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Franciacorta: Unique, Different and Authentic

June 14, 2017 9 comments

“Sir, I will be very happy to work with you to improve the quality of your wines, but I have one request”, said young oenologist. “What is it?“ said Guido Berlucchi, the man famously known throughout the whole Franciacorta for his aristocratic, elegant lifestyle. “I would like to make Champagne here, in Franciacorta”.

The year was 1955, and young oenologist’s name was Franco Ziliani. Guido Berlucchi, while may be surprised, was not shy of taking the risk, and Franco Zeliani got to work. First vintages were a total disaster – awfully tasting wines, blown up bottles. But in 1961, the patience and perseverance paid off, and first 3000 bottles of the Franciacorta sparkling wine came into being.

Mr. Berlucchi invited his influential friends from Milan to try the wines, and they all happened to like it. The new chapter in the Franciacorta history was opened.

Map of Franciacorta

Map of Franciacorta region

The wine was produced in Franciacorta literally forever. The land surrounding Lake Iseo from the south was strategically located along the trade path between Turin and Rome. In the 11th century, the monks created a special zone called Curtefranca to encourage land development and commerce – “Curte” in this case represents “land”, and Franca, while sounds related to France, has nothing to do with it – it simply means “free of taxes” in Italian. The primary focus in Curtefranca was agriculture, and can you imagine agriculture in Italy without making the wine?

As the time went on, the Curtefranca became known as Franciacorta – however, the Curtefranca name didn’t disappear and since 2008 it is a designation for Franciacorta still wines.

That first 1961 vintage at Berlucchi became a turning point for the whole region which was before mostly known for its red still wines. Producers started changing their ways and make sparking wines, and Franciacorta DOC was established in 1967 with 11 sparkling wine producers. Franciacorta became first DOC in Italy to require all sparkling wines to be produced by the metodo classico. In 1990, the Consorzio per la tutela del Franciacorta was formed and became a major regulatory body for sparkling wine production; in 1995 Franciacorta was awarded a DOCG status, top level of quality for the Italian wines. Starting from August of 2003, Franciacorta became the only region in Italy where the wines can be labeled only as Franciacorta and not Franciacorta DOCG – similar to the Champagne where the word AOC doesn’t appear on the label.

If you are like me, I’m sure you are dying to hear a few more facts. Today, Franciacorta comprise about 7,500 acres of vineyards and produces about 15,000,000 bottles per year; there are about 200 grape growers in Franciacorta, 116 of them produce their own wines. 65% of all the vineyards are organic, and conversion to organic methods continues.

Franciacorta vineyards

Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Blanc are the only permitted varieties in production of Franciacorta, with Pinot Blanc being somewhat of a bastard child, as the grape is even more finicky to properly produce than Pinot Noir – while some of the producers phasing it out (e.g. Berlucchi), the others love the perfumy bright character which the grape can impart on the resulting wines.

Franciacorta’s climate is very conducive to getting grapes ripen perfectly. The climate is generally mild, with consistently warm summer days. The Lake Iseo creates a cooling effect during the summer nights, helping grapes to reach the levels of phenolic ripeness which is very difficult to achieve (if not impossible) in the Champagne. During winter, the lake provides a softening effect, protecting vines from the very low temperatures.

Unquestionably Champagne was an inspiration for the ways and means of the Franciacorta sparkling wines – as expected if you use metodo classico production. However, Franciacorta is largely moving past the “Champagne copycat” status and actively seeks and creates its own unique style, not only by stricter aging requirements (both non-vintage and vintage Franciacorta must be aged on the lees for longer than the Champagne in the same category), but by the whole method of production – for instance, by using only stainless steel tanks for the fermentation or relying much less on blending and more on the quality of the grapes from the given vintage.

Franciacorta is obsessed with quality. It starts in the vineyard, where even if not certified, most of the grapes are growing as organic. New vines are often planted at a very high density, to force the roots to go deep down as they have no room to grow to the sides. The yield is well limited to about 4 tons per acre. All the grapes are harvested by hand (this is a requirement of Franciacorta DOCG). The grapes are cooled down before the pressing – and in the case of Ca’del Bosco, one of the premier producers in the region, the grapes are even washed and then dried, using specially created complex of the machines.

