In the last half decade, it’s been thrilling to watch France’s sleepy Jura region catapulted into the spotlight. Long thought of as Burgundy’s backwoods cousin, just years ago seeing wine from this peculiar region in your local shop or on a wine list would’ve been unthinkable. Yet, with the explosion of prices and demand for red and white Burgundy coinciding with a serious interest in new and unusual types of natural winemaking have made Jura the new rockstar French wine. Here we have a region less than an hour east of Burgundy, with historically shared varieties (Chardonnay & Pinot Noir) but with a much humbler culture around wine growing and winemaking. Though the region’s reds can be wonderful, it’s the whites that make it truly distinct. Historically, the region’s best wines have been made in an intentionally oxidative style in which wines aging in barrel are not topped up (similar to the production of sherry without the addition of spirits). This style of wines can be incredible yet are often nutty, intense, and rather funky. As the region’s popularity has grown, more and more producers have embraced ‘Burgundian’ white wine making in which barrels are topped off and the resulting wines are driven by freshness, rather than oxidation. Our two selections this month are both made in this style using the two most crucial varieties found here. We’ll begin with the Jura’s most important grape–Savagnin.
For many producers, the best parcels in the best years go into the production of Vin Jaune, an oxidative white wine that must see at least 7 years in barrel before release. Savagnin is unique in its ability to ripen to high levels of potential alcohol, which produces a strong enough wine to survive such a long time in barrel without the addition of wine or spirits. This style can be enchanting, however it is only really possible to get at the true nature of the grape when made in a purity-driven, ouillé (or topped-off) style. L’essenciel from Désiré Petit is just that. Aged for 6 months in large barrels that are periodically topped off, this Savagnin comes through with intensity, ripeness, and verve. One can sense in this intense white that it has the stuffing to age.
Savagnin is a peculiar variety native to sub-Alpine France and Switzerland, which is well adapted to ripen fully in these temperate climates. It is believed to be a parent variety of the better known grape Gewürtztraminer, often used in Alsace and Germany. Though it is a highly aromatic grape by nature, especially in comparison to Chardonnay, Savagnin’s intensity is much more subtle than the seriously floral character found in most Gewürtztraminer.