I’ve had an insatiable craving for Jura Chardonnay ever since drinking Stéphane Tissot's 2016 Les Bruyères Arbois Chardonnay. Granted, that was two years ago, and I've since learned that Tissot is a rare fish in the Jura's sea of white wines, many of which too brett-heavy or lactic-tasting for my taste. But continuing the search for gems, I'm adding another name to the list—here's my latest discovery (and obsession) that has jolted my love for Jura back to life.
Today, I’m happy to offer a lineup of François Rousset-Martin’s Chardonnays, Savagnins, and Aligoté.
Château-Chalon is best known for its sherry-like vin jaune, made from the Savagnin grape and aged under a veil of flor, but François is more interested in making his wines in the ouillé (topped-up) style. He’s also keen to explore his appellation’s micro-terroir, similar to what Stéphane Tissot has done in Arbois, farming almost two-dozen small parcels (all of which a hectare or smaller) in Château-Chalon and Côtes du Jura. Like the rest of the Jura, soils here are abundant in clay, marl, limestone, and François proves that Château-Chalon can produce just as soulful ouillé whites as the more popular Arbois and Pupillin appellations.
Whether it's the Chardonnay, Savagnin, or even the Aligoté, each flaunts its variety's typicity with invigorating enthusiasm; I use the word "electric" often, but it especially applies here. I'd be happy drinking any of these whites, but a highlight was the 2018 La Chaux. It leads with yellow citrus, laser acidity, and slight reduction, but with air, it opens into concentration and depth familiar to White Burgundy (All of the wines have slight reduction that integrates over time; decanting is a plus). Each wine is also vinified by climat (or parcel) with little to no sulfur and bottled unfined and unfiltered. You won’t see Château-Chalon designated on the bottle because these aren't made to vin jaune customs.
François grew up in Burgundy, and his family-owned and farmed a parcel of vines in the Jura. His interest in the science (and terroir) of wine largely comes from his father, a microbiologist for the Hospices de Beaune. Likewise, François's great grandfather taught him the mystic side of wine and family winemaking lore. He earned an enology degree and apprenticed in Rhône and Languedoc before starting his domaine in 2007.
Chardonnay // La Chaux really encapsulates the magic of ouillé whites here in Château Chalon. From 65-year-old vines, it's the most reminiscent of White Burgundy and the only parcel to be planted on limestone in addition to gray and white marl. The Terres Blanches is the only Jura parcel outside of Château Chalon. It comes from 40-year-old vines in the village of Lavigny, planted on gray and white marl. Fermented and aged in barrel for 15 months.
Savagnin // For Puits Saint Pierre, or Saint Pierre’s Well, the cuvée name refers to a climat within Château Chalon. This is the oldest parcel of the lineup (80-plus-year-old vines planted on gray marl) and the only wine that sees partial sous-voile; it's aged under flor for 6 months then topped off for 10 months. Cuvee du Professeur comes from a parcel named after François’s father, a professor at the University of Dijon. The 30-year-old vines are planted on gray marl. Aged and topped up for a minimum of 14 months.
Aligoté // This is somewhat of an outlier, as it's sourced from Bouzeron, the Aligoté-only appellation in Burgundy's Côte Chalonnaise. Like many of François's parcels in the Jura, Aligatô's single hectare of 40-year-old vines is planted on gray marl. It fits into the lineup with its atomic core of citrus, smooth-mineral texture, a brilliant reductive finish.
The history and 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 hour's drive east.
Jura certainly has its enthusiasts, but for the most part, the wines historically had been sold in France. One evening at a Parisian restaurant set in motion a series of events that would ultimately be a turning point for the Jura.
Today, I'm happy to offer the 2018 Domaine du Pélican lineup.
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 that 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 could not be from Burgundy. The sommelier poured, Guillaume took a sip and pronounced it terrific. But he thought the sommelier had broken the one rule. No Burgundy! The sommelier grinned and revealed the wine: Stéphane Tissot's Bruyères Chardonnay from the Jura. The rest was 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 worldwide awareness to the great and incredibly unique wines of the Jura.
Several properties were subsequently purchased, and organic and biodynamic viticulture was implemented immediately. Included were the famed holdings of Jacques Puffeney, who had recently retired. We've offered the Domaine du Pélican Jura lineup since the first vintage in 2012.
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).
En Barbi Chardonnay: Pélican has been farming this parcel since 2012. En Barbi is a south-facing plot sheltered from the winds by an amphitheater of hills. The soil is Jurassic marl, so rich in limestone that it appears white. Francois Duvivier believes that the large amount of marl contributes more minerality, volume, and length than a “classic” soil of clay and limestone. They vinified En Barbi separate from the other plots for several years and bottled the first "single-vineyard" release in 2018.
Macération Pelliculaire: As an ode to Savagnin’s many different expressions, Domaine du Pélican decided to experiment with a skin contact cuvée. The maceration was for around 10 days, after which the vat's juice was pumped and the skins pressed. The 2018 vintage was aged mostly in Burgundy barrels, with the remainder in stainless steel. Approximately 1,700 bottles were produced.
Grand Curoulet Savagnin: From vines originally farmed by Robert Aviet, Grand Curoulet is one of the very best terroirs of Arbois. It's a North-facing parcel located on the side of a hill that dominates Arbois and the plaine de la Saône. Grand Curoulet is also believed to be where the first vines of Arbois were planted. The soil is made of grey marls and multi-colored marls from the Triassic period. These are the oldest marls found in the Jura.