Getting the grapes into the winery is only the beginning of the quest for quality. We talked to many winemakers, and they were all repeating the same words – “gentle pressing”. There is a tremendous focus on gentle handling of the grapes, using various types of presses. Arturo Ziliani, the son of Franco Ziliani, who is in charge of winemaking at Berlucchi, gave us the best explanation. “Think about a lemon. Cut it, and right under the skin, you will see the white layer – pith. When you quickly juice the lemon, lots of that pith ends up in the juice, rendering it cloudy – and adding bitterness and extra acidity. If we would juice the lemon slowly without destroying the pith, the resulting juice would be clear – and lemonade would need a lot less sugar to make. While much thinner, grapes also have the layer of pith right under the skin – and when we press the grapes, we want to avoid crushing it as much as possible”.

Even gentle pressing alone is not enough. Franciacorta regulations allow up to 65% of grape mass to be pressed. Most of the winemakers press less, at around 50%, in some cases even limiting only by 30%. At all stages of the process, there is a great effort to protect grapes and wine from oxidation; such focused handling also allows to greatly reduce the levels of added SO2 – while the law allows up to 210 mg/liter, many winemakers limit it at only 50 mg/liter.

Official Franciacorta Glass

Obsession with the quality. Attention to detail. How do you drink your bubbles? The flute, you say? Where you ever able to perceive the full bouquet of your sparkling wine through that small opening on top of the flute? Well, leave the flute for Champagne, but if you want to enjoy Franciacorta, you will have to dump it (whatever way you see fit) and upgrade to something better – an official Franciacorta glass. It is specifically designed to enhance the visual and sensual qualities of your bubbles in the glass. The shape allows concentrating the aromas. And the glass is specifically made with the slight imperfections at the bottom to help form beautiful bubble traces better (perfectly polished glass doesn’t allow bubbles to form).

Glass of Franciacorta

Obsession with quality. Attention to detail. Passion. So what makes Franciacorta unique, different and authentic? It is all of the above. Franciacorta is a unique place, with its own terroir, its own ways of making the wines, and really its own, authentic sparkling wines. Franciacorta shouldn’t be compared to Champagne, for sure not anymore, not based on the tasting of 50 or so wines during our 5 days there. Well, maybe except one thing – similar to Champagne, it should be simply called by the name. You will make all hard working Franciacorta producers very happy next time at a restaurant, when you will have a reason to celebrate (and every new day is enough reason in itself), by simply saying “Waiter, please bring Franciacorta, the best one you got!”

Unexpected Wines of Macedonia

November 25, 2015 4 comments
Macedonia landscape  - View from National Park Galicica

Macedonia landscape – View from National Park Galicica. Source: Wines of Macedonia Web Site

Macedonia (The Republic of Macedonia, to be precise) is a small country right in a middle of Balkan Peninsula in Europe. While it exists under its current name only since 1991, it is one of the oldest countries in Europe, tracing its history for more than 7,000 years. Similar to its neighbors – Turkey, Greece and others – Macedonia also has very long wine history, but still remains “one of the Europe’s last undiscovered wine country”, as stated on Wines of Macedonia web site.

Macedonia has about 62,000 acres of vines planted, split between 3 regions and 16 wine districts. There are 28 grape varietals growing there, equally split between white and red. The climate in Macedonia is a cross between Mediterranean and Continental with warm, dry summer and fall, which definitely helps with wine production.

Okay, enough of the facts – you can read that all on your own. Now let me explain the “unexpected” part of the title. In my mind, Macedonian mostly associated with indigenous grapes, such as Vranec (there are 7 indigenous grapes in Macedonia at the moment). When I was offered a sample of Macedonian wines, I was hoping to find something new and unusual, and may be even advance my grape count.

