Only a handful of tastings in the last few years have left me feeling as if I had stumbled upon a massive secret. (See: Chambeyron Côte Rôtie & Comando G). On one hand I wanted to shout from the rooftops, and on the other I thought best keep this relatively quiet. In the small village of Arbois, Gérard and Christine Villet farm five hectares, with only 8% planted to Pinot Noir. And it's this 100% Pinot Noir cuvée that redefined for me what the Jura is capable of, to say nothing of the modest $29 tag. This is a bottle that will hit every mark for every lover of Pinot Noir, and this is the only offering in the US.
The Villet domaine was started in 1900, but the real turn came in 1988 when the couple converted to organic viticulture. Five hectares covers various soils in and around Arbois, with over a dozen different wines made each year. While the blend of Trousseau, Poulsard, and Pinot Noir is customary in Arbois, coming across 100% Pinot Noir bottlings are rare. Some producers feel the sum of all the parts is greater than each varietal on their own. My personal experience is that's many times true. Here, however, the singularity of Pinot Noir from this .4 hectare parcel is extraordinary. It validates being bottled on its own, regardless of how little is produced, and saying nothing of the even smaller portion that made it to the US.
Jura has long existed in the shadows of Burgundy to its west. Producers have been reluctant to focus on 100% Pinot Noir bottilngs for a multitude of reasons. Some examples I've tried, while delicious, lacked the definition and focus that Burgundy executes across the price spectrum. The Villet's is one that immediately pulled me in with aromatics, and hooked me with a palate presence that was deep with superb clarity and a finish that just would not relent.
The warm 2015 vintage was judged brilliantly here. Often these lighter reds from such vintages in the Jura do shine the very brightest. I cannot overstate how thrilling this tasting experience was, and when I learned the price I knew this was also undeniably rare.
2015 Villet Arbois Pinot Noir
$29 per bottle.
The history and worldwide reputation of Burgundy and the Jura couldn't be more different. While Burgundy's vineyards have been carefully delineated over centuries and pricing has placed them atop the most collectible fine wines in the world, the Jura has remained quietly tucked in a sleepy corner of France an hours drive east. Jura certainly has its enthusiasts, but for the most part the wines have been sold in France. One evening at a Parisian restaurant a blind tasting of a single wine set in motion a series of events may ultimately be the turning point for the Jura.
Guillaume D'Angerville, of the Domaine Marquis d'Angerville estate in Volnay, is at the helm of one of Burgundy's elite and storied estates, with roots dating back to 1507. It was at this Parisian restaurant Guillaume asked the sommelier to pour him a glass of wine blind - a regular request of his. The one rule Guillaume had this evening was that the wine must not be from Burgundy. The sommelier pours, Guillaume takes a sip, pronounces it terrific, but that the sommelier had broken the one rule, no Burgundy! The sommelier grins, reveals the wine, Stéphane Tissot's Bruyères Chardonnay from the Jura, and well, the rest is history.
D'Angerville's arrival in the Jura was initially met with skepticism from the locals. A Burgundian coming in search of vineyards to purchase was not something those in the town of Arbois were thrilled about. There's a more insular feeling in the Jura where so many of the wines are kept local that outsiders, even from nearby, are met with a suspicious eye. However, Guillaume's true fondness for the wines and the history of the small region revealed itself quickly. He made it clear his goal was to bring a worldwide awareness to the great, and incredibly unique, wines of the Jura. Several properties were subsequently purchased, and organic and biodynamic viticulture was implemented at all immediately. Included were the famed holdings of Jacques Puffeney, who had recently retired. And with the 2012 vintage the wines of Domaine du Pélican were released, the name deriving from the pelican that graces the crest of town of Arbois. Something tells me that Parisian sommelier enjoys recounting this story quite a bit each time a guest orders the Pélican wines!
2014 and 2015 mark very important vintages for the estate. Now that the land has been in control of the domaine for several years we're starting to see the results of meticulous viticulture and a better familiarity with vinification. 2014 in Jura, as in Burgundy, is a lights-out fantastic vintage for the whites. And the warm, dry 2015 is a momentous vintage for Pélican as it's the first time they've chosen to release their 100% Poulsard bottling.
