Tuesday, March 07, 2006

The Pain and Pleasure of Drinking Jura

There are certain wines which require a certain reflection before casting judgement. Many of these wines have been around for hundreds or thousands of years, and have remained true to their roots, oblivious to the whims and scruples of changing tastes. I am speaking of the resin-infused Retsinas, the aromatically-challenged Bandols, the oxidized Grenache Blanc and Terret Blanc whites of the southwest, the Coulée de Serrant of Savennières and perhaps at the head of the pack, the Savignan based wines of the Jura. At first, these wines are not easy to drink, often needing an appropriate food accompaniment and an open mind. However, despite its Christmas tree sap overtones, to this day I have yet to find a wine that so well compliments that scrumptious Grecian mix of garlic, yoghurt and oregano as a good Retsina.

So in deference to those who have remained unique in the face of the homogenization that is much of the world of modern wine, here are a couple of wines to discover, understand and appreciate.

Arbois 2000, Béthanie, Fruitière Vinicole d’Arbois (saq..$23)
It is hard to think of the Jura without a mention of Vin Jaune, or ‘yellow wine.’ Made in its entirety with the local Savignan grape (a distant relative of the Traminer family), it is aged in old 60 gallon open casks in similar fashion to that of fino sherries, allowing a film forming yeast to develop on the surface. And there it rests for 6 years and 3 months until bottling. The result is a wine with a phenomenal richness, nuttiness and spiciness that accompanies a variety of strong cheeses and the classic vin jaune chicken.

A good way to enter the world of the Savignan is with this Arbois. Composed of 60% Savignan (aged for 3 years under the film) and 40% Chardonnay, it has the distinctive nuttiness of the vin jaune but with a touch of browning apples, lemon and vanilla. Serve it at 15 degrees Celsius (around 60F) so as to bring out as much of the richness, spice and nuts that it has to offer. Any cooler, and the oxidized flavors are too strong and the wines becomes way too acidic. It will work with wonders with terrines, chicken and in particular with a strong, ripe cheese like Raclette. We serve it at L’eau with a fondue of Victor and Berthold Reserve, laced with cumin and nut bread as the dipper, a phenomenal mix and one which very few wines could handle. My first bottle took me a week to drink but I am now a fanatic, so take your time, open your mind and mouth, and discover an extraordinary style of winemaking.

Chardonnay 2000, Les Bruyeres, Tissot ($28…saq)
Aged in barrels that once held vin jaune, this 100% Chardonnay is a touch more user friendly than a classic Arbois but New World butter fiend beware, this wine has torque! At 6 years of age, the majority of its fruit has dissipated into a rich, buttery nuttiness. Neither bitter nor smokey, it reminded me of hazelnut with floral overtones. Incredible with Guinea Hen or other stronger bird.

Macvin de Jura , Tissot
I don’t know if it qualifies as "wine" but it is made of grapes. The juice and must of Savignan grapes are reduced by half by boiling, and the resulting liquid is then fortified with brandy. Once this magic elixir reaches 16% alcohol by volume it is placed in oak casks to age for six years. There is no fermentation process. The result is an incredibly rich and unctuous fortified wine with a heavy amber color and aromas and flavors of nuts, citrus zest, prunes and other dried fruits.


g58 said...

The Arbois you mention was served up moments ago to crowd of forty people. Almost all of it went into the spitoon! The Art de Vivre SAQ does good job with their Midi Conseil program -- Jura et Savoie was the topic this week -- but they weren't moving many bottles of this stuff. Serving it after the Domaine Idylle and Rolet Chardonnay might not have been the best idea. I thought it was tremendously acidic so I'm guessing the bottles should've been left out to warm up a few more degrees. It reminded me of extra dry Marsala or Chip Dry Port -- I doubt I'll ever open it at the dinner table. Bill, you'll have to invite me over for some of that chicken dish to convince me!

Jameson said...

Try the yellow wine with Comte cheese. It's like sherry with Manchego. Heavenly!

Iris said...

I tried a vin jaune de Pupillin (Overnoy) with a choux-croute the other day and found it excellent with the smoked (fat) meat and the sauerkraut...

But I also noticed, that you have to be initiated to appreciate.

I like your comparaison with 100% Mourvedre wines like the true Bandol. Much more difficult to make understand than Syrah and Grenache.

caveman said...

G58- What temperature was teh Arbois served at? When I had this on my menu at L,eau I tested it and found that the ideal temperature was between 12-14 degrees centigrade. The cooler that the wine was served, the more one got acid, oxydative flavors.. At 14, it was nut butter... I wouldn't trust the bottle in the hands of most saq 'specialists.'

Jameson...agreeed oh so classic but hard to find great comte...

Iris..Souvent les meilleurs choses dans la vie demande une certaine effort...Je n'ai toujours pas gouté un Rosé de Pibarnon...vous?

g58 said...

Caveman Bill,

Marcus G58 here. To set the record straight, I really doubt that the Arbois was at or above 12 degrees. But no matter the temperature, I suspect that this wine would've been a nasty initiation for me, as Iris suggests. The thing I find really funny is that l knock back Bandol without blinking an eye and Retsina never fazes me. I love these wines. Though I can see the need to deviate from a resinated wine from time to time, I could drink Mouvedre everyday. Guess I'll just have to give the Arbois time to work its magic.

What do you think of Rolet Chardonnay?

caveman said...

Rolet is good but I think I prefer Tissot's Chardonnays... a touch nastier. Labet's fleur is also exceptional (kinda in between the two) but that is only on the IP. I love all the oxidized whites from the south of France, perhaps that was how I got into it...