When the box arrived and was opened, to my surprise I found inside a bottle of Rkatsiteli and a bottle of Merlot. Rkatsiteli to me is a Georgian variety (yes, I heard that it is growing in some of the Balkan countries). And Merlot – don’t think we need to discuss the origins of that. I don’t know what I was expecting, but Merlot and Rkatsiteli definitely surprised me. Both wines came from the region called Tikveš, which is the biggest wine region out of three in Macedonia. Well, of course I tasted the wines, and below you can find my thoughts:

2014 Stobi Rkatsiteli Tikveš, Macedonia (12.3% ABV, $12, 100% Rkatsiteli)
C: Pale straw
N: touch of minerality, white peaches, candied lemon zest, overall very inviting
P: lemony acidity, underripe green apple, nice creaminess, touch of minerality, medium+ body, clean
V: 7+, food wine – fresh seafood, oysters

2009 Bovin Merlot Barrique Tikveš, Macedonia (14% ABV, $N/A, 12 month in Macedonian oak)
C: dark garnet, almost black
N: delicious dark chocolate, ripe fruit, hint of black currant, blueberries
P: medium to full body, baking spices, slightly overripe cherries, short finish.
V: I had this wine over the period of a few days. Here is the conclusion from the initial tasting: 7-, beautiful nose; interesting taste components on the palate, but not coherent together. Two days later, the wine became surprisingly coherent, rounded up and showed an silky dark power and excellent balance, so the final verdict is 7+/8-.

There you have it, my friends – two wines, may be unexpected, but well drinkable. Next time if you see a wine from Macedonia on the shelf – give it a try, you might be pleasantly surprised. Cheers!

Rediscovering Chianti – Cool? Traditional? How about Fun and Tasty!

May 15, 2014 11 comments

DSC_0740What is the major pleasure of the wine journey? You never arrive! No matter how much you know, how many wines did you taste, how familiar you are with the producers, there is always something new, something unexpected, something to learn and discover. Case in point – Chianti. Say the word “Chianti” – what image comes to mind? Come on, don’t even start on Fiasco, please. The “image” here is more of “what do you think of the Chianti”? Outside of being (sometimes) a safe and inexpensive choice at the restaurant, or a no-brainer selection to accompany the pasta dinner, how often do you dream of a bottle of Chianti, left alone salivate at one thought of the particular bottle of Chianti wine? Yeah, I thought so. But – the wine is a never ending journey – so let’s take a look at what is going with the Chianti nowadays.

A few weeks ago I attended a Chianti seminar and tasting in New York. The goal of the seminar was simple – to convince the group of wine bloggers, writers and wine trade professionals that Chianti is cool. Actually, this was the request from the event organizer, Consorzio Vino Chianti, that the seminar attendees would tweet about the event using the hashtag #ChiantiCool. To showcase the “cool” factor, 6 wines which we tasted during the seminar were presented in the semi-blind way. Of course all the wines were Chianti, but we were not given the information about the producers – and all the bottles were wrapped in the tin foil, so nobody would get any ideas.

The very first wine we tasted simply put me on the offensive. It was so tremendously acidic, it was hard to enjoy it at all – some people in the audience claimed that this was a “traditional Chianti the way it should be” – well, may be, but this was not cool at all in my book. Going from one wine to another, it felt like the wines were slowly improving, with the wines #5 and #6 been quite decent. Here are the brief notes, for what it worth:

  1. Chianti DOCG Riserva 2010 (12.5% ABV, 80% Sangiovese, 10% Canaiolo, 10% Trebbiano) – dark ruby color. Pure ripe tart cherries on the nose, hint of earthiness, touch of herbs. Palate – astringent and acidic, ouch! Drinkability: 5
  2. Chianti DOCG Riserva 2010-(14% ABV, 80% Sangiovese, 15% Merlot, 5% Syrah) – Dark Ruby color, Caramel and blackberries on the nose. On the palate, some cherries in the back, lacks depth. Drinkability: 7-
  3. Chianti Rufina DOCG Riserva 2010 (12.5% ABV, 90% Sangiovese, 5% Canaiolo, 5% Colorino) – dark ruby color. Cherries, earthiness, similar to the wine #1. Prevalent biting acidity on the palate – definitely a food wine, more balanced than the wine #1, but lacks depth. Okay as food wine, not a sipping wine by all means. Drinkability: 7
  4. Chianti DOCG Riserva 2010 (13% ABV, 90% Sangiovese, 5% Canaiolo, 5% Colorino) – Dark ruby color. Interesting dustiness on the nose, herbs, cherries, touch of plum. On the palate, lots of tannins in front, soft acidity, some cherries. Drinkability: 7+
  5. Chianti Montalbano DOCG Riserva 2010 (13.5% ABV, 100% Sangiovese) – Dark garnet color. Beautiful legs from switling. On the nose, the wine is beautiful, complex, with nutmeg and herbs. On the palate, it is sweet and savory, with good fruit, many layers and very good balance. Drinkability: 8-
  6. Chianti Colli Fiorentini DOCG Riserva 2010 (14% ABV, 90% Sangiovese, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon) – Garnet color, a bit lighter than the others. On the nose, there is lots of earthiness, cherries and savory notes. Palate shows matching earthiness (great!), herbs (thyme, sage), perfect complexity and nice long finish. Drinkability: 8

