Jurassic 5: An Intro to the Jura and its Main Grapes (#Winophiles)

Юра Франция, деревня в долине.jpg
The village of Baume-les-Messieurs, in the Jura department, France. Photo from Wikipedia.

Welcome to Wine Geeksville! 

Today we’re taking a looking at the Jura, a teeny tiny section of France that’s wedged between Burgundy and the Swiss border. (For the record, there also a Swiss Jura region). It’s just under 50 miles long, making it France’s smallest wine region. It’s got classic wine grapes, as well as obscure indigenous grapes. They have quirky wine styles made, as well as terroir-driven wines from fascinating, ancient soils. The tiny region also has its fair share of star natural wine producers. In addition, the wines tend to be fairly high in acid, which generally makes them food-friendly. Obscurity, quirkiness, crazy soils, food-friendliness – with this combination, is it any wonder this region is a wine geek darling?

Map courtesy of WineFolly.com

There are plenty of reasons why the rest of the wine-drinking world should also get to know this region too. For one thing, it’s got a lot in common with Burgundy, which isn’t surprising given that they’re fairly close together. Burgundy’s star grapes, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay reside here as well. The Jura also has similar soils and a continental climate similar to Burgundy’s, with dry, hot summer and long cold winters, although it rains a little more here than in Burgundy and the winters are more severe. There has also been quite a bit of investment going on from Burgundian producers, looking for places to expand and bringing additional development to the area. For all the similarities though, the price point for a lot of wines remains considerably less than in Burgundy, although they can be hard to find.

I was getting ready to put together a pairing post on a couple of wines from the region – which will be coming up next – when I realized that I had notes compiled from several Jura tastings from the last couple of years. I’m pulling them together here as a primer and round-up on the region.  

Let’s start with some basics. The name of this post isn’t just an excuse for a hip-hop reference – 5 is kind of the magic number in getting to know the region. 

5 MAIN GRAPES

The Jura is home to 40 different grape varieties, but there are five that dominate. In addition to the previously mentioned Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, which don’t really need much of an intro, there are also three major grapes of the region you might not know.

  • Savagnin (white) might be considered the star of the region since it’s the key grape in their famous Vin Jaunes. We’ll be getting to know it better in my next post, but it’s an ancient grape and typically has lots of citrus and floral notes. It can also show richer notes of stone fruits and even exotic tropical flavors.
  • Poulsard (or Ploussard) makes super light red wines thanks to really thin, delicate skins. It can show pretty aromatics and flavors of red cherries, berries, herbs, and white pepper. It’s often blended with the region’s other reds.
  • Trousseau (red) is another ancient grape. This one decided to use its long life to travel a bit though and it picked up various aliases along the way. In particular, you’ll find it in Spain and in Portugal, where it goes by Bastardo. Here it makes spiced, peppery, red-fruited wines.

 

5 KEY WINE STYLES TO KNOW

You will of course find classical still wines in red, white, and rosé. You’ll also find sparkling wines, predominantly crémants, but there are Pét-Nat examples as well.

Beyond the classics, there are three fairly obscure styles. Try them if you get the chance!

  • Vin Jaune, which literally translates to ‘yellow wine,’ might be the style the region is best known for. It’s made using a technique similar to that used for making Fino Sherry, but the wines aren’t fortified and no solera system is employed. Always made from Savagnin, the wines are put in casks with a little room left at the top so that a layer of yeast can form. It’s similar to the flor that forms on Fino, but here it’s called voile, or veil. As you might guess, you’ll find a lot of yeasty flavor notes in common between the two styles of wine, however, Vin Jaunes gain oxidative notes as well. These wines can get pretty expensive, but there are also some in-between styles that aren’t as pricey. We’ll see one of these in my next post, as well as in the wine notes below.
  • Macvin du Jura is a vin de liqueur made by blending hardly fermented grape juice with marc du Jura, and is usually drunk as an aperitif. Versions have been produced in the region since at least the 14th century, but the modern take is made from late-harvested grapes, then eau-de-vie added to stop the fermentation (a method known as mutage), and the wine is then aged in oak barrels for 12 months before release. Macvin can be made from anywhere in the region, and any of the region’s main grapes can be used in its production, although white versions are more common. It accounts for only 3% of Jura's total wine production.
  • Vin de Paille is a style of sweet wine that was traditionally made from grapes that were  been dried out on straw mats (paille is French for 'straw') to concentrate the sugars in their juice. The process is similar to that used for passito wines in Italy and stroweins in Germany.

