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.