The wondrous wines of Jura, France

V Sanjay Kumar enjoys exploring the wonders of Jura wines with his friends, introduced to him by his wine guru

My wine guru (we all need one) is a crotchety ancient whose eyebrows are knitted together. People think that he is frowning, in reality that is how you look when you are sniffing a glass of wine. It does not help that my guru serves expressions that challenge the whole purpose of drinking wine. Wine is meant to appease, excite, pleasure, and uplift. Old Man’s cellar has no such intentions.

His wines come from vineyards in Europe where labour is love, tending plants is personal, the terrain has steep slopes, and mechanization is not an option. Some bigclod well-shod horses with rowdy manes can be seen ploughing the marl and crumbling the schist. Old Man has wines from such locales. The last time I was to meet him he asked me, “Have you heard of Jura?”

I did some research. Jura is a small region that produces less than 1% of the wine in France but it makes up through character

I did some research. Jura is a small region that produces less than 1% of the wine in France but it makes up through character. It literally owns a white grape called Savagnin and red grapes called Trousseau and Poulsard. It makes wine its own way; you either love them or hate them and if you are in the latter category, frankly, it cares a damn.

“The big wine houses do not make wines in Jura,” said Old Man, “only small croppers do.” In his books that meant something.

“Robert Parker spends more time in Burgundy and Bordeaux, not so much in Jura.” This was his answer when I asked him if Jura had produced a 100 pointer.

“Take a grape like Poulsard,” said Old Man holding up a pale pink liquid that he had poured, “it is thin-skinned and temperamental. It demands care and attention. If it is denied it raises a stink; literally.”

He poured a Trousseau, another pale red. “Aged in amphora,” he said. “You know Amphora” We used to drink water from something called a surahi, remember?’

The Trousseau was fresh and refreshing, light as a rosé, translucent, full of red fruit, sweet spice, and a hint of tobacco. It coated my palate, it was lively and strangely uplifting. Old Man smiled when I murmured my appreciation.

“A good winemaker fusses over his wine but refuses to filter it or fine it. See how cloudy this is, that is natural, so don’t make a fuss.”

“I was told that these winemakers are like hippies.”

Old Man laughed, showing me his winestained teeth. “So are the wines,” he said. I could imagine him shirtless in Glastonbury, mud up to his knees, wine up to his gills.

I wanted to taste more of these wines and I had to decide who would join me.

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“Serve Jura whites to guests and they are likely to feel they have been had,” warned Old Man. “The wines can taste oxidized, they can be really dry; they can be spicy, they can be a blot on your idea of wine.”

My better half’s idea of wine was hedonism in a bottle. As you know she can be caustic. Jura was a den without polish or easy pleasure. “Find someone else,” she said.

“My friend from Chennai?”

She laughed. “Someone with a yen for Burgundy white, someone who loves Montrachet and Condrieu? You would subject him to this?’

It was the kind of thing I would enjoy; subjecting someone used to soft, lean, silky, well-rounded, and ephemeral wine to oxidative, reductive, full-throated, and husky juice.

Jura wine is waiting for the world to wake up to its peculiar charms; some part of me wishes it does not. Discovered wine becomes rare and expensive

Mr. Burgundy, my generous friend from Chennai, arrived with his ice box, it had a Puligny-Montrachet. “A wine with personality,” he said. He poured us a thimble each. On my part I poured one of Stephane Tissot’s Jura Chardonnays. Tissot makes many Chards and this from Les Bruyeres was puckering, minerally, ripe, and brisk. It was deeper in colour, a bit brash in comparison.
We sipped each in turn. The world of wine waited for the verdict.

Well-shod horses plough the marl and schist of the vineyards in the Jura region

“The Montrachet Chardonnay is an ethereal whisper,” said my Chennai friend. He held up the Jura. “This on the other hand is an electric current.”

“Say more,” I said.

“Your Jura is lush not lean, succulent more than extracted, it is springy and not taut. In comparison it is viscous and salty.”

He sipped some more and looked quizzically at the liquid. “Is it true that Jura adjoins Burgundy?’ he asked. I nodded.

“Guess you can’t choose your neighbours,” he said. The lean elegant balanced Burgundian was shaken, he looked like he had received a punch in the gut.

“This is just the Chardonnay,” I told him. “The Jura battery has other weapons.”

“Like?”

“Principally the Savagnin grape. Are you game?’

I poured a second Chardonnay and the Traminer from Tissot that was made from Savagnin. He went into a huddle over his two pours, I could see he was confused, something in him was responding to the wines. An hour passed by, we sipped the two wines, and we drank till the last drop.

“Incredible,” he said. “I cannot believe this is low intervention. What kind of terroir produces this intensity?”

Jura wine is waiting for the world to wake up to its peculiar charms; some part of me wishes it does not. Discovered wine becomes rare and expensive because the wine world is forever looking for the next big thing.