Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Jura, Voilà!

The sit-down tasting of wines of the Jura, held at Vinsite last evening, came not a moment too soon for me. I'd brought a L'Octavin trousseau to Thanksgiving dinner, and it was a bust: Pale, wan, and fizzing with refermentation. So some faith-restoration was in order.

We began with a sparkler from Dejean & Fils, a Blanc de Blancs NV made from columbard, ugni blanc (trebbiano)--grapes usually associated with the Cotes de Gascogne--and folle blanche, one of the traditional cognac grapes. It was a fine palate-cleanser, with orchard fruit notes, just a touch of the cidery tang we expect from the Jura, and surprisingly fine perlage. Then it was on to the main event:

L'Octavin Chardonnay Pamina 2008: The nose was challenging: Roasted nuts, diesel (“Failing brakes!” from across the table), charcoal, and strong vegetal character. The palate was more conventional, with some healthy citrus and mineral character. Over time, the metal-and-hot-petroleum notes faded out, and the acidity moderated. This was produced by winemakers Alice Bouvot and Charles Dagand, who have been farming biodynamically in the Arbois appellation since 2008.

Bornard Savagnin les Chassagnes Ouille 2006: Opened with a complex nose of high herbs, Christmas spice, roasted nuts, pear, and a sweet yeasty note; on the palate, very pretty pear and citrus flavors, with a touch of sherry-like tang. Over the course of the tasting, the acidity moderated and the texture plumped up. Phillipe Bornard farms about 15 acres in the village of Pupillin, just south of the village of Arbois. Bonard was a disciple of Pierre Overnoy, a pioneer of natural winemaking.

Puffeney Poulsard M 2008: Berries, rose petals, spice, linseed oil, and maybe a hint of smoke on the nose. On the palate, red berries and citrus; with time in the glass, the fruit character really came forward. For a “light” red, this had a very pleasing mouthfeel. Andrew Jefford describes Jacques Puffeney thusly: “...a secret scholar, a quiet theorist, a practical researcher.” Puffeney's Arbois was the first red from the Jura I ever tasted. That first encounter is memorialized here.

Bornard Ploussard La Chamade 2008: Speaking of firsts, it has been more than 20 years since I tasted a Château de Beaucastel Chateauneuf-du-Pape that had some serious age on it; I still remember trying to parse the nose for specific aromas, giving up, and feeling I'd failed some kind of test. Much later on, I realized that when a great wine has aged to the point of fully becoming itself, the component parts of the nose disappear into a kind of unity. At the time, I called it “incense.” Much to my astonishment, this impression came back to me tasting the Bornard Ploussard: While there were identifiable aromas of rose petal and red cherry, the overall impact was more like a fine perfume. This brief romance was brought up short as I heard from the table the words “cow poop,” and the meaty, fecal aroma of chitterlings began to come on strong. (This was not the end of this wine's organoleptic story--see below) By contrast, the palate was pretty simple and straightforward, with pretty red berries and cherries.

Gahier Trousseau 2009: Red licorice and some brown spice (cinnamon?) were the first notes of the nose; I also caught a hint of blueberry (often a sign of youthfulness). There were also some strawberry/raspberry aromas. Again, the palate was straightforward, with pleasant light red berry fruit, and a touch of oxidative and mineral character. Michel Gahier's property is located next to Jacques Puffeney's.

Tasting “Food Wines” 

Our hosts, Les and Kathy, were careful to put out bread, nuts, sausage, and a selection of cheeses to accompany the wines. The Chef, who was also in attendance, had me taste some of the wines with the cheeses and sausage. This was revelatory: The L'Octavin Chardonnay, in particular, was transformed after a bite of Tomme. Similarly, the stinky character of the Bornard Ploussard vanished when accompanied by a bite of sausage. Discussing this afterward with Cara and Brian, we agreed that tasting these wines without food did them a disservice. Cara also pointed to a common theme among the wines: They tended to have quite complex aromas, followed by relatively straightforward flavors.

As was the case with the Orange wines, the wines at this tasting are never going to be crowd-pleasers. They require some work to appreciate; they are not produced in volume; and they can be pricey. And, as with the Orange wines, they have their own peculiar charm, and they remind you that wine is a living thing, not something to be “branded” and hyped. On that basis alone I'd recommend giving any of these bottles a bit of your undivided attention. (If you're interested in trying any of them out, here's the link to Vinsite; as Les says, these are so hard to come by he can't get them in case quantities. Act now, etc.)

PS: As we know, tasting is the most subjective aspect of wine appreciation. I hope some of you who were also in attendance will chime in with comments, with the understanding that I reserve the right to be completely wrong-headed about any of the bottles we tasted!

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