I don’t know what was the principal of selecting wines for the seminar, but cool they were not really. Thus after the seminar ended, I was questioning the whole presence of myself at the event, especially considering that now I had to wait for another hour before the walk-around tasting would start. I definitely glad that I was there with Stefano (Clicks & Corks), as it made the wait a lot more palatable.

Without any expectations, we started our walk-around tasting with the table number one. The very first sip of the very first wine literally made me shake my head in disbelief. The wine was simply delicious (tasting notes will follow). And wine after wine after wine made me to go wow, and then wow and wow again. Power, finesse, clarity, perfect balance – literally each and every wine we tasted was at the top of the game. It was almost mind-boggling to hear the winemakers explaining that their wines are made in the traditional style. Yes, I get it – it is a traditional style, as many wines were made as a blend of Sangiovese, Canaiolo and Colorino, but then the Chablis-like minerality on the nose, coupled with the layered, luscious fruit instead of just leather and tobacco notes – I have a hard time calling this “traditional” – but I will gladly call these wines “cool!”.

What gives, you ask? I think there are a couple of factors which are dramatically changing the story of the Chianti wines. First factor, or rather factors, are the modern winemaking techniques – in one word, the Quality.  Better quality of the grapes, harvesting at a pick, reducing yield, improved fermentation capabilities, the barrels and tanks are better and cleaner, and so on.  And then, it is the …. Terroir! When I commented to one of the winemakers that a few of his Chianti bottlings from the same year taste so incredibly different, he answer was “of course”. His property, which is about 100 acres in size, has 5 (!) different micro-climatic zones… Most of the people come to think of Tuscany, the land of Chianti, as something universally monolithic. Yes, with the idyllic moniker of “rolling hills of Tuscany”, but one and the same. At the same time, Chianti is a huge grape growing area, with probably a hundred of  the sub-zones and microclimates, all producing “traditional”, but oh-so-different wines. In most of the cases, people can think of Chianti, Chianti Classico and Chianti Rufina, but actually Chianti is so much more than just these three regions – Colli Aretini, Colli Fiorentini, Colline Pisane, Colli Senesi, Montalbano, Montespertoli are some additional sub-zones, never mind single vineyards. Winemakers are learning all the time, what works and what doesn’t, and we are lucky to be able to taste the products of their labor of love.

Did I get you tired of my rambling by now? Okay, time to talk about wines. Below you will find the tasting notes. Yes, there were lost of wines, and they were so good! I also made an effort to extend above and beyond my simple “+++” ratings to give you more descriptors. I don’t throw those “+++” ratings easily – and here, a lot of wines were simply outstanding, table after table after table.

Here we go:

Azienda Agricola Corbucci – this was a very impressive start – very nice and approachable wines, made in the “drink any time” style

2012 Chianti DOCG “Corbucci” – ++, dry, leather, good acidity, a bit astringent
2012 Chianti DOCG “9Code” – +++, old vines, 7 days fermentation. fruit, earth, balance!
2009 Chianti DOCG Riserva “Corbucci” – +++, aged for 2 years in French barriques, excellent!

Azienda Agricola Emanuela Tamburini

2012 Chianti DOCG “Mauro” – +++, 90% Sangiovese, 10% Canaiolo, light, open, earthy nose. Very much Bordeaux in style on the palate.
2010 Chianti DOCG Riserva “Italo” – +++, aged for 24 mo in combination of cement tank and oak barrels, beautiful, open, layered
2008 Vin Santo del Chianti DOC “D’Incanto” – ++, oxidized style, aged in small open barrels for 5 years without topping off

Azienda Agricola La Cignozza

2010 Chianti DOCG – +++, 80% Sangiovese, 15% Canaiolo, 5% Mammolo, aged for 1 year in big barrels. Roasted meat on the nose, perfect acidity, dark fruit – excellent!
2008 Chianti DOCG Riserva – +++, 80% Sangiovese, 20% Canaiolo. Sweet open nose, nice fruit, multi-layered – outstanding!

