Twenty years ago, no one could have predicted the Jura’s current popularity. When Rosenthal Wine Merchant first introduced the now-legendary wines of Jacques Puffeney to the American market in the mid-1990s—the first wines from the region to be imported—most reacted with bewilderment, if not outright distaste. And into the early 2000s, when everyone seemed to clamor for “Bigger! Riper! Juicier!”, the Jura’s ethereal, funky reds and twangy, oxidative whites felt even more startlingly out of fashion. However, tastes do change, and as the collective palate began turning away from jam delivery systems and toward wines of elegance and character, the Jura finally got its due. Nowadays, the sea change appears to be complete: Puffeney is retired; wines from the Jura are part of nearly every wholesaler’s portfolio; Burgundian gentry are beginning to colonize the region for its cheap land and familiar grape varieties; and a serious wine list without a nod to the Jura is a real rarity.
Meanwhile, as the Jura has slowly inched its way into The Establishment’s outer halls, some of the insatiable seekers of novelty among us have moved on to more distant shores of obscurity—leaving us to wonder if they ever really comprehended the region’s true worth in the first place. After all, to reduce the appeal of the Jura to novelty is to misrepresent it entirely. Neal began importing the wines of Puffeney not to have something upon whose newness he could capitalize, but because the wines spoke with such powerful clarity and fierce individuality that—as an ardent devotee of terroir—he felt he had no choice. Indeed, the great wines of the Jura are powder kegs of terroir: blisteringly, unapologetically wild, the stuff of enologists’ nightmares, yet inextricably rooted in the region’s marne soils. Even post-“discovery,” a palpable sense of adventurousness and vitality courses through the region: it is a place where non-interventionism and experimentation are not only rewarded, but written into the very fabric of how wine is made; a place far removed from the world of futures, dizzying land prices, and rank commercialism; a place, at its core, comparatively free of globalization’s influence. In few places on earth does the culture of wine feel as alive as it does in the Jura, and we at Rosenthal are proud to work with six growers in the region who represent its spirit and its soul in profound fashion.
The Charming Jura Wines of Domaine Pêcheur
It’s tempting to exoticize the wines of the Jura: a land that time forgot, planted to idiosyncratic varieties, aged in offbeat ways, and so forth. (I’ve certainly put forth such notions in my proselytizing efforts over the years!) But, to those rooted here, the wines of the Jura are simply… wines. To be sure, non-stringent appellation controls and an overriding outsider spirit make the Jura a hotbed of experimentation, but plenty of talented growers here produce lovely wines which convey their unique terroir without attendant renegade flair.
Christian and Patricia Pêcheur exude an infectious warmth each time we visit them in their sleepily picturesque home village of Darbonnay, serving their wines and showing off their magnificent Château-Chalon cellar with a combination of refreshing frankness and joy. Christian’s parents established Domaine Pêcheur in 1976 with just two hectares in Passenans, in the Côtes du Jura, and Christian and Patricia have expanded to just shy of eight hectares since assuming control of the domaine in 1992. If their wines lack the auteur-like majesty of Puffeney’s or the brazen wildness of Gahier’s, they compensate with directness and accessibility; these are lovable wines that provide ample pleasure and constitute easy entry-points into the region’s vinous treasure.
Christian and Patricia farm without the use of chemical herbicides or pesticides, and their cellar work is unglamorously straightforward: natural fermentations in steel, and aging in well-used but sound oak barrels. The Pêcheurs’ vines are between 35 and 50 years old on average, with the Chardonnay and most of the Savagnin planted in pebbly dolomitic limestone, and the Poulsard, Trousseau, and Pinot Noir planted in red marlstone soils; the Savagnin destined for the fabled Château-Chalon is planted in the distinctive blue-grey marlstone of that appellation. Their gentle hand in the cellar produces wines of elegance, transparency, and digestibility, and even their long-aged sous-voile wines convey an appealing lightness of touch.
2020 Côtes du Jura Poulsard
The Pêcheurs’ limpid, delicious Poulsard verges on rosé in color, yet delivers plenty of jammy strawberry and cherry, underpinned by a tender minerality. From 25-year-old vines in the Champs Rouge vineyard in Passenans, it is destemmed entirely and spends a year aging in a combination of stainless steel and used 600-liter oak casks.
2020 Côtes du Jura Trousseau
Displaying a variety-typical greater depth of fruit and breadth of structure compared to the Poulsard above, Pêcheur’s Trousseau nonetheless offers easy drinkability and effortless balance, its cherry and plum fruit augmented by a hint of licorice. This is aged entirely in used demi-muids after a spontaneous fermentation in stainless steel, and bottled just before the following harvest.