 

5 MAIN APPELLATIONS

Map courtesy of Vins du Jura.
  • Arbois and Côtes du Jura are the most important in terms of quantity. Both cover red, whites, and rosés, but both make more red than white wines. Côtes du Jura is the larger appellation, basically covering the whole region, but second in terms of quantity. Arbois falls within those borders, centering around the town of the same name. Despite being a smaller area, more wines are produced under that appellation, since producers will generally choose to use the more specific classification unless they’re also using grapes from the wider area. 
  • Crémant de Jura is for the bubblies. Specifically, as with other crémants, these sparklers are made via the méthode traditionelle (i.e. in the style of Champagne, but not from Champagne.)  Whites have to be at least 50% Chard, and the rest can be Savagnin. Rosés must be made up of at least 50% Poulsard and/or Pinot Noir. You’ll find a Cremant de Jura featured in this post.
  • L'Etoile is a tiny appellation covering only 75 hectares (185 acres) surrounding the village of the same name. Given the area is so tiny, these wines are rare! Chardonnay is the star grape here, but Savagnin is also produced and used to make Vin Jaunes. They also make vin de paille, which can use both of these grapes, as well as Poulsard. No red is made under this AOC. The name means "the star," which supposedly comes from the star-shaped fossils that can be seen in the local limestone soils. (How cool is that?!) The village of L’Etolie is also surrounded by five hills which look a bit like the five points of a star.
  • Château-Chalon (name of the village, not a specific Chateau) is considered the Grand Cru of Vin Jaune. That’s all they make, so by default Savagnin is the only grape allowed. Grapes must be late-harvested but without botrytis. Interestingly, the borders are non-contiguous and based on if the vineyards are planted on grey marl soil.

In addition to these, there are also AOC’s to cover Macvin and Marc du Jura, the region’s eua-du-vie.

SOILS AND TERRAIN

Landscape of tree-clad valley stretching toward mountainous horizon
Picture borrowed from Wikipedia.

The key soil types are Jurassic limestone and marlstone. The Jurassic period was named after the Jura and not the other way around! The area has undergone many shifts during the eons. At one point it was covered by a vast sea – that's how those starfish fossils got here. It’s seen the rise and fall of mountains and has been covered by glaciers for the last 5 million years that have carved out peaks and valleys. The region's limestone mountains are representative of the geological developments which occurred during that period (between 145 million and 200 million years ago.)

The mountainous terrain twists and turns, and the hills are covered by woods. In this, it is similar to the nearby areas of Bugey and Savoie to the south, which are also crowded up against the Swiss border along with the Jura.

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Creux du Van. Picture borrowed from Wikipedia.


WINES

Here are a few down and dirty tasting notes that were taken at tasting group sessions and at work. They were jotted down in varying degrees of detail depending on where they were tasted.  I’m sharing whatever I had here with some basic info, so as to give an idea of styles and flavor profiles.

Bubblies

Benoît Mulin Cremant du Jura NV

50% Chardonnay/50% Pinot Noir | Avg. price: $18

Benoît Mulin was a banker when he met his wife. Both were originally from the Jura and both were thinking about making the move back. As luck would have it, his wife was besties with the wife of then-rising winemaker (now regional superstar) Stéphane Tissot just as he was in the process of expanding the business to include a négociant arm. Benoît came on to help with the financial end of the business. He eventually went on to lease 7 hectares of land just next door to Tissot’s on which he is growing his own grapes. More info on Benoît Mulin here.

  • Biodynamic 
  • Bottles are aged for 15-18 months 

Tasting Notes: Really crisp, with notes of light brioche, apples, salted butter, and almonds.

Domaine Eric Thill Cremant du Jura Cuvée Adrian 2014

100% Chardonnay | Avg. price: $21

Eric was born in Alsace and prefers to work with single grape varieties. The family lives close to the village of Trenal, and they plant their vines close to the local forests to allows for greater diversity. More details on him here.

  • Certified Organic and committed to minimal-intervention. 
  • 1 year in tank, 3 years on lees.
  • Soils: Clay and marl.

Tasting Notes: Bruised apple, a little peach, melon, almond paste, rich baked bread. Rich creamy feel, almond paste, brioche, lemon, minerals on the finish. Yummy

Coup de Jus Caribulle Pét-Nat VDF 2017

100% Carignan (so atypical, hence the VdF) | Price: $26

Géraud and Pauline Fromont are natives of the Jura, but both came from farming rather than winemaking backgrounds. They started their domaine when they were in their mid-twenties. They share all vineyard, cellar, and sales duties, and are rising stars in the region. Coup de Jus is their newer négoiant project.