Azienda Agricola Lanciola – harvesting by hand, 2 green harvests, 5 different microclimates within one vineyard!

2012 Chianti DOCG “Podere Elisa” – +++!
2012 Chianti Colli Fiorentini DOCG “Lanciola” – +++, outstanding, open
2011 Chianti DOCG Riserva “Podere Elisa” – +++ excellent!
2011 Chianti Colli Fiorentini DOCG Riserva “Lanciola” – +++, barnyard and roasted notes, wow!
2008 Vin Santo del Chianti Colli Fiorentini DOCG “Lanciola” – ++++, unoxidized style, caramel, apricot, candied fruit, perfect balance, wow!

Azienda Agricola Malenchini

2012 Chianti DOCG – +++, 5% Merlot, stainless steel, nice, light, smokiness, pleasant
2012 Chianti Colli Fiorentini DOCG – +++, 10% Canaiolo, smokiness, balance, power, a bit of tannins

Azienda Agricola Pietraserena – Arrigoni

2011 Chianti Colli Senesi DOCG “Poggio al Vento” – +++, Sangiovese/Syrah (10%), 1 year in barrique, 1 year in bottle. Restrained nose, beautiful!
2011 Chianti Colli senesi DOCG “Caulio” – +++, 100% Sangiovese, roasted nose, nice fruit, open, clean, easy to drink
2012 Chianti Colli Senesi DOCG – ++, 10% Canaiolo, cement tanks. Coffee, roasted notes, a little short on palate

Bindi Sergardi

2012 Chianti DOCG “Poggio al Sorbo” – +++, 100% Sangiovese, vineyard at 750 ft elevation, stainless steel, Raspberries and smoke, mocha, chocolate on the nose, clean and open palate
2012 Chianti Colli Senesi DOCG “Bindi Segrardi” – +++, red fruit, clean, elegant, beautiful

Cantina Sociale Colli Fiorentini Valvarginio

2010 Chianti Colli Fiorentini DOCG “Collerosso” – +++, organic wine, pure tobacco on the nose, same on the palate, beautiful balance

Cantine Fratelli Bellini – traditional and very good

2013 Chianti DOCG “Bellini” – ++-|, 5% Canaiolo, 5% Colorino, young, simple, easy to drink
2010 Chianti Rufina DOCG Riserva “Bellini” – ++-|, aged for 2 years in oak, nice, easy, simple, soft, touch of leather

Cantine L’Arco

2012 Chianti DOCG “L’Arco” – ++-|, 10% Merlot, touch of smoke
2011 Chianti DOCG “Principe del Sole” – ++-|, soft, round
2009 Chianti DOCG Riserva – ++-|, 10% Canaiolo, nice, soft

Castel di Pugna

2012 Chianti Colli Senesi DOCG “Ellera” – ++, simple, clean
2008 Chianti Colli Senesi DOCG “Ellera” – +++, excellent, sweet fruit, nice, elegant
2011 Chianti Superiore DOCG “Villa Cambi” – ++-|,  nice, elegant, open
2007 Chianti Superiore DOCG “Villa Cambi” – +++, aged for one year in Tonnau, roasted fruit, plums, spices, excellent!
2008 Chianti Colli Senesi DOCG Riesrva “Ellera” – ++-|, 5% Canaiolo, nice, elegant, restrained

Castello del Trebbio

2013 Chianti DOCG – ++-|, Sangiovese/Canaiolo, stainless steel, brilliant ruby color, fresh berries, sweet fruit, good acidity, simple!
2009 Chianti Rufina DOCG Riserva “Lastricato” – +++-|, nice complexity, leather, spices, fresh, elegant

Le Fonti a San Giorgio

2012 Chianti DOCG – ++, 5% Pignatello, nice, soft, simple
2013 Chianti DOCG – ++, fresh, clean
2011 Chianti Montespertoli DOCG – ++, Sangiovese/Merlot, very goo, unusual garden herbs
2009 Chianti Montispertoli DOCG – +++, smokey blueberries, roasted notes, liquid steak, wow
2010 Chianti Montispertoli DOCG Riserva – ++3/4, 15% Merlot, nice, round, strawberries, good tannins, pepper, tobacco

