The Jura wine region is one of France’s smallest, accounting for just 0.2% of the country’s total production. It’s rural and remote, a lush landscape of valleys and slopes leading to the Jura mountains that form the border with Switzerland. The area is known for its meat and dairy produce (cheeses such as comté and morbier, and poulet de Bresse and morteau sausages) but, until recently, its wines were a hidden secret.
Chardonnay and pinot noir are grown here and make very good wines, including fine sparkling crémants du Jura. But it’s the unique native grapes of the area that I find most intriguing. Poulsard (also known as ploussard) makes pale, perfumed reds, while trousseau is generally darker, stronger and more muscular.
Savagnin is the white grape of the region and makes food-friendly wines with zingy acidity, sometimes made in an oxidative style called ouillé that gives earthy notes of wet leaves and hazelnuts. It’s also used for vin jaune, made in a similar way to sherry – a layer of yeast, called a flor, is allowed to grow on the surface of the wine in barrel after fermentation. It’s aged for at least six years before being bottled in distinctive clavelins. Austere and concentrated, vins jaunes are not for the faint-hearted.
Many producers are small family businesses that practice organic and/or biodynamic viticulture, aware of the importance of looking after the land as well as making wines that speak of the region. The Jura has a soulful feel, exacerbated in recent years by frosts, hails and raised temperatures that saw some growers losing all or most of their crops. A cruel blow as, just as the world is waking up to their charms, there’s now not enough wine to satisfy the increasing demand.
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Jura wines can be hard to find – ask your local wine merchant or try Vine Trail, Yapp Brothers or Les Caves de Pyrene. They’re not cheap but for me they’re worth every penny for a special occasion treat.
Five Jura wines to try
Fermented with native yeasts in oak barrels for a chardonnay that sings of its terroir. Honeyed and gently spicy with minerality, it’s great with creamy dishes.
Profound and textured, with bready, savoury, nutty layers and a bone-dry finish. A very special vin jaune that would be brilliant with smoked haddock pie.
Great-value fizz that brims with peachy fruit, lemony freshness and lovely, creamy bubbles. Enjoy it alone to start a party, or with crudités with chipotle aïoli.
Ethereal, with bright red fruits and mountain herbs. The same producer makes a stunning ouillé savagnin.
Oak-aged savagnin is added to chardonnay for depth. Notes of orchard fruits with citrus and ginger. Try it with tarragon butter chicken.