Tastings are Back!

When I lived in London, we had a saying that you’d wait ages for a bus then 2 would come along together.  I’m not sure if that still happens but, just now, the same seems to apply to wine tastings!  I’ve hardly been to any since the start of the Covid-19 restrictions, but this week, there were 2 on successive days.  I went to both.

The 1st, hosted by local wine educator, Tim Johnson, focused on the wines of the Jura – an area of eastern France between Burgundy and the Swiss border.  Vineyards here are quite scattered with most in the foothills of the Jura Mountains.  Tim summarised the region succinctly as ‘The Three Is’: Indigenous varieties, Idiosyncratic styles and Iconic wines.  The examples he produced wouldn’t be to everyone’s taste, but it was a fascinating exploration of the region nonetheless.

Typical of the Indigenous varieties was Poulsard (£14.95), an early-ripening grape giving a quite pale coloured red with low tannins but plenty of attractive cherry-flavoured fruit.  A little like Beaujolais in style and very drinkable. 

Idiosyncratic styles were almost everywhere in the tasting but I’ll mention 2 in particular:  Vin de Paille (£29.50) is a dessert wine made from late-harvested grapes which are then air-dried to further concentrate the sugars.  Flavours of honey and marmalade predominate.  If you like Italy’s Vin Santo, try this.  Macvin de Jura (£33.16) is also quite sweet but has a grapey freshness being a blend of unfermented juice mixed with local marc (perhaps better known as ‘grappa’) and then barrel aged for 10 months.  Also very drinkable but beware – this is 17.5% alcohol!

And the Iconic wine?  Vin Jaune is made with the local Savagnin grape (not to be confused with Sauvignon) which, after fermentation, is left to mature in cask for more than 7 years and develops in the same way as a dry amontillado sherry, which it resembles in both aroma and taste.  It’s sold in 62cl bottles which is supposed to represent the amount left from a normal bottle size (75cl) after the evaporation that happens during the long ageing.  This loss is known as “the angels’ share” – perhaps someone should have a word with these angels as Château-Chalon’s Vin Jaune sells for more than £60 a bottle!

So, just a brief look at some of the Jura wines we tasted – try Yapp Brothers if you want to sample them yourself.  And catch up with my review of the week’s 2nd tasting next time.

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France’s Hidden Corners

I’m returning to the topic I blogged about a couple of weeks ago: the interesting and different tastes you can find by exploring wine regions and grapes other than those you are familiar with.  Wines from lesser-known areas and rare native varieties can often result in unusual and distinctive flavours; you may not like them all but, just sometimes, you’ll find a new favourite.  That, for me, is what exploring is all about.

I concentrated then on wines from outside France as most wine lovers will be reasonably familiar with the diverse choices found in that most widely-available of all wine growing countries.  But, if you look carefully, even France has some fascinating and unique grapes tucked away in hidden corners.  One of my favourites is Petit Manseng, grown in the Jurançon region in the foothills of the Pyrenees.  It comes in dry or glorious sweet versions and, if you’ve never tasted one, I can highly recommend either.  Then there’s ‘Vin Jaune’, made in a sherry style from the local Savagnin grape (not to be confused with Sauvignon) in the Jura Mountains near the Swiss border.

Or why not a juicy, herby, black-fruited unoaked red from the Gaillac region which straddles the River Tarn, north of Toulouse?  Chateau Vignals’ L’Herbe Folle is a blend of 2 local varieties – Braucol and Duras – with small additions of much more familiar Syrah and Merlot.  It’s a lovely soft, mellow red which would team perfectly with some pan-fried duck breasts or with a tasty hard cheese.  Gaillac wines are not widely stocked beyond the region of production but this one is available on-line from Joie de Vin, www.joiedevin.co.uk, for a very reasonable £14.50.

So, however tempting it is to buy the same bottle you know you like again, occasionally take a chance and look at what else is on the shelf.  You might be pleased you did.