Pietro Beconcini Agricola

2012 Chianti DOCG “Antiche Vie” – +++,excellent, clean, blackberries, mocha
2010 Chianti DOCG Riserva “Pietro Beconcini” – ++, cherries, nice, round, supple

Pieve De’ Pitti

2011 Superiore Chianti DOCG “Cerretello” – +++, Sangiovese/Canaiolo/Black Malvasia, nice, balanced, unusual fresh fruit notes
2010 Superiore Chianti DOCG “Cerretello” – ++++ nose/+++ overall. Nose – wild berries, perfect balance, fruit, very fresh overall
2009 Superiore Chianti DOCG “Cerretello” – +++-|, amazing nose – Barolo!
2008 Superiore Chianti DOCG “Cerretello” – +++, wild berries on the nose, perfectly powerful palate
2007 Vin Santo del Chianti DOC – ++, Trebbiano and San Colombano, aged in Chestnut wood, nice, could use a bit more acidity

Podere Volpaio – organic and beautiful

2010 Chianti DOCG “Volpaio” – ++, nice, simple
2010 Chianti DOCG “Terre De’ Pari” – +++, Beautiful, open, fruit on the nose, perfect balance on the palate, delicious tannins
2004 Chianti DOCG Riserva “Terre De’ Pari” – +++, Tobacco, smoke, barnyard on the nose – wow, beautiful
2001 Chianti DOCG Riserva “Terre De’ Pari” – +++, same as 2004, with even more complexity.

Ruffino

2012 Chianti DOCG – ++, nice, light, simple, good fruit
2012 Chianti Superiore DOCG “Il Superiore” – ++-|, nice, good fruit, good balance, good acidity

Val di Botte

2013 Chianti DOCG “Val di Botte”– ++, nice simple, $3 wholesale!!!
2012 Chianti [Classico] DOCG “Val di Botte” – +++, excellent, soft, round, clean, beautiful.

Villa Artimino

2012 Chianti DOCG – +++, nice, round, touch of smokiness, tobacco
2011 Chianti Montalbano DOCG – +++, pure minerality, gunflint, cherries, tobacco, earth, nice fruit, excellent balance

Overwhelmed? Well, I really wanted to share these notes. I don’t know if you read them at all, if you did not – just scroll back for a second, and then tell me – how often do you describe Chianti wine as “smoke, gunflint, wild berries, liquid steak, smokey blueberries, mocha, chocolate”? And yes, I had to use all of those descriptors – as this is what these wines were calling for. Is that cool? You bet. This is also traditional – but now, the beauty and diversity of Tuscan terroir shines through these wines. Don’t take my word for it – while I insist that Chianti now are fun and tasty (and cool!) wines, go grab a bottle and prepare to be blown away, as I had. Cheers!

Passion for Jura – The Land

April 22, 2014 15 comments

Vignobles_juraLet’s say you are talking to an oenophile. Ask her to name the major wine regions in France. I’m sure that Bordeaux, Burgundy and Champagne will be first. With the small pause, Loire and Rhone will follow, and then may be (may be!) Languedoc. I wonder how many of the oenophiles will mention Jura? Next question might be even more “tricky” – how many oenophiles tasted Jura wines? And the trickiest question of all – how many of you, my readers, tasted Jura wines? No, you don’t need to answer – Jura wines are almost impossible to find in US, and very difficult to find outside of France in general, so it is not surprising that they are not winning popularity contests, and thus it is really not your fault that you are not familiar with Jura wines.

We live in the times of the dramatic globalization of wine. Not only wine is exceedingly produced in the new and unusual places, but wine availability is becoming more and more global. No, Jura is not a newcomer to the world of wine, if anything, it is quite the opposite – Jura wines had been produced for more than two thousand years. The global availability is what changed – as consumers demand more and different wines, Jura wines, which are definitely unique and different, are becoming better known and more demanded.

Few days ago I was lucky to attend the wine tasting in New York City, called Passion for Jura, which was a great learning experience. The event consisted of seminar and walk around tasting, with more than 20 producers represented. Before we talk about wines themselves, lets take a look at the Jura region and many of its unique qualities first.

