Nopa Staff Tasting: Jura

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Each week, Nopa’s Staff gathers for a thematic hour of wine tasting and education. Below are the notes from the prior weeks host, Mr. Nick Elias. 

As far as most wine textbooks are concerned, the Jura is little more than a side note. Often lumped in with the Savoie, it is mostly known as the home of a strange, oxidized expression of savagnin known as Vin Jaune. While Vin Jaune may be the opus of Jura white wines, it is far from the only thing this strange and isolated region has to offer. The Jura is a wild place. Largely forested and on the eastern edge of France, the Jura is well off the beaten path. As a result, old styles and unique grape varieties are found here that cannot be found elsewhere.
For sommeliers, the Jura is a treasure trove. The white wines are haunting and powerful. The red wines from Poulsard and Trousseau can be ethereal, lean, and versatile. In all cases, wines from the Jura are unique, and often they are stunning. This week, we explored all of the major grapes and style of the Jura, in hopes of gaining a modicum of understanding for this strange region. Here’s what we found.

Michel Gahier is a friend and neighbor of Jacques Puffeney, the most famous producer in the region. As a result Gahier is deeply rooted in tradition. He produces only single vineyard wines produced in classic Jura styles. His Chardonnay is unlike anything produced elsewhere in the world. Lightly oxidized, this wine possesses the yellow flower and chamomile tea characteristics of Burgundy, with more texture. Far and away, this is one of the more compelling Chardonnays I have ever tasted, and at a fraction of the cost of a Burgundy of similar quality.

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Montborgeau Savagnin 2010 L’Etoile
The L’Etoile region of the Jura is the Southernmost region. The region gets its name from the star-shaped fossils scattered throughout the soil here. This wine is made from the Savagnin grape and aged “under veil” similar to the way sherry is produced, with the notable difference that this wine is not fortified.

This is not a new wine for me. In fact, it is one of the wines that caused me to choose wine as a career. The first time I tasted this wine, I was at my favorite wine bar in San Francisco. The owner, a colorful Frenchman poured me a glass without my asking and asked what I thought. At the time i was taken aback by the almost savage nature of it. It is full of bruised pear and yellow apple notes, sprinkled with honey suckle, and spiced with yellow curry. It bites back, but not in an unpleasant way.

Tissot Trousseau “Singulier” 2013 Arbois
The Trousseau grape hails from the northern edge of the Jura, producing light bodied wines with surprising tannic structure. Tissot produces their wines biodynamically, and blends this wine using grapes from their choicest sites. The nose of this wine is deceiving. Full of red fruits and potpurri flowers, one is expecting a delicate, light bodied wine. But on the palate, the tannic structure of the Trousseau jumps into perspective. The balance between delicacy and power make this an extremely useful food wine. Light fleshed meats or red fleshed fish (both of which are prominent on Nopa’s menu) are both great candidates as pairings here.

Rolet Vin Jeune 2006
No Jura tasting would be complete without a Vin Jaune, the local speciality. Made from Savagnin and aged under veil for 6 years, this is not a wine for the faint of heart. The magical thing about Vin Jaune is that is still tastes so alive after a production process that would destroy virtually any other white grape. This wine was like the Montborgeau Savagnin, only more so. The aging process reduces the volume of this wine by close to 40%, leaving a more concentrated, intensely spicy wine reminiscent of sherry. Vin Jeune is a rare treat, and this one is no exception.

In short, few regions have the ability to capture the Sommelier’s imagination in the way that the Jura does. It is wild, unpredictable and versatile. It can produce easy drinking summer afternoon wines or wines that will haunt your dreams. Hardly a sidenote, this should be counted as one of the premier wine regions of the world. That being said, I hope it remains in obscurity, because for this place to lose its personality would be a tragic loss for those of us in the know.

Nick Elias