About a month ago, I had the opportunity to taste the Jura wines of Domaine Berthet-Bondet. I have to confess I have only tried a few Jura wines over the years. This past Monday in New York, a group of 20 Jura producers showcased their wines.
Since I cover Burgundy, my interest was piqued by the Jura tasting. After all, geologically speaking, it is the "other half" of Burgundy, the eastern side of the rift valley across the Sâone plain.
The mix of limestone and marl that make up a good part of the soils is from the Jurassic period. Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are also planted in the Jura. But that’s where the similarities end.
The Jura’s geology consists of older rock formations, both from the Lower Jurassic and Triassic. The region was also affected by the uplifting of the Alps, resulting in isolated outcroppings that James Wilson, writing in Terroir calls "rootless mountains."
In addition to Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, the Jura specializes in three grapes you probably don’t know: Poulsard (or Ploussard, as it is known in Arbois-Pupillin), Trousseau and Savagnin.
The red Poulsard covers about 20 percent of the vineyards and accounts for 80 percent of the red varieties planted. Pinot Noir represents about 10 percent of the vineyard area. The last red grape, Trousseau, only accounts for 5 percent of the plantings.
Among the white varieties, Chardonnay is the most widely planted grape in the region at about 50 percent of the surface area. It thrives in the limestone soils. The Savagnin, a cousin of Traminer, covers 15 percent of the vineyards and is planted predominately on gray marl.
Like the film Jurassic Park, the Jura is not only a land frozen in time, but its wines harken back to another era. The Savagnin, either on its own or blended with Chardonnay, is traditionally made in an oxidized style. The barrels are purposely not topped (Quelle horreur!) and a veil of yeast (literally voile) forms, protecting the wine yet allowing it to oxidize slightly, much like fino Sherry.
The region’s famous wine, Vin Jaune, is aged for more than six years without topping up. The tiny appellation of Château-Chalon specializes in these wines, which are sold in 620 milliliter bottles. The Château-Chalon wines of Domaine Berthet-Bondet are sharply tangy in aroma, offering iodine and nutty flavors that turn more to caramel, coffee and candied fruit when aged.
While the region consists of many small parcels of vineyards, few growers bottle these individual climats or lieux dits separately. They are typically blended together, as are the different grapes. Chardonnay and Savagnin are often combined.
Julien Labet of Domaine Labet is one grower who keeps each parcel separate. I tasted some fascinating 2007 and 2006 Chardonnays from limestone and red clay soils. These Chardonnays, along with the Côtes de Jura 2007 from Berthet-Bondet, the Arbois-Pupillin Vieilles Vignes 2006 from Domaine de la Renardière and André et Mireille Tissot’s Arbois Les Graviers 2006 are reminiscent of white Burgundies from Savigny-lès-Beaune or Pernand-Vergelesses.
That said, there is a more savory, leesy character to these Jura Chardonnays that seems to emphasize the soil and winemaking more than varietal fruit.
The Savagnins are sui generis. They remind me somewhat of Sherries in the fino and manzanilla styles, yet with more fruit offsetting the green olive, nut and iodine brininess.
I didn’t care for the Poulsards I tasted. They were too gamy and earthy in character, without much fruit for balance. The few Pinot Noirs I tasted were light and not close in style to Burgundy.
Nonetheless, these are interesting wines for anyone looking for a unique taste experience from a region that doesn’t cater to the latest trend or sacrifice its traditions to commercial interests. There are old vines and the growers are generally young and passionate about their wines.
As Julien Labet said: “The beauty and confusion of the Jura is the diversity of its styles.”
Comité Interprofessionnel des Vins du Jura
Domaine André & Mireille Tissot