Jura region is a narrow stretch of land, about 50 miles long and less than 2 miles wide, in the north-west part of France, sandwiched between Burgundy and Switzerland. First mentions of the Jura region go all the way back to 80 A.D. When it comes to the different aspects of terroir, climate in Jura is somewhat similar to Burgundy, with the potential for more severe cold temperatures, especially during winter time. Soils are probably the most unique aspect of Jura terroir, with some of the shale formations aging between 200 and 230 million years – so yes, you can probably find dinosaur imprints in that soil, if you look deep enough. Overall, the difference in the age of soil can be quite dramatic, tens of millions of years between the neighboring vineyards.

Jura wines were well regarded in France, with Arbois (one of the main towns in the region) wines being known for what they are since the 10th century, and Château-Chalon wines (this is where the famous Vin Jaune is made) being well known since the 16th century. Similarly to all other winemaking regions in France, Phylloxera wrecked havoc in Jura’s wine industry. Before the Phylloxera, Jura region had about 50,000 acres under the vine, with 42 grape varieties, out of which 14 were identified in 1774 as “good grapes”. Today, Jura region has only about 5,000 acres planted, and only 5 varietals are used in the winemaking. Of course everything has two sides – only the best areas were replanted after the Phylloxera epidemic, and only with the grapes which produced the best results, so yes, there is silver lining in most everything in this life.

It is impossible to talk about Jura and not to mention a few of the famous people who dramatically impacted the wine world, while living in Jura at the same time. First, of course is Louis Pasteur, whose seminal work “Studies its diseases, their causes and new preservation and aging process“, published in 1886, was really a key element of the modern oenology. While Pasteur’s name is probably familiar to many, I wonder how many people will recognize the name of Alexis Millardet, also of Jura – meanwhile, he came up with the technique of grafting French vines on the American rootstock, which allowed to restart the French wine industry after the Phylloxera devastation. And the last person I would like to mention here is Joseph Girard, a resident of Arbois, who founded INAO (National Institute of Denominations of Origin) and was instrumental in establishing the AOC system of quality, which was subsequently copied all over the world. It is probably not very surprising that the very first AOC in France, established in 1936, was … the Arbois AOC!

Let’s talk about the grapes. Now, this is somewhat of the simple task, as there are only 5 grapes growing in Jura – 3 reds and 2 whites. Here they are:

Poulsard – indigenous red grape of Jura, sometimes also called Ploussard. Most planted red grape in Jura (about 40% of all red grape plantings), and about 14% of total grape plantings. Produces bright looking wines, almost Rosé in color, which are very refreshing and age quite well.

Trousseau – another red grape of Jura, part of the Savagnin family, most likely originated in Jura. The same grape is known as Bastardo in Portugal. Has about 8% of the total planted area, and about 22% of the red grape plantings. Often blended with Pinot Noir.

Pinot Noir – was introduced in Jura in 14th century. Has about 13% of the total plantings, and a bit less that 40% of the red grape plantings. Early ripening variety, thus has high degree of risk of frost damage in spring.

Chardonnay – same as Pinot Noir, was introduced in Jura in 14th century. Also known as Melon d’Arbois in the north, and Gamay Blanc in the south. Few vignerons are still growing Melon á Queue Rouge, a rare red clone of Chardonnay. Chardonnay is the most popular grape in Jura, at about 43% of total area plantings and 2/3 of the white grapes plantings.

Savagnin – most famous grape of Jura, and the only one allowed to be used in Vin Jaune. Late ripening variety with low yield. makes up about 22% of the total grape plantings and about 1/3 of the white grape plantings.

Before we get to the styles of wines and regions, let me give you a few interesting numbers. With 5,000 acres planted, there are about 300 grape growers in Jura, each taking care of about 17 acres of vineyards. There are also about 200 producers and about 100 villages in the Jura region.

