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Wines from the Jura

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Even the least wine-aware amongst us could name the regions of Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne and (possibly) the Loire. But what of the Jura, that mountainous, little-known region in eastern France, bordering Switzerland and relatively ignored by tourists?

Foodies may know the area due to its production of Comté, the supple, nutty cow’s milk cheese made from milk provided by the region’s pretty Montbéliardes cattle - similar to Gruyère, and an essential component of fondue. It’s unlikely, though, that they will know that the Jura’s output of wine once matched that of neighbouring Burgundy, until its vineyards were ravaged by phylloxera, mildew and the privations of the Great War. Post-war, improved road and rail connections to other parts of the country took the spotlight away from the area and the acreage devoted to grapes dwindled. Even now, after considerable regeneration, the region only contains 2,000 hectares of vineyards.

The Jura mountains define the terroir of the region – and, yes, they do put the ‘Jura’ in ‘Jurassic’. The ancient, rocky landscape provides limestone and marl soils at higher altitudes and a clay-based soil in the flatlands, with many vineyards found clinging precariously to the steeply-sloped mountainsides.

Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes are widely grown and harvested, for both still and sparkling wines (including the well-known sparkling Crémant du Jura), however this unique and curious region supports the cultivation of some unique and curious grapes - namely the red grapes Poulsard and Trousseau and Savagnin Blanc. The red wines of the Jura are wonderful, but it is a particular method of vinification used with the white Savagnin grape which makes Jura wines so very distinctive and remarkable.

The most iconic wine of the region, vin jaune (the most famous example being the legendary Château-Chalon) is entirely unlike a traditional table wine. Savagnin grapes are picked very ripe, pressed and fermented, with the resulting vibrantly acidic juice stored in oak barrels for a number of years. Natural evaporation takes place and an air-space becomes the perfect environment for the growth of flor, a filmy collection of yeasts similar to those found floating on the surface of Fino sherries whilst they’re in the barrel.

The air and yeasts work together to gently oxidise the surface, producing a dry, nutty, deep yellow Fino sherry-like wine ideal for lengthy ageing – easily decades, often more. It is bottled in traditional clavelins, squat bottles holding 62cl, the reduced quantity illustrating the evaporation in the barrel. (Not all Savagnin grapes undergo this treatment: is also used to make some of the region's full-flavoured white table wines.)

For further reading, wine expert Wink Lorch has written an excellent book, Jura Wine: With Local Food and Travel Tips, which can tell you everything you’d ever need to know.

Our Jura selection comes from the historic vineyards of Les Caves Jean Bourdy, located in Arlay and, since 1990, managed by Jean-François Bourdy. The history of this house, however, is amongst the longest commercial histories in any sector in any country: the Bourdy family became involved (through marriage) only in 1896, but Jean-François represents the 15th generation of family ownership stretching back to 1475.

The domaine produces some of the most stunning vins jaunes available to purchase - including Château-Chalon - along with a traditional Jura rouge and Chardonnay which have been compared to the very finest Burgundies. The domaine retains bottles of wine dating back to the beginning of the 20th Century, all in perfect condition and continuing to improve.

In addition to vin jaune, sparkling and table wines, Bourdy also makes Macvin, a sweet, fortified wine ideal as a dessert wine or, chilled, as an aperitif, and Galant des Abbesses, similar, but flavoured with Indian and Chinese spices and perfect for Christmas.