  • All fruit certified organic. 
  • Vinified in tank. Unfiltered.

Tasting Notes:  Glou-glou pomegranate kombucha.

Whites

Domaine du Pelican Arbois Savagnin Ouille 2015


100% Savagnin | Avg. price: $35

Guillaume d’Angerville decided to search for land to start a winery in the Jura after he blind tasted a glass of Stéphane Tissot’s Chardonnay Arbois Les Bruyères 2005 and was convinced that he was tasting Burgundy. He has built a very solid reputation in a very short amount of time.

  • Biodynamic. (He has 5 hectares of his own, but is set to take over more, and works with another biodynamic grower who has another 5.) 
  • The term “Ouillé” means “topped up”, referring to the wine being closed off from air exposure, a significant difference from traditional Jura Savagnins which are made with exposure to air. Without the traditional oxidation, the result is an aromatic, fresher style of wine, with zesty acidity.

Tasting Notes: Creamy in a way reminiscent of Chardonnay, but with much more screaming acidity. Gold apples, lemons, leesy, salted almonds. 

 

Peggy et Jean Pascal Buronfosse L’Hopital Savagnin 2015


100% Savagnin | Avg. price: $32

Peggy et Jean Pascal Buronfosse moved to La Combe de Rotalier to leave city life behind, with hope of having a farm. However, viticulture captured their curiosity. They'd ended up down the road from J.F. Ganevat, another of the area’s famed biodynamic producers, and with a little guidance from him, as well as their own trial error, they've found their way.

  • Organic. 
  • Native yeast fermentation in neutral oak. Wine is then aged for 18 months in neutral oak, sur lie. Additional details here.

Tasting Notes: Salty lemons, almonds, cheese rind, and oxidative (but much less than the next one) on the nose. Rich on the palate, but still makes the mouth water with notes of tangerine skin and lemons, with a tangy note.

 

Benoît Mulin Arbois Savagnin 2011

 

100% Savagnin | Avg. price: $35

See winemaker details above.

  • Soil: Blue and grey marl. 
  • Indigenous yeast followed by élevage for 30-36 months in barrels. Voile is allowed to form.

Tasting notes: Marigolds, yeast, tangerine skin, preserved lemon, and marzipan on the nose. Rich on the palate, with notes of salted almonds and pecans, butter, and apricot.


Reds

Domaine Valentin Morel Le Pieds sur Terre Poulsard Le Trouillots Cotes du Jura 2016

100% Poulsard | Avg. price: $39
 

Winemaker Valentin Morel had recently finished a degree in international law when he got interested in biodynamics. He studied winemaking in Alsace and decided to join the family domaine in 2014.

  • Organic, in process of certification.
  • Wine is fermented in stainless steel, then aged for 8 months in stainless tanks. Unfiltered and no sulfites. More info here and here.

Tasting notes:  Cranberry and oranges, dusty, drying flowers.  

Domaine Courbet Trousseau Cotes du Jura 2017

100% Trousseau | Avg. price: $28
 

The family-owned property is just south of Château-Chalon.

  • Indigenous yeast fermentation. Small portion whole cluster. Stainless steel fermentation, well as aging (10 months). Very low sulfur. More info here.
  • Certified organic and biodynamic. 
  • Soils: Marlstone, chalky limestone, clay.

Tasting notes: Dusty raspberry on the nose.  Brighter and fruitier on the palate, with raspberry and cranberry, cherry, pink flowers, light bramble, and a hint of white pepper. Pleasantly fleshy, good Pinot swap. Very pleasant despite light hints of brett (but not as much as the JaJa du Ben below). Reductive notes mostly blow off.

Domaine de la Renardière Arbois Pupillin Trousseau 2016

100% Trousseau | Avg. price: $30
 

Jean-Michel Petit decided to take over his family’s domaine in 1990 and also began expanding the holdings by buying vineyards. He’d ask all previous owners what the parcels expressed, but no one (not even his own parents) really knew because they all sold their grapes to the local co-op. He started vinifying each parcel separately to get to know each one. 

  • Organic 
  • Maceration and fermentation in stainless steel, then aged in barrel for 18 months. More details here.

Tasting Notes: Potting soil and dusty, bruised cherries on the nose. Red plums join in on the palate, with some bramble, white mushrooms, herbs, floral notes, and a hint of funk.