With only 5 grapes, Jura produces a great variety of stylistically very different wines. Historically, Jura wine were very unique, as oxidation always played a very important role in the white wines of Jura. While oxidation is great, as the oxidized wine can be preserved almost forever, it doesn’t necessarily appeal to the tastes of the mass of the wine drinkers in the world. Starting in 1990, the style of Jura wines started to change, to move from oxidized to fresh, generally more acceptable style. As the result, there is a number of styles which you need to be aware of in order to make sure the wine will actually taste as you would expect instead of “OMG, what is it???”. Additional problem is that these styles are not necessarily clearly indicated on the from label, so sometimes you really need to look through all the information on the labels and outside in order to understand what type of wine it is. The oxidation is only relevant to the white wines, so the styles of the white wines are:

  • Ouillé – non-oxidized
  • non-Ouillé – oxidized
  • Naturé – Savagnin wine in the oxidized style
  • Tradition – a blend of oxidized Savagnin and Chardonnay

For what I understand, all it means is that if you don’t see the word Ouillé somewhere on the label or description of the wine, there is a good chance that the wine will be oxidized – if anyone who reads this post has better knowledge of the subject, I would greatly appreciate the comment!

Tired yet? We are almost done! Last part – let’s talk about wine styles and appellations. Before we get to the Jura details, one general note. Have you noticed the words AOP showing up more and more on the wine labels, especially on the latest releases of wine? This is because the French government, following overall EU requirements, is changing the AOC (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée) nomenclature to the AOP (Appellation d’Origine Protégée), so you should expect to see the words AOP more and more on the bottles of French wines.

Jura uses total of 6 appellation designations – 2 of them are product designations, and 4 are geographical designations. Additionally, there are two wines which can be made in different appellations but they still have very specific product requirements. Here we are:

Vin JauneCrémant du Jura AOP – this is the product AOP for Sparkling wines in Jura. Made by the traditional (méthode champenoise) method, with 9 month minimum aging on lees. The wine can be produced anywhere in Jura, using all 5 varietals. Grapes should be harvested by hand and whole-cluster pressed.

Macvin du Jura AOP – this is the product AOP for fortified dessert wines. Can be made anywhere in Jura AOPs using any of the 5 grapes. The wine is made by blending of 2/3 of unfermented grape juice with 1/3 of the local brandy, called Marc du Jura, which should be made at the same property from the grape skin pomace. The wine should be aged for at least 12 month in the oak barrels before release.

Arbois AOP – geographic AOP, the biggest in terms of production. All 5 grapes are grown and permitted in production of the wines, with all types of wine allowed for production.

Château-Chalon AOP – a dedicated geographic AOP for production of Vin Jaune. Savagnin is the only allowed grape, harvested late. If any other wines are made, they are designated as Côtes du Jura. For more details, please see below.

Côtes du Jura AOP – a geographic AOP. All 5 grapes are allowed to be used, and all styles of wines can be produced.

L’Étoile AOP – a geographic AOP, the smallest in Jura, consisting of only 4 villages. Only Chardonnay, Savagnin and Poulsard are allowed. All styles of the wines can be produced.

Vin Jaune – Most famous wine of Jura, so called “yellow” or “golden” wine. Can be made only out of the 100% Savagnin, in any of the 4 geographic AOPs. The grape is harvested late, and vinified as any other white wine would. After that, the wine is aged in the oak barrels which are not completely filled up. The barrels are never topped off and never racked. Similar to the Jerez, the thin film is formed on the wine’s surface, which is called The Veil – it allows the wine to age gently. The minimum age of the wine before it can be bottled is 6 years and 3 month. The wine requires pre-tasting prior to the bottling, and it is produced only in the good years. Vin Jaune is bottled in the special bottles called Clavelin, which contain 620 ml – Jura winemakers had to endure a long fight with the authorities in order to keep the historical, but not EU standard size (750ml) of the bottle.

Vin de Paille – the dessert! Generally produced from Chardonnay, Savagnin, Poulsard and sometimes Trousseau in Arbois, L’Étoile or Côtes du Jura AOPs. The grapes are harvested early and then dried up either in the boxes or hanged up in the air for 3 -5 month. After pressing, the wine have to age for at least 3 years with minimum of 18 month in the oak.

Whew, and we are pretty much done. Believe it or not, but I think this is probably the longest ever post with the least number of pictures – if not The longest, then definitely one of the longest. Jura is unique and special region, as you will see when we will be talking about the wines in the next post, and I really wanted to give you all the information together, without breaking it into the pieces. If you are still reading it – I definitely want to thank you for your patience. I hope you learned something new here. Also, if you have an experience with Jura wines, your comments and opinion will be greatly appreciated. Hell, your comments will be greatly appreciated even if you never heard of Jura wines till today. With that, until the next time – cheers!