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Jura


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Jura vineyards

An aerial view of vineyards in Jura. Photo by PRA on Wikipedia. License: Creative Commons SA 3.0 Unported.

The Jura is an important French mountainous region that borders on Switzerland in the east and Burgundy in the west. The winemaking traditions have been derived from those of both these regions, although, specifically, the styles made in the Jura called vin jaune (yellow wine) and vin de paille (straw wine) taste like nothing else in the world.

Vin jaune reaches its peak of idiosyncratic intensity of flavor in the appellation Château-Chalon. Exclusive and surprisingly expensive, these wines are made from specialized white wine grape Savagnin and have decades of aging potential. Straw wines are sweet, and Burgundian grape Chardonnay tends to have more importance. The best results are often compared to Sauternes for their flavors of tropical fruit. Vin de liqueur is a fortified style with high alcohol levels, and is usually not considered wine.

More conventional styles include the rosés made from Poulsard, a pale grape whose wines typically taste like red wine, but come out colored as rosé. Oftentimes, Pinot Noir is mixed in to give the wine a redder color. Some renegade producers are attempting to produce pure Pinot Noir with a nod to neighboring Burgundy, but the cold climate and unsuitably lofty altitude make this mission unlikely to succeed.

In a country where viticultural innovation is far too often looked down upon, the Jura is a region where producers are sticking to localized, extremely unusual styles of wine...and having tremendous success. Attempts to produce more traditional wines have largely been unsuccessful. This region's main advantage is that wines of the same style are produced nowhere else in the world.

History

Although the Jura is a very old region, having existed since prehistoric times, the wine industry has only relatively recently become major there. At some point in the Middle Ages, likely in the 13th or 14th century, natives of the Jura discovered the Poulsard grape and found the light but aromatic red wines it made interesting. The grape was imported from Burgundy, where generally low-quality examples were being made, and soon enough Burgundy was producing Pinot and Chardonnay while the Jura had good results with Poulsard.

Nowadays, Poulsard's dominance over red wines remains unquestioned, but Chardonnay has increased in popularity to make up almost all the non-vin jaune white wine plantings. Vin jaune has also increased in popularity, but an old USA regulation relating to bottle size has continued to obstruct its import to the States.

Climate and Viticulture

The unique wines of the Jura are produced mainly from grapes that do not thrive anywhere else in the world. People think that the Jura climate is a virtual replica of Burgundy's due to the high altitudes of the best vineyard land and the cool climate, not to mention the clay and limestone interspersed with high-quality marl in the soil. However, there are a few key differences.

The weather is slightly colder in the Jura, a minor difference that ends up having a great effect on the wines. Fearing underripe wines if they harvest early, many producers wait until mid-October to harvest, whereas Burgundy producers harvest at least a month earlier. Vin jaune is made from late-harvest grapes exclusively.

The soil is similar to that of Burgundy, with clay on the plains but at higher altitudes much more limestone. Deposits of marl exist as well, which generally add to the quality of the wine in that area. Some hills are even "limestone hills", meaning they are entirely composed of a limestone embankment. These hills can often make the best wines, but erosion is a major concern for producers who plant on them.

An explanation of the vin jaune production process is due the reader. Vin jaune means yellow wine, and the wine produced here is truly a golden yellow, although not too much darker than a mature Sauternes or white Burgundy. The squat, strangely shaped bottles are the main source of import problems, meaning that vin jaune is rare outside France and virtually impossible to find in the USA.

The Savagnin grapes are harvested in late October; they are sometimes made into dessert wines, but in this case they are fermented in used oak barrels with a bit of room at the top for oxidation. A film of yeast forms over the wine to protect it, but not before characteristic aromas have infected the wine. After six years and two months the wines are taken out and bottled in traditional clavelins. The shape of the bottle supposedly plays an important part in the taste of the wine, which is why producers refuse to bottle the wine in traditional containers.

Grape Varieties

Although the classic Burgundian grapes, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, are extremely common in the Jura, and they are allowed in four of the six Jura AOCs, these are not the primary grapes of the region. Savagnin, famous for its use in vin jaune, is the primary white grape, while the naturally pale Poulsard can produce a rosé or very light red of great aromatic character, but needs another grape blended in for color. Rare red grape Trousseau (known as Bastardo in Portugal, where it is most often used) is also allowed for the reds.

Major Producers

Here are eight good Jura producers.

Subregions

The lowest quality wines from the Jura usually fall under vin de table or vin de pays designations, while the six AOCs of the Jura indicate higher quality.