The white wines of Pélican are made in the ouilée style, where barrels are topped up each month with wine to prevent oxidation. (Jura's Vin Jaune style, and other whites, can be produced where barrels are left un-topped, leaving very distinctive oxidative, nutty notes as the wines age.)
2014 Domaine du Pélican Arbois Chardonnay
$49 per bottle.
Like Burgundy, limestone is present throughout Arbois, but gravel and marl soils here are very distinctive and gives Chardonnay added texture that stands out. There's a length to the finish here and an electric personality that develops more and more with time in the glass. A Chardonnay to serve blind to any Burgundy lover!
2014 Domaine du Pélican Arbois Savagnin Ouilée
$49 per bottle.
Savagnin is the single variety that the Jura is most recognized for, and is the base of Vin Jaune. On one hand it's hearty, savory, and rich, but still mineral and saline-driven at the same time. Even with the fresher ouilée style for aging Savagnin showcases a nutty, almond paste characteristic that sets it apart from all other whites. Pairing with Comté cheese or Coq au Vin Jaune with morel mushrooms is perfect, but its versatility on the dining table is wide.
2015 Domaine du Pélican Arbois Trois Cépages
$49 per bottle.
A blend of Pinot Noir, Trousseau, and Poulsard. Light, fresh, and pure red fruits. Silken texture that you would expect from top Red Burgundy, with fascinating notes of worn leather and orange blossom.
2015 Domaine du Pélican Poulsard
$49 per bottle.
The most delicate and ethereal wine of Jura.
Tasted (below) at D'Angerville in Volnay last June. Since arriving to the US for the first time this wine, made without sulphur additions, has developed into everything I hoped it would. It has very high toned spices, with citrus and faint watermelon notes to go along with its vibrant red cherry core. This is as pure and unadulterated at wine gets!
In the magically distinctive Jura region there're special pockets where varieties blossom into their greatest and truest possbile form. For Poulsard (locally known as Ploussard) that fairy dust of sorts comes from the ground of the tiny village of Pupillin, located just south of Arbois. While Poulsard plantings throughout the Jura are crafted into singularly delicious wines, those from Pupillin are something entirely different.
My hunt for an example that lived up to what I drank while visiting the village in 2012 has been ongoing. After tasting through importer Neal Rosenthal's current releases that included the 2015 Overynoy-Crinquand Pupillin Ploussard, I was taken back instantaneously to that damp weekend 5 years ago. Poulsard here can often show a huge disparity in styles, and to be blunt, soundness due to its reductive and finiky nature. But, the dry and warm conditions of 2015 clearly brought something special for Poulsard. And this vintage has turned out to be the perfect storm at Overynoy-Crinquand, showcasing a wine that speaks to me on a level of purity that I truly find nowhere else on earth.
Mickael Crinquand is the fourth generation to farm these 5 hecatres, of which all have been under organic regimen since the 80's. Here the red clay-limestone marl soil is planted to all of the standard Jura varieties: Trousseau, Chardonnay, Savagnin. But, the oldest vines today are Poulsard.
2015 is not a vintage in Pupillin we can over-generalize as being ripe and bombastic. Poulsard, and the style of the domaine, does not fall prey to vintage constraints like that. Fermentation and aging takes place in large foudre, with pumpovers kept to a bare minimum to limit extraction. This protocol gives a whispery lace structure to Poulsard and highlights everything I love about the variety's fresh strawberry and sweet spiced inflection. In the glass there's the palest of red hues you'll ever find, with a slight rust-colored tinge. But, a suprisingly sturdy tannic sturcture holds this featherweight in a way that provides a thrilling sense of grip.
Over the last decade, the Jura has brought us a new level of excitment and fascination for their native, obscure varieties. There aren't many importers who can touch Rosenthal's sense of mission in finding these smaller domaines that show their sense of place under the most sensitive and deft touch. Of all the esteemed terroirs within the region, it's Pupillin's Poulsard that compels me the most. At $29 per bottle from a magic vintage this is the wine that's finally ended my long pursuit.
2015 Overnoy-Crinquand Arbois-Pupillin Ploussard
$29 per bottle.