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 Montbourgeau, a nine-hectare estate founded in 1920 with whom Rosenthal Wine Merchant has been working for two decades now. 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, fully embracing the power of the local yeasts (the voile) to engender a complexity and a specificity of character unique to the region.
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 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.
2017 L’Étoile “En Banode”
This unique cuvée represents roughly equal parts Chardonnay and Savagnin interplanted in a single vineyard by Nicole’s father Jean Gros in 1970. Over the years, the ripening cycles of the two varieties have aligned, allowing them to be harvested at the same time at proper maturity for both. Like the L’Étoile above, this ferments in steel and ages for two years in barrels—the first year in 25-hectoliter foudre, and the second in 500-liter demi-muid with no topping up. “En Banode” is forceful in its salinity, underlining the site’s heavy limestone content, and the Savagnin contributes a lurking power which is emphasized by the vineyard’s typically ultra-low yields.
2017 L’Étoile “Montangis” [NEW]
“Montangis” represents Montbourgeau’s oldest parcel: Chardonnay with a few stray interplanted vines of Savagnin and Poulsard, planted in 1930 by her grandfather Victor Gros in a particularly stony and fossil-rich vineyard. Like the two wines above, it is vinified in steel, transferred to large foudre for its first year of aging, then racked into used 228-liter barrels for a second year during which time it is not topped up at all. “Montangis” is thickly textured and densely concentrated due to the vines’ age, with a powerful sense of minerality not at all obstructed by the voile’s subtle influence.
2016 L’Étoile “Cuvée Spéciale”
“Cuvée Spéciale” showcases Nicole’s masterful ability to preserve acid-mineral complexity and nuance even through extended sous-voile aging. Composed of Chardonnay with a few stray vines of Savagnin, this cuvée undergoes alcoholic and malolactic fermentation in used 228-liter barrels with no temperature regulation. It remains in those barrels, with no topping up, for four years—sometimes five—developing a full veil during its long aging and resulting in a mouthwateringly salty and profound expression of Jura Chardonnay.
2017 L’Étoile Savagnin
Montbourgeau’s outstanding 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 elevage; 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.
2018 L’Étoile Savagnin “Les Budes” [NEW]
With the 2018 “Les Budes,” Montbourgeau—under Nicole’s son César’s guidance—has produced their first-ever topped-up example of Savagnin, fermented and aged in used 500-liter barrels and bottled after two years of elevage. This cuvée forefronts Savagnin’s spicy, luscious character while preserving the deep sense of salinity that drives the sous-voile version, but its overall personality is far gentler, more subtle, and geared more toward finesse than the classic Savagnin above.
2012 L’Étoile Vin Jaune
Hailing as it does from the elegance-enhancing soils of L’Étoile, Montbourgeau’s Vin Jaune displays a precision and lift rare in the genre. Its briny voile thwomp is sheathed in fruit less rich than that of its cousins in the RWM stable, and it punches all the more devastatingly for it. Quince paste, freshly polished brass, and pink salt coat the palate completely, provoking salivation and building to a full-bore, tunneling finish of great tension.