Domaine de Montbourgeau
The Jura’s meteoric rise among American wine drinkers over the past decade has been well documented, but the wines from the tiny appellation of L’Étoile remain somewhat less known. Perhaps that’s due to its comparatively diminutive size, or perhaps to its lack of appellation-status red wines—much initial fervor over the Jura in the US was driven by the region’s light, irresistible indigenous Poulsard and Trousseau—but L’Étoile, with its exceptionally rocky and limestone-dense soil, quietly produces among the Jura’s most profoundly mineral-driven white wines. The appellation’s undisputed leader is Domaine de Montbourgeau, a nine-hectare estate founded in 1920 with whom Rosenthal Wine Merchant has been working for two decades now. The infectiously warm Nicole Deriaux, for many years the only woman to head a domaine in the Jura, inherited Montbourgeau from her father Jean with the 1986 vintage, and today Nicole’s sons Baptiste and César are gradually learning the ropes under her careful guidance. Nicole farms without chemical treatments, and raises her wines according to the Jura’s distinctive and proud traditions, eschewing the currently fashionable ouillé (topped-up) style and fully embracing the power of the local yeasts (the voile) to engender a complexity and a specificity of character unique to the region.
Crémant du Jura
Nicole’s gold-standard Crémant du Jura is produced from pure Chardonnay from her younger vines, and it’s always from a single vintage—in this case, the generous 2018 harvest. Vinified in steel and given 18 months of lees contact for its secondary fermentation, this is a true “brut zero” and never receives a dosage, resulting in a linear, racy sparkler of mouthwatering minerality and sizzling drive.
2017 L’Étoile Chardonnay
This cuvée has long been our go-to for reasonably priced, traditionally produced Jura Chardonnay. Vinified in steel but aged in well-used barrels with no topping up, it is bottled just about two years after harvest—enough time to display oxidative influence but not long enough to develop full-on voile character. The resulting wine is vividly fruit-driven yet saline and long, bursting with expressiveness.
2016 L’Étoile Savagnin
Montbourgeau’s spellbinding Savagnin is produced from 20-year-old vines planted in veins of grey and blue marne, a soil particularly favored by the variety but less common in L’Étoile than elsewhere in the region. Nicole ferments it in steel and employs 30-hectoliter foudres for the first year of élevage; 600-liter demi-muids are used for the second, third, and fourth years, during which time the Savagnin develops a full voile. This electrifying wine combines L’Étoile’s high-tension acidity with broad, almond-tinged golden fruits and a blast of sea salt, and its finish lasts well past the minute mark.
Few in the region are as talented as Emeric Foléat of the tiny Les Matheny domaine in Arbois. Emeric worked for eight years under the legendary Jacques Puffeney, who taught him the ultimate value in embracing risk and trusting the quality of his fruit to do its thing in the cellar without coercion. Emeric farms three hectares in Arbois without the use of synthetic chemicals and raises his wines in a small cinderblock shed devoid of modern gadgetry. Minute additions of sulfur, and even then only sometimes, are the only adjustments he makes to his bold, assertive, deeply personal creations—wines that embody the exhilarating freedom Jura growers enjoy compared to many of their peers in more buttoned-up regions.
2016 Arbois Chardonnay
Rather than topping up religiously or allowing wine to evaporate and voile to develop by rote, Emeric treats each Chardonnay barrel individually, aiming for a final blend that sizzles with acidity and bursts with fruit yet speaks an unmistakably Jurassien patois. Consequently, the dynamic range on a Les Matheny Chardonnay far exceeds 99% of its regional brethren, with notes of marzipan vying with bare-knuckled minerality and a soaring acidity that speaks both to the character of the local marne soils and to Emeric’s refusal to control fermentation temperature.
2018 Arbois Poulsard
Much Jura Poulsard is pale, pleasant, and relatively unassuming; not so with Les Matheny’s. Emeric employs a long three-week maceration, seeking to express the variety’s rarely exposed depths in bold fashion, much like Puffeney before him. Aged 18 months in a single 30-year-old foudre, the succulent 2018—from vines planted in 1943—is packed with black cherry, licorice, and Indian spices, with an underlay of soil-driven funk and a bright, persistent finish.
