Wines from the Jura region of France are a nerdy oenophile’s dream. They’re unique, intense and, well, seem well-suited for dorks. They frequently come in bottles shaped like Russian stacking dolls, feature wax caps over the cork and come from grapes even wine geeks can’t remember: poulsard, savagnin, trousseau. Jura wines are like an artist friend from some remote European village who wears tight black clothes, smokes clove cigarettes and eats fried calamari out of a brown paper bag. Kind of crazy, kind of scary, but, in a very odd way, kind of cool. They are introverted wines with quirky qualities that a lot of people are just going to flat-out hate. But I love them. Then again, I’m an introvert and a nerd, so that makes sense.
Anyway, I got together with some friends at Polena in Cleveland Park for some Jura wines, generously provided by another equally nerdy wine enthusiast. This tasting dinner was my first time trying wines made from poulsard and trousseau, two grapes I’m sad to say I’ve overlooked… until now. I also really love what chardonnay does in the Jura. It’s not white Burgundy, it’s not Chablis and its not new world. It’s Jura. And some producers there are apparently doing great things with the grape. Jura wines are hard to get, but I’m officially on the lookout.
My tasting notes are below. I know they are a bit extravagant, but that’s only because these wines were so damned unique.
N.V. Hubert Clavelin Crémant du Jura Brut - Comté - France, Jura, Crémant du Jura
This sparkling chardonnay was light golden in color. flowers, almonds and fresh biscuit aromas. Razor sharp acid, bordering on austere for some palates. Lemon zest, sea shells and minerals on the palate and a distinct saline flavor on the finish. A very unique sparkling wine that made me crave oysters. (88 points)
2007 Domaine de l'Aigle a Deux Tetes Côtes du Jura "En Quattre Vis" Vieilles Vignes - France, Jura, Côtes du Jura
The nose on this chardonnay showed lemons and minerals, opening up with time to show a bit of orange rind. the palate is light and zesty with orange zest, lemon and mineral flavors. There’s a very distinct slate flavor in this wine. The finish is quite long, and a hint of hazelnut comes out on the finish. A lighter style, but enough complexity to keep it interesting. (88 points)
2007 Domaine de l'Aigle a Deux Tetes Côtes du Jura Vieilles Vignes en Griffez - France, Jura, Côtes du Jura
Golden color in the glass. The nose on this is amazing: almond shell, buttered pear, coconut shavings and biscuits. The palate is so much richer and creamier than the "en quattre vis" bottling. I’m amazed two wines from the same producer, appellation and vintage (different vineyard) can be so incredibly different. This wine changed so much over the course of the night, transitioning from a creamy, nutty and herbal element to a more briny, mineral-driven wine with time. I’d love to see what five years does to this wine. I’d also love to pour this to fans of creamy California chardonnays, as this offers a version of that without the oakiness. (89 points)
As a huge fan of chardonnay in all its expressions, I absolutely loved this wine. It really demands attention. From the moment it hits the glass, I knew I was in for something different. The wine was cloudy (clearly unfiltered, possibly unfined?) like tea with honey. The nose is a medley of lemon peel, honey, and what I describe as a Hawaiin bun aroma, meaning a fluffy, sweet, baked bread aroma. Absolutely gorgeous nose. The tasting group described the palate as "clean and tight," and I agree. But it has tremendous richness, showing honeycomb, hazelnut, lemon peel and dried apricot. underneath it all is a briny aspect, like dill pickles covered in garlic salt. All of these elements are in impeccable balance. The finish is long and intense. What a crazy, amazing wine. (92 points)
1993 Emmanuel Houillon Poulsard Arbois Pupillin Maison Pierre Overnoy - France, Jura, Arbois Pupillin
The color on this "red" wine is more like watered down sweet tea mixed with cranberry juice. My friend Tim described the aromas of the wine thusly: "it smells like someone farted on a tire." Yes, there is some stinkiness, clearly some brettanomyces sneaking around in this wine. But to me it smells like braised pork belly. No, I wasn't eating pork belly, so it's not that. It really smelled like you were cooking bacon on high heat, went to take a shower or something, and came back 45 minutes later. Also, it smells like car exhaust. I thought of the Jersey Turnpike while smelling this wine. Not sure if that's a good thing, being a jersey boy, or if it means this wine could’ve poisoned me. The palate is surprisingly approachable. Okay, maybe not approachable, but the average wine taster wouldn’t spit this out. Good tannins still, zingy acid. The palate feels a bit confused to me, a bit off balance. I actually do get some wild strawberry and cranberry fruit. The finish is quite long and leaves me with a leathery taste. What an interesting example of what the poulsard grape can do, especially when aged. Several tasters commented that the wine reminded them of Burgundy a bit, and I can definitely see that comparison. (87 points)
2007 Jacques Puffeney Trousseau Arbois Les Berangères - France, Jura, Arbois
I loved this wine. Vibrant ruby colored in the glass. The nose is gorgeous: soft red fruit, rich top soil, dill pickles and herbs. I could smell this wine forever, as it just kept opening up more and more. The palate is soft and sexy and very reminiscent of pinot noir, at least to me. (This wine is made from the trousseau grape). Laser-like intensity and focus. Delicious red fruit and mineral flavors laced with herbs. Less tannic than a young Burgundy, but still some grip. The finish is really long and gorgeous. My first taste of a trousseau, and I’m very impressed. (92 points)
2009 Domaine Ganevat Côtes du Jura Plein Sud - France, Jura, Côtes du Jura
Well, one good trousseau deserves another. This wine was even better than the Puffeney, albeit a very different style. Bright ruby color. The nose is just gorgeous: melted licorice, plums. this combination of fresh strawberry and earth aromas reminds me of an 09 Beaujolais. The palate is bright, fresh and laced with lots of minerals. The mouthfeel is plush and the wine completely coats the palate. Like a really good Sonoma Coast pinot noir, this offers rich red fruit, earth, but then takes the minerality to a whole new level. I’m beginning to think I’m in love with trousseau. Wine of the night. (93 points)
2007 Philippe Bornard Arbois Pupillin L'Ivresse de Noé - France, Jura, Arbois Pupillin
This dessert wine made from savagnin grapes is goldenrod colored. The nose shows honey, pine, apricots. Reminds me of a late harvest chenin blanc. The palate is an interesting blend of briny flavors and creamy, sweet fruit. It’s like pickle juice and calamari dumped on top of candied peaches and apricot jam. Then top it with margarita salt. Seriously. What a weird/impressive wine that went very well with a variety of hard cheeses. The finish is long with a very distinct saltiness. (90 points)