Château-Chalon, l'Etoile and the southern Côtes du Jura
By Wink Lorch
This Guide was last updated on 25 June 2014
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Literally ‘yellow wine’, Vin Jaune, which in this micro-region includes Château-Chalon, accounts for only about 2-3% of production and is by law released no earlier than 6 years and 3 months after the vintage. From 100% Savagnin left to ripen quite late, the grapes are vinified like any other white wine and then transferred to 228-litre Burgundian fûts of varying ages, never new. Importantly, the barrels are not topped-up during the maturation. On the wine's surface, a film of yeast forms, known as the voile or veil, similar to the flor yeast of Sherry. This grows over the years and protects against complete oxidation. Using regular laboratory testing and tasting, those barrels which won’t withstand the ageing period are withdrawn, and these wines go to make white wines. One of the keys to the Vin Jaune ageing process is the storage location for the barrels, which contrary to most wine cellar storage, must be well ventilated and allow temperature fluctuations. After the 6+ years of ageing (and many producers leave their Vin Jaune for longer), the wine is bottled into the 62cl-clavelin bottle, the only one permitted of this size in the EU – its size is the theoretical amount left from a litre of wine after 6+ years’ evaporation. The characteristics of this long-lived wine are a golden, very dry wine with high acidity and a pungent flavour that may be of walnuts, spices (ginger, fenugreek etc, which the French refer to as ‘curry’) and dried fruits. Minerality is a particular point of difference for Château-Chalon. The sale price for a decent example starts at around €25 per bottle.
These vary hugely, though all have relatively high acidity. Traditionally, a pure Jura Savagnin will have started life as a Vin Jaune but will have been withdrawn after two or three years of ageing (see Vin Jaune above). It therefore has some of the characteristic jaune or oxidative character. It is generally sold 3–4 years after the vintage. Some producers today make a Savagnin that is ouillé, meaning that the barrels have been topped up, and made in a non-oxidative, fresh style, also known as floral. These wines are worth seeking out, very food friendly with lovely fresh lemony flavours - they may have been oak aged or not, and sold from 1–4 years old. White wines from L'Etoile are usually pure Chardonnay, made in an oxidative style, very typical of this southern micro-region. There are a few producers making very Burgundian Chardonnays, fermented in fairly new oak, but showing a distinctly mineral tone from the Jura soils. Chardonnay-Savagnin blends tend to have some oxidative Savagnin in the blend and are often labelled tradition.
Vin de Paille means literally 'straw wine' and these are made at varying sweetness levels, from medium sweet to lusciously sweet. The appellation requires a minimum of 14% alcohol and a minimum three years of ageing (with 18 months in wood). They are mostly made from Chardonnay, Savagnin and Poulsard, with occasionally some Trousseau. If red grapes are used, a slight pale mahogany or reddish colour is apparent. The grapes are picked early so that they are healthy with good acidity levels. They are then left to dry either traditionally in boxes with straw, or more commonly in small plastic boxes, usually in a warm attic area. The grape sugar increases up to a potential of 18–22% alcohol and the grapes are pressed towards the end of the year or sometimes as late as February following the harvest. Some very traditional Jura producers age the wines in oak without topping up so that they gain some oxidative character, others make a fresher style.
Traditionally, the reds from the Jura are pale-coloured and lightweight, often not even oak matured and designed to drink early. Today, some producers are making more age-worthy reds, especially from Trousseau or Pinot Noir. Ageing may be in foudres or large oak barrels or in small barrels, rarely new. These wines can age well, from 3 – 5 years or more. Some blends are also made.
Rosés are dry and mostly from Poulsard alone, though Trousseau or Pinot Noir may be used. Some Poulsard wines are marketed as rosé, even if made as a red with a week's fermentation on the skins, because they are so pale.
Crémant du Jura wines can offer excellent value for money. The majority are white and brut, with crisp, appley flavours and no or only slight yeasty character as they are mostly aged for the minimum 12 months on the lees. Rosés are mainly dry, light and fruity.
Macvin is made by stopping fermentation by the addition of the local Marc (grape spirit); these are generally 18 – 20% alcohol, sweet and strong with a chocolate or nutty character. They may be drunk as aperitifs, with dessert or even cheese.
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