Domaine Valentin Morel Les Pieds Sur Terre Cotes du Jura Les Troullots Semain 16 2017

70% Trousseau,  20% Pinot, 10% Ploussard  | Avg. price: $39 

See winemaker details above.

  • Organic, in process of certification. 
  • This wine was made from the grapes that survived frosts in 2017.
  • Fermentation and aging in stainless steel vats. Unfiltered with no added sulfites. More info here.

Tasting notes: Bruised strawberry on the nose, with some of the strawberry stems included. Smells glou-glou. Brighter strawberries on palate, like some have just been recently crushed. A little spritzy, like dusty strawberry soda with some bramble and stems. Very easy to drink.
Really nice with goat cheese and preserves

Domaine Rolet Arbois  Rouge Tradition 2012

40% Poulsard, 30% Trousseau, 30% Pinot Noir | Avg. price: $17

Rolet is one of the larger domains in the Jura. Established in 1960, has been owned by three families throughout its history. Currently owned by the Burgundian wine family, the Devillards.

  • Varieties are fermented separately and blended after 18 months in large neutral barrels.

Tasting Notes: High toned on the nose, with a whisper of cured meat, bright red fruits, and a hint of mint.  Bright red fruits continue on the palate – dusty cranberry and slightly underripe strawberry – light herbs on the finish.

Les Dolomies Pinot Noir La Cabane VDF 2017


100% Pinot Noir | Avg. price: $18
 

The domaine was created Céline Gormally in 2008 with the help of her husband, Steve, who also helps to farm their 5 hectares of land. TCéline lives by the saying from Saint Exupery: “The earth is not ours; but lent to us by our children.”

  • Organically farmed, and also follow some biodynamic principles. 
  • Les Dolomies takes its name from the magnesium limestone found in the area. The iridescent marls and limestone outcrops can be found throughout the vineyards.  
  • Grapes are fully de-stemmed. Native yeast fermentation in stainless steel with use of very little sulfur, if any.

Tasting Notes: Very earthy, funky, cranberries, with dusty stones.

Anne and Jean-Francois Ganevat Le Jaja du Ben VdF NV

Gamay, plus a field blend of other obscure native varieties. | Avg. price: $39

One of the stars of the region and strongly associated with the natural wine movement. Jean-Francois Ganevat comes from a long line of winemakers, as far back as 1650. He is known for being quite meticulous in the vineyards and keeps things simple (although still detailed) in the cellar. (More info on him here.)

  • Certified biodynamic. 
  • Aged 9 months in conical wood tank. More details here.

Tasting Notes: There’s quite a bit of brett here, along with lots of red fruit notes. Reductive but it opens up. Juicier, fruitier, and friendlier on the palate. Really good with the funky cheese.

*****

The rest of the French Winophiles Blogging Group (#Winophiles) are exploring the Jura this month. Be sure to check out their posts:

 

This post contains Amazon Affiliate links, from which I might earn a commission at no cost to you.

 

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10 comments

  1. Wowza. What a line up! Thanks for ALL the information. I feel much more informed about the region already.

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  2. I am quite envious in the best possible way of your exploration. What a fantastic group of wines to try and compare. When we can travel again, this is definitely a must visit region for me. Fabulous, informative article!

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    1. Thanks so much Christy! And yes, I'd really love to visit here as well!

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  3. This is a GREAT primer! Reading all of your tasting notes, (which cover so much of the wine of the region!) I notice "dusty" and "Bruised" fruit multiple times. I find these to be really interesting notes and they make me excited to try more wines from this region. What in the soils and climate cause these notes do you think?

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    1. Thanks Robin! Good questions. I think always associate some form of earthiness with France and Italy, and for whatever reason it often takes the form of dustiness in areas of NE France like Burgundy and Jura. I think I often also find a lot of mushroominess, and maybe moreso in Jura because of all the natural winemakers, in addition to the grapes themselves. Considering the "bruised note," I think I might associate it largely with oxidation a lot of the time, but I'm going to have pay attention in the future, as I think you might have homed in on a tasting marker for me.

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  4. I always learn so much from you. I'm so glad you're back.

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    1. Thanks so much Wendy, but what do you mean? Where did I go?

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  5. Wow, this is quite a roundup of Jura wines! You're right - Jura is a wine geek's paradise. I like that all this variety is contained within a narrow region. Thanks for the excellent introduction.

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Thanks so much for leaving your comments and questions. I always love to hear from you!