2018 Arbois Trousseau
Sappier and deeper than the exceptional Poulsard above, Emeric’s Trousseau is a brooding beast, bristling with energy and thickly textured. Its brash, iron-inflected nose erupts from the glass, with pitch-black, spice-drenched fruit battling for attention with the wine’s core of mineral-tinged black pepper. This is a structured, rugged wine that seems to demand cellar time, but the honest tannins are somehow charming despite their intensity. Like the Poulsard above, it is aged in well-worn oak, albeit of smaller capacity (500- and 600-liter demi-muids).
Macvin du Jura
To taste Emeric’s brandy is to confront one of the wildest and most potent homemade concoctions in any cellar in the Rosenthal family of growers. According to local tradition, he blends this heady elixir with twice the volume of unfermented grape must—mostly Chardonnay—to create his Macvin du Jura, which throws politeness out the window and offers the imbiber a juicy, flagrant, undeniably delicious version of the recipe.
No domaine with whom we work embodies the Jura’s pre-technological agrarian past as wholeheartedly as Overnoy-Crinquand, headed today by the lovably warm and energetic Mickael Crinquand. Although the family still derives twice as much income from their Comté cows as their wines, Mickael’s 5.5 hectares in the prized hills of Pupillin yield wines of tremendous character and staggering authenticity—wines that could be produced absolutely nowhere else. Mickael’s forebears were never seduced by the labor-saving chemicals being flouted several decades back, and so the family’s vineyards have always been worked organically (certified as such in 1999). The starkly bare-bones cellar, located beneath their modest home, houses huge barrels of 50 to 100 years of age within which their completely egoless wines gradually take form. If these wines are perhaps less chiseled and fleet-footed than Montbourgeau’s, or less full-throttle than Les Matheny’s, they more than compensate with their sense of timeless calm and inimitable local flavor.
Crémant du Jura Blanc
Mickael’s Crémant Blanc is pure Chardonnay with 30 months of lees contact and a mere 0.5 grams per liter dosage. Produced exclusively from the 2016 vintage, this disgorgement offers greater textural plushness and breadth than the beloved Montbourgeau Crémant above, with iron-tinged minerality and a gently honeyed character.
Crémant du Jura Rosé
Produced from free-run Poulsard, Overnoy-Crinquand’s Crémant Rosé spends 30 months on its lees and sees no dosage whatsoever. With a cinnamon-tinged nose of tangy strawberries and maraschino cherries, this disgorgement—all from the 2016 harvest—is both vinous and pretty, offering notable complexity and length for a sparkling wine of its price echelon.
2016 Arbois-Pupillin Chardonnay “La Bidode”
Crinquand’s “La Bidode” is produced from 40-year-old Chardonnay planted in the vineyard of the same name, on a steep slope just behind the family house in Pupillin. While it is not topped up during its two-year élevage, this shows significantly less oxidative character than those from our other growers in the region, due partly to the size and age of the barrels—25-hectoliter foudres whose many years of usage have greatly reduced porosity—and partly to Pupillin’s terroir. Floral, fine, and sprightly, this 2016 offers excellent precision and lift.
2016 Arbois-Pupillin Chardonnay “Vieilles Vignes”
A unique and arresting wine, Mickael’s old-vines bottling of Chardonnay is picked three weeks later than the “La Bidode” above, with frequent occurrences of botrytis among the bunches. Fermented and aged three full years in well-used 600-liter barrels, the 2016 harnesses the full capacity of its 70-year-old vines, offering a gripping, powerful palate whose dense, apricot-dominated fruit threatens to outmuscle the wine’s voile-derived saline thrust.
2018 Arbois-Pupillin Ploussard
Overnoy-Crinquand’s Ploussard, from 25- to 60-year old vines in Pupillin, pours a pale orange-tinged ruby, but offers surprisingly meaty depth and firm minerality. Large, ancient barrels preserve the wine’s freshness and allow for an extremely conservative application of sulfur, and this 2018 is a richer and more palate-coating example than certain vintages, owing to the growing season’s solar character. Still, this is a wine driven by spice, and it remains a beguiling combination of delicacy and earthy funk.
2018 Arbois-Pupillin Trousseau
Although it is more ethereal than the versions from Les Matheny and Joseph Dorbon owing to Pupillin’s elegance-enhancing terroir, Mickael’s Trousseau—aged in similar fashion to the Ploussard above—offers plenty of ripe, controlled red fruits, with a twist of licorice and dusty spices, and anchored by mellow but present acidity. It is slightly richer and more concentrated than the Ploussard, but, as is often the case here, the two are closer in body and personality than at many domaines.