2020 Côtes du Jura Pinot Noir
Fermented in steel and aged entirely in used barrels like the Trousseau above, the Pêcheurs’ Pinot Noir combines varietal silkiness and delicacy with a hint of the Jura’s telltale mineral twang; and, as with all the domaine’s red wines, it impresses with balance and freshness rather than depth of color or richness of structure.
2019 Côtes du Jura “Cuvée des Trois Cépages”
As its name implies, this wine combines the Jura’s three main red varieties Poulsard, Pinot Noir, and Trousseau in roughly equal proportions. Tactile, scrumptious red fruit gets a bit of punch from the Trousseau and a bit of suaveness from the Pinot Noir, offering an excellent sense of tension on the palate.
2018 Côtes du Jura Chardonnay
From 35-year-old vines in Mont Royal, Grand Vaux, and Chanet planted in dolomitic limestone, Pêcheur’s Chardonnay spends two full years in used barrels with no topping up after a spontaneous fermentation in stainless steel. Gently oxidative without displaying the full thrust of the voile, this maintains a vibrant sense of acidity and a well-articulated minerality.
2017 Côtes du Jura Blanc “Cuvée Spéciale”
A step up in oxidative complexity from the Chardonnay above, the Pêcheurs’ “Cuvée Speciale” combines roughly equal parts Savagnin and Chardonnay, neither of which are topped up during their three-year stint in well-used barrels. Despite its wealth of sea-salt minerality and marzipan-like voile character, this maintains a sense of poise and prettiness—very much in the overall style of the house.
Also available: 2012 “Cuvée Spéciale” library release (highly limited)
2016 Côtes du Jura Savagnin
The domaine’s pure Savagnin, from the dolomitic blue limestone soils of the Mont Royal, Grand Vaux, and Chanet vineyards, offers a gentler take on the sous-voile version of this legendary variety than those of Arbois or L’Étoile. Aged three years in old barrels with no topping up, it presents flavors of Indian curry and yellow fruits on an airy, breezily mineral frame, finishing with impressive length but without undue weight.
The Vin-Jaune-only appellation of Château-Chalon is the Jura’s grand cru in all but name, its ultra-steep slopes of grey marl producing wines of greater finesse and more pronounced minerality than its peers in Arbois. Aged in a rustic above-ground barrel cellar with wide temperature fluctuations, Pêcheur’s Château-Chalon—from 50-year-old Savagnin in the south-facing Gaillardon vineyard—is a wine of deft precision, with a smoky mezcal-like note emerging from beneath its intensely saline minerality and taut green fruits.
2009 Côtes du Jura Vin de Paille
Comprised of 70% Chardonnay with 15% each Savagnin and Poulsard, the Pêcheurs’ lovely version of this traditional Jura sweet wine is dried for several months on straw mats and aged two years in neutral oak after the meager amount of juice wrested from the raisins finishes fermenting. With its bristling acidity and its layered flavors of orchard fruits, honey, and brown sugar, this somehow remains fresh, drinkable, and digestible amidst all that residual sugar.
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.
No domaine with whom we work embodies the Jura’s pre-technological agrarian past as wholeheartedly as Overnoy-Crinquand, headed today by the 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 but the Jura. 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 since 1999). The stark, 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 2017 vintage, this disgorgement offers greater textural plushness and breadth than the beloved Montbourgeau Crémant above, with iron-tinged minerality and a gently honeyed character.
2019 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 2019 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.
2019 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.
2018 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 elevage, 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 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.
Few in the Jura are as talented as Emeric Foléat of the tiny Les Matheny domaine in Mathenay, 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 his three hectares in Arbois without the use of synthetic chemicals, and he 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 these 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.
2018 Arbois Pinot-Trousseau
Emeric owns so little Pinot Noir that he ends up having to blend it with other varieties—Poulsard in some years, and Trousseau in others, as he sees fit—following the model of his old employer Puffeney who produced the stunning “Vieilles Vignes” cuvée through the 2005 vintage using all three cépages. Aged for two years in a single decades-old small foudre, this 2018 Pinot-Trousseau is built around 45-year-old Trousseau from the village of Aiglepierre, and the roughly one-quarter Pinot Noir serves to moderate the Trousseau’s scrappy wildness with a touch of silk.
2017 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 is staggering, 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.
2012 Arbois Vin Jaune
Emeric’s Vin Jaune, bottled a full seven years after harvest, is a focused effort of remarkable complexity. Exuberant but controlled on the nose, it laser-beams preserved lemons, freshly tanned leather, and marzipan at the taster, ratcheting up the intensity with its agile, built-for-speed palate. It is a wine both weighty and brisk, with decades of upside potential, and its combination of power and balance clearly evokes his legendary former mentor’s wines.