“J” is for Jura

If I asked a selection of people to name three French regions. I would bet my house that none would mention Jura. To be honest, until I started studying wine, I had never heard of it either!  But Jura is a really intriguing and much overlooked region with a wine style very much of its own.

About the region

This small region is located at the eastern extreme of France, in the mountainous region between Burgundy and the Swiss border. This 80 kilometre long narrow strip of land stretches from Salins-les-Bains in the north to Saint-Amour in the south. Historically of importance, the region once had 20,000 ha of vines, today though this number is closer to 2000 ha. Although Burgundy is just an hour’s drive away, the climate in Jura is more continental with colder winters, hotter summers and more rainfall.

Grape varieties

There are five main grape varieties grown in Jura. Perhaps as a result of the influence of near-neighbour Burgundy, international varieties Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are popular here, but the remaining varieties are indigenous to the area.

Savagnin Blanc (White) – closely related to the Traminer grape, it most commonly goes by the name Savagnin but can also be called Naturé. Representing over 20% of plantings in the region, this pale skinned variety, is high in acidity and bone dry with spicy, floral aromas.  As the official grape of Vin Jaune (more on that later), is most commonly vinified semi-oxidatively producing nutty, saline wines much akin to Sherry.

Poulsard/Ploussard (Red) – Making up 40% of Jura red wines, this pale skinned, delicately perfumed red is low in tannin and colour. Often used for Rosé or blended with Pinot Noir or Trousseau for light fragrant red wines.  Poulsard is also used for the production of Vin de Paille (see below).

Trousseau (Red) – accounts for around 22% of the grapes used in Jura’s red wines.  Strongly coloured and high in tannins, the wines are generally sturdy, full of flavour (dark berries, hints of violets and gamey, savoury notes) and capable of long ageing.  Note – this robust grape is also known as Bastardo (one of the many grapes of Port).

Styles of wine

Vin Jaunequite literally meaning “yellow wine”, Vin Jaune is synonymous with the Jura region and is made from the indigenous Savagnin grape. This distinctive wine is produced by a very special ageing process similar to that of Sherry, but without the additional fortification.  Rather late-harvest grapes are picked (usually around October) with potential alcohols of around 13.5%. While fermentation is normal, it’s the post fermentation processes where the magic happens, namely, the wine is put into oak casks that are not quite filled to the rim, and it’s here the wine sits for six years and three months, during which time a layer of flor (here known as voile) grows on the surface. This voile partially protects the wine from oxidation, resulting in a hugely savoury wine that is saline and nutty with sweet spice notes, capable of ageing for decades.   Note: Vin Jaune is always bottled in distinctively shaped 62 cl bottles called Clavelin’s.

Vin de Paille – another speciality of the region.  Meaning “Straw wine”, those of you that read my blog on dried-grapes will be familiar with this – a sub-group of the family of dried-grape wines, the grapes (either Chardonnay, Savagnin or Poulsard) are picked early and left to dry for a minimum of six weeks (historically on straw mats, but usually hung out indoors these days – less romantic perhaps but decidedly more sanitary!) before a long slow fermentation.  Deeply coloured, with flavours redolent of dried apricot, raisin, date, walnut and honey, Vin de Paille from Jura must be a minimum of 14% ABV and aged for a minimum of 18 months (usually closer to three years) in oak barrels. Like Vin Jaune, these wines are capable of ageing for decades and given the tiny yields are sold in half (37 cl) bottles.

Crémant du Jura – production of sparkling wine in this region goes back to the late 18th century.  This wine is increasing in popularity as a good alternative to Champagne at a fraction of the price.  Made using the traditional method (like Champagne), these wines must use varietals that are typical of their region so in the case of Jura, white Crémant must be made from a minimum of 50% Chardonnay, the Rosé version must be 50% Pinot Noir and/or Poulsard.

So there in a nutshell are the distinctive, original wines of Jura.  Next up “K” is for Kosher wines.

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