Ten years ago, only the nerdiest of wine geeks knew about the wines from the Jura. While the Jura mountain range forms a border between France, Switzerland and Germany, this region, especially the Arbois appellation, is en vogue.
Famous for its jeune vin, a wine made from savagnin in a method similar to sherry production, the Jura’s wines are very distinct. Outside of savagnin, chardonnay is used to make white wine. California chardonnay drinkers, beware — even these wines have a nutty, oxidized quality that sent my Sonoma Cutrer drinking friends into a quandary one night at Coco 500 in 2008.
The red wines are made from the indigenous grapes of Poulsard and Trousseau. Both grapes produce light-colored red wines, yet as a rule, Trousseau tends to be very earthy while Poulsard offers more spice. Pinot noir is also alive and well in the Jura, yet it manifests itself more as an Alsatian-style wine than one from Burgundy, leaving the new world out of the picture all together.
While the production in the Jura is far from significant, accounting for barely 1 percent of all wine made in France, the wines have immense personality. Admittedly, they can be funky beyond my pretty high funkometer. I’ve used the words “monkey cage” to describe a few — however, some of the most enjoyable and interesting wines I’ve had recently were from this region.
Trousseau can be wonderfully earthy with surprisingly high tannin and fruit to match. Poulsard can have the elegant charm of pinot noir but with a bit more spice and floral notes. The pinot noirs will satiate acid freaks. And the white wines are for those who love white wines in all its forms. Falling into a similar category as traditional white riojas, these wines, whether they be jeune vin or not, can have extraordinary complexity and length.
If you are in the least bit curious about this region, here are three to seek out:
Berthet-Bondet Nature, Cotes du Jura, 2008: Neither Jean or Chantal Berthet-Bondet are from the Jura, but after 25 years of making wine in a 16th-century chateau, of sorts, this is where they call home. Made entirely from savagnin, this wine taste like the love child of Amontillado sherry and Chassagne-Montrachet. With toasted rice, nuts and chamomile it is rich yet clean and fresh. Serve as an aperitif, and if you don’t finish it in one night no worries as it can stay open without a problem for a week. Suggested retail: $26
Puffeney Poulsard, M, 2007: Though by no means old, Jacques Puffeney is a legend in the Arbois. Nearly everything he touches turns to gold and choosing just one of his current releases for this column is difficult. However, I’m going to go with his Poulard M, which takes its named after the town Montagny-les-Arsures. Despite its light color, this wine has a fair amount of tannin. Beautifully fragrant with cayenne pepper and cedar followed by bing cherries and blood oranges, it has both Rhone and Burgundy-like qualities. Suggested retail: $29
Philippe Bornard Pinot Noir, Aide Memoire, 2006: Philippe Bornard used to sell his grapes to a cooperative, but no more. Since 2005, he has been keeping the goods for those of us who care to drink his wine. If you like fruit-forward, new-world-style pinot noir, this might not be your glass of wine. However, if you are open-minded and dig idiosyncratic, earthy pinot noir, look no further. Light-bodied with crimini mushrooms, cinnamon, juicy red fruits and minerals, this is a most unique wine. Suggested retail: $28
Pamela S. Busch is the wine director and proprietor of CAV Wine Bar & Kitchen in San Francisco.