Posts Tagged With: Savagnin

Worldwide Wines Inspired by Jura

In the past year I’ve had the chance to try several Jura-inspired wines of the world. By this, I mean wines made with the Jura grapes Savagnin or Trousseau, grown outside France and/or wines inspired by Jura’s oxidative methods.

Traditionalists in the Jura wine region tend to become very worried by talk of any trend like this – there are even laws to stop other AOC wine regions in France using these grapes. The same attitude is held by the Savoie AOC authorities about that region’s indigenous varieties. For this outsider, at any rate, this viewpoint is ridiculous – not only do we all know that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but it provides wonderful publicity for the original; drinkers who discover the newcomers often want to try the original.

In the Jura Wine book I wrote about these wines briefly in Appendix 3, telling the stories of the emergence of California Trousseau and Australian Savagnin. If you own the book, do take a look; and if you don’t, order the book direct from my site Wine Travel Media (quicker and usually cheaper than Amazon) – the book is still over 90% up to date despite being already three years old! Since the book was published, several other Trousseau and Savagnins have appeared on my radar, so below are some brief thoughts and comments.

Trousseau - Eyrie Vineyards labelTROUSSEAU
In what seems like a wonderfully low-key ‘first’, Jason Lett of The Eyrie Vineyards (famous for its Pinot Noir, pioneered by Jason’s father David Lett in the 1960s) was the first in the Willamette Valley of Oregon to have released a Trousseau wine last year. Having tasted Jura Trousseau, Jason thought it might be ideal to plant the grape in the region and he’s not alone. A small group of Oregon wineries has followed suit planting Trousseau, including Analemma in the Columbia Gorge, whose worthy attempt I tasted from demijohn. Even amphora-specialists Beckham Estate of Willamette Valley are planting it… I see an Oregon-Trousseau trend emerging. At a tasting at Eyrie last August, Jason revealed his first release, the 2015 Eyrie Vineyards Trousseau and it was spot on – pale-coloured with a blueberry character, some earthy notes and good acid grip. He made it with no added sulphur.

On a brief trip to Porto last year, