A celebration and tasting of Vin de Paille

For many decades on the nearest Sunday to the 22nd January, the village of Arlay in the Côtes du Jura has celebrated the patron Saint of wine growers, Saint Vincent to which its church is dedicated. A church service is followed by a procession of the Commanderie des Nobles Vins du Jura et du Comté in their red robes. From 2009, the village decided to add to the event by celebrating that nectar of the Jura, Vin de Paille, in an event named La Pressé du Vin de Paille. The fact that Arlay’s two principal producers, Château d’Arlay and Caves Bourdy are both well known for their Vin de Paille helped.

Commanderie Nobles Vins du Jura

Procession of the Commanderie des Nobles Vins du Jura ©Brett Jones

Compared with the huge event La Percée du Vin Jaune taking place this weekend, as always the first weekend of February, the Pressé is a modest village affair, albeit this year with a few hundred in attendance. The procession leading out of the Church was led by colourful locals dressed up in peasant gear, notably those wheeling ‘brûleurs de sarments’, metal braziers to burn the vine cuttings, and followed on by the dignitaries from the Commanderie. The actual pressing of a symbolic few crates of dried grapes took place twice in the day using an old wooden hopper and press mounted on a stage and the audience got to taste the resulting sticky grape juice. It is presided by Comte Alain de Laguiche and his winemaker Philippe Soulard of Château d’Arlay, with Jean-François and Jean-Philippe Bourdy of Caves Bourdy.

There was a good range of local food stands offering delicacies ranging from the local cheeses and hams, to snails, chestnuts, honey, nougat and cakes, as well as a clutch of Jura wine producer stands offering their complete ranges to taste. An inside exhibition provided some shelter from the inclement weather that arrived in the afternoon and offered an art exhibition, demonstration of barrel-making and a fine collection of local books with several authors present including Philippe Bétry, author of a recent excellent book on Vin de Paille.

A not-so-serious blind tasting
The guest of honour at this year’s event, inducted  into the Commanderie, was local Jura sommelier of Château de Germigney Christophe Menozzi, a good friend and real expert on Vin de Paille, who advised Philippe Bétry in his book on some fascinating food matches. In another nod to the Percée du Vin Jaune at which there is a rather serious competition to judge the best Vins Jaune, the ‘clavelinage’, Christophe had organised a little blind tasting of ten Vins de Paille, named a Paillevinage. The judges were mainly consumers (rather sweetly, those named Vincent were especially invited in honour of the day…) but I was able to join in, even though this was strictly an amateur competition to judge everyone’s favourite three wines.

Blind tastingChristophe gave advice to those new to tasting, especially blind tasting and suggested they spat – only I and the couple of vignerons present were seen to do this. But, really it was an extremely difficult selection to judge. From several  different vintages and all made from a different mix of grapes, with quite wildly varying sugar levels, it really did come down to me in choosing what I considered to be those with an attractive bouquet that on the palate showed the best balance, substance and harmony, and length.

So, drum roll …. My top three wines were L’Etoile Château de l’Etoile 2008, L’Etoile Château de Montbourgeau 2009 and Côtes du Jura Rousset-Martin Père et Fils 2006. Honourable mention should be given to the Arbois Jacques Tissot 2007 which was just behind in my scoring. The Montbourgeau was the overall 1st choice amongst the group of tasters.

To find out more about how Vin de Paille is produced, take a look at the Vin de Paille information page I have written for this site. For an excellent series of photographs by Jean-Michel Hugues dit Ciles, taken during the Pressé du Vin de Paille at Arlay this year, take a look at this this feature in the on-line Jura magazine Echos du Jura. And finally, enjoy this little video filmed by my partner Brett Jones.

And if you are coming to the Percée du Vin Jaune this coming weekend, for the fun, to taste or even to bid on that bottle of 1864 Château-Chalon, see you there among the 40,000 people expected, or seek me out via the Press Office.

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