of Savagnin incorporated as field blend; fermentation in stainless steel, then aged sous voile in old oak barrels for two years before bottling) (90 pts.)

Vin Jaune

Our final wine of the tasting was a sample of the Vin Jaune, described above as being what much oxidative Savagnin aspires to becoming before being selected out and bottled early because it is not developing in the way that slow aged Vin Jaune needs to. This one, from Jacques Puffeney, was released in ’09, after more than eight years sous voile. Puffeney combines the cask aged wines in foudre to integrate before bottling. The traditional pairing for Vin Jaune is Comté cheese, also known as Gruyère de Comté, which is produced in the Jura, and we had some with this last wine. I thought this 2000 was quite good, and balanced, and clearly has a long life ahead of it.

  • 2000 Jacques Puffeney Arbois Vin Jaune – France, Jura, Arbois
    Medium dark gold color with yellow lights; oxidized, almond, creamy, hazelnut, flor, nut skin nose; tasty, mature, balanced, flor, almond, hazelnut, butter, dried apple palate with depth; long finish 92+ pts. (92 pts.)


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One Comment leave one →
  1. July 17, 2010 12:06 pm

    Update on the ’01 Puffeney Cuvee Sacha: I tried another bottle last night with friends and it was even better than the first time I’d tried it. 93 points. Wonderfully savory and a good foil for our tomato bread salad and gazpacho. The serious reduction on Thursday’s bottle appears to have just been a bizarre anomaly.

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