Arbois Pinot Noir: After much deliberation, Domaine du Pélican decided to produce a 100% Pinot Noir cuvée for the first time from the 2018 vintage. The team resisted until then because they were concerned that they would perhaps not master the vinification of Pinot Noir outside of Burgundy. It is made mostly from their Clos Saint Laurent parcel that is located just behind the winery and sits at an altitude of approximately 350 meters. The soil is made of fallen rocks of Bajocian limestone over grey marls.
Béranger Trousseau: Montigny-les-Arsures is the capital of Trousseau, much in the same way Pupillin is the capital of Poulsard. It's also the village where Domaine du Pelican’s winery and this Arbois Béranger parcel are located. This single-vineyard Trousseau is made from the parcel that Jacques Puffeney farmed and made his Les Bérangères Trousseau from. The soil in Béranger is alluvial and silt over grey marls, just stony enough to allow for good drainage—particularly beneficial for Trousseau.
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 2016 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. Overynoy-Crinquand showcases the rarefied air of Poulsard, a brightness and purity unlike anywhere 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.
2016 in the Jura, as in nearby Burgundy, is a vintage I cannot overstate my enthusiasm for. Clarity and concentration is in total balance. Here, 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 cinnamon 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 $30 per bottle from a magic vintage this is the wine that's finally ended my long pursuit.
Today, I'm happy to offer 15 different wines from Stéphane Tissot that tell the unique story of the Jura like few others can. The range is highlighted by a newer wine for me, one that left me truly awestruck, the 2016 Sous la Tour Pinot Noir - the sole 100% Pinot Noir offered.
Each year the wines of the Jura exceedingly move into the consciousness of more drinkers. Those who've explored Burgundy from top to bottom end up with eyes set on this tiny region located 50 miles east. Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are also produced here, but it's their obscure and native red varieties like Trousseau and Poulsard that conjure unrivaled fascination. And the hearty yet zingy white Savagnin, done here without sulfur and aged in amphora, could be the most mystical of the range. Simply put, there's no ambassador who's put the Jura on the worldwide stage quite like its leading man, Stéphane Tissot.
Tissot took control of his family's domaine in 1990 and worked very quickly to drastically reduce yields and convert the vineyards to organic and biodynamic viticulture - Today Stéphane is seen as one of the world's most respected and prominent voices on the subject.
He produces over 25 different wines, all coming from relatively small parcels with a focus on micro-terroir expression. Sulphur in the cellar is kept to bare minimum and strict attention to detail allow the wines to flourish in their flair for extreme purity of fruit and liveliness that separate them from his contemporaries.
At tastings in the Jura you're very likely to start with the light bodied reds before moving into the rich and textured white wines of the region. Trousseau and Poulsard are both transparent in color, and both tend to stay in a more red fruit spectrum.Trousseau picks up notes of leather, while Poulsard showcases wild spices and a more ethereal nature.
Many producers choose to make blends with both, adding Pinot Noir to display the full story of the region. While limestone and clay are prominent throughout the Jura, shale and grey and blue marl are also present in Tissot's home of Arbois - An appellation that surprisingly was one of the very first in France to receive AOC status in 1936.
Let's get one thing out of the way now: The Sous la Tour Pinot Noir.
Tasting this for the first time I was really left in awe. There's a tension and discipline here that I've never seen in Jura Pinot Noir. Ever. There are several delicious Jura Pinot's out there, and I appreciate them for their purity and up-front pleasure, but this is a wildly different beast.
As the night went on and I expected the structure to soften and unfold a bit I was left perplexed. The frame of the wine held up, much like a serious 1er Cru Red Burgundy. There was a flood of more sweet brown spice and increasingly vivid red fruit tones, but the core of mineral tension didn't budge at all. I was thoroughly mesmerized by this wine all night. Nearly impossible to stop drinking.
I recommend all the whites and reds from Tissot offered below, but the Sous la Tour is now a benchmark of Jura for me.
Onto the rest of the lineup!
Hand de-stemming is rarely seen anywhere in the world of wine, but for top cuvées in the Jura it has become somewhat of a classic method. Extremely labor intensive, but yielding the very most pristine fruit possible.
The hand de-stemmed Trousseau spends six months on its skins in a 420-liter clay amphora. An extremely rare wine for the US that's allocated in single cases. The texture stands out from just about any red wine I've come across. It's at once broad and deeply textured, but extremely mineral-driven and focused on the palate. Those notes of bright red fruits are met with that quintessential leather trait that's so particular with Trousseau.
The Poulsard is all about high toned, electric strawberry and raspberry fruit with savory brown spices, cinnamon particularly standing out. Whereas the Trousseau illustrated how lighter bodied reds can still carry brawn and earth, the Poulsard is a masterpiece on the ethereal inflection of Jura reds.
Tissot's Chardonnays each have that unmistakable reductive, flinty note that's often referred to as Noble Reduction. If you're a fan of the wines of Jean-Marc Roulot and Coche-Dury in Meursault, this distinctive smokey and matchstick trait, at its best, adds an utterly mesmerizing personality to Chardonnay.
Patchwork comes from a mix of clay parcels and limestone parcels, hence the name. This offers a perfect introduction to this style of fresh Jura Chardonnay that can rival examples found an hour west in Meursault and Puligny Montrachet. Aged in mainly neutral oak barrels, with up to 10% new wood.
Graviers is Tissot's expression of pure limestone soils. The reductive element we see in Patchwork is ramped up a notch and the finely-etched mineral component is more focused and tight here.
Bruyères is Tissot's expression of the dark, Trias clay, which (counterintuitively) endows slightly more of the reductive feature as compared to pure limestone soils. Smokey and spicy.
Mailloche comes from pure clay soils where limestone has strained out over time. This offers the most full and broad expression of Chardonnay on the palate with powerful reductive elements.
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 $33 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.