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The wooded hillsides and meadows of the Jura adorn the smallest wine-producing region in France. Located approximately 50 miles to the east of Burgundy's Côte-d'Or and close to the border with neighbouring Switzerland Jura enjoys a cool continental climate with long summers and winters that can be very severe. The underlying geology shares some similarities with Burgundy, the vineyards occupying slopes of the foothills of the Jura mountains with a south and south-easterly exposure on Jurassic limestone with outcrops of assorted marls, favouring the local Savagnin grape variety, as well as a preponderance of star-shaped cretaceous fossils after which the l'Etoile AOC is named.

patchwork view of Jura vineyards from aboveJura wine production today is significantly less than in the time before phylloxera devastated the vineyards more than a century ago although there has recently been renewed interest in the region's potential to make distinctive and delicious wines on the part of both wine-makers and consumers. Although the main grapes of Burgundy, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, are widely grown here it is perhaps Jura's own local grape varieties that produce the most noteworthy wines.

Vin Jaune (or yellow wine) is the single most famous and striking wine made from Savagnin grapes. The name derives from its colour which results from ageing the fermented wine for six years in old Burgundian barrels. During this process some of the wine evaporates and its surface develops a film of yeast similar to, but less dense than, the famous “flor” which is characteristic of the production of sherry in Jerez, southern Spain. Traditionally the intensely nutty Vin Jaune is sold in 62 cl. bottles, corresponding to the amount remaining from one liter of wine after its period of maturation. It is made throughout the region but Château-Chalon AOC is reserved exclusively for Vin Jaune wines.

Another traditional Jura wine is “vin de paille”, which may be made from Chardonnay, Savagnin and also the red Poulsard grapes which are carefully dried with good ventilation until the January following the harvest when they are fermented to a minimum of 14.5% abv before being aged for two to three years in barrel. Just like Vin Jaune these wines have lives in bottle which can be measured in decades.

More recent interest in the wines of this intriguing region focuses on non-oxidative styles. For example Domaine Rijckaert has won universal acclaim for its Les Sarres, Côtes du Jura AOC Chardonnay but there are other light red and white wines winning new followers. Trousseau is a local red variety which is planted around Arbois, in the north of the region, and which is now enjoying some success in California. The sparkling Crémant du Jura, usually made from Chardonnay grapes in the traditional style, i.e. with a secondary fermentation in bottle, provides some excellent value and delicious fizz while accounting for more than 25% of total wine sales from the region. The region's light red and rosé wines account for roughly 10% of production with the balance comprising white wines.

village view from a vineyard in the Jura

  1. 'Les Sarres' Domaine Rijckaert, Côtes du Jura, 2009

    'Les Sarres' Domaine Rijckaert, Côtes du Jura, 2009

    A delicious Chardonnay from the less well-known Côtes du Jura region in eastern France made by wine-maker Jean Rijkaert

    Colour White Wine
    Grape Variety Chardonnay
    Country France

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