Thursday, February 07, 2008
A Jura wine extravaganza
It was supposed to be -5°C (about 20°F) in the Jura this weekend, where I was headed for the Percée du Vin Jaune, the annual - outdoor - celebration of the "new" vin jaune, in this case the 2001, since vin jaune requires six years and three months of maturation.
Fortunately, the sun was blazing and it was a comfortable 7°C (closer to 45°F), so my two shirts, sweater, sweater vest, sleeveless parka and overcoat were slightly excessive, and most people had their gloves in their pockets.
The tiny neighboring villages of Sainte-Agnès and Vincelles were cordoned off and filled with the stands of 81 producers of Jura wines. Once you entered the villages, it was tasting time. Along with various comestibles along the way - Morteau sausages, Comté cheese and snails cooked in vin jaune.
Because I'm that way, we started with the best tasting of the day. I knew I liked this producer, but nothing else we tasted afterward was at that level.
Domaine de la Pinte
1996 Arbois Savagnin "Terres Bleues" - this is not a vin jaune but a Savagnin white (same grape, just not aged with the "veil" like a vin jaune); a rich, nutty and deliciously complex nose, and mouth-filling, oxidized palate with a good slatey minerality. Absolutely delicious. My non-vin jaune wine of the day.
1991 Arbois Vin Jaune - what?! After the Terres Bleues, this was a big letdown. Characteristic nose, but completely uncharacteristic on the palate, with lots of slate and no body; very thin. The reason I had liked Domaine de la Pinte (aside from the fact that it was recommended by the eminent wine taster and sometime fellow Champagne traveler Michaël Lux) is that last year, they had their 1979 at the tasting, which was just incredibly rich, profound, with melted caramel and walnuts. This was not that.
1998 Arbois Vin Jaune - Mm, here was a delicious vin jaune. Far more body and more typicity than the 1991, it was the perfect (young) expression of the style. We'll let this one age.
Since there were 81 possible domains to taste, it was time to be picky. Last year, we'd had a couple of real stink bombs. Unfortunately, our favorite producer, Lucien Aviet, was not there this year, but there were a number of excellent choices. I made the wrong turn of heading down a set of stairs into a cellar for Overnoy... only to discover that, like in Burgundy, you have to check the first name. This was not the famous Overnoy, but another, and the wines were thin, forgettable.
2005 Chardonnay - We had a bottle of this at an escargot stop. Apparently (and I didn't know this), the domain has been bought by Henri Maire, the huge and much-reviled evangelist of Jura wines and creator of the "vin fou" (crazy wine). Jura Chardonnay is weird stuff, but this was fairly tame; a nice, wiry aspect to it and good length, that said.
Another top domain and a favorite of mine from last year. But just as last year, I found the well-respected Berthet-Bondet absolutely undrinkable, this year, I was disappointed with Macle.
NV Crémant du Jura - 100% chardonnay méthode champenoise; light and inoffensive, it didn't have enough character to warrant further attention.
2000 Vin Jaune - I'm starting to sense that 2000 in the Jura was a fairly weak year. This was also a very acidic vin jaune with not a lot of roundness or oomph.
1999 Château Chalon - The top of the line for Macle. Apparently, they made no Château Chalon in 2000 because the grapes were not healthy enough to qualify under the much stricter regulations for that tiny vin jaune appellation. The 1999 is fascinating stuff, though. Seemingly discreet on the attack, it gains in complexity and is extremely long on the palate, evolving into a series of mineral and fruit/nut notes.
2005 Arbois Savagnin/Chardonnay - A zippy, delicious young white where the Savagnin and Chardonnay play off each other, with a bitter, mineral and oxidative streak in the Savagnin rounded out by the more conventional, tame Chardonnay.
1998 Arbois Vin Jaune - An elegant vin jaune, with notes of fresh and roasted walnuts.
1986 Arbois Vin Jaune - Another favorite of the day, sipped standing in a courtyard overlooking Vincelles, as the mouth-filling notes of caramel and walnut tart took over. These are just better and better with age.
2005 Côtes du Jura Savagnin - Much better than the 2004 tasted last year; real terroir character, though much more limpid and with less body than the vins jaunes we'd been tasting.
2000 Château-Chalon - Well-balanced vin jaune with all the elements in place to age well with nice body to it; I am surprised I was so negative about this domain last year.
And so we looped back around to Sainte-Agnès to pick up our wine at Domaine de la Pinte, and re-tasted the 1998, which was still our favorite of the day. Now all that was left was to walk the mile, carrying bottles, back to the car as the sun began to set. And James Brown's "I Feel Good" started to play from loudspeakers into the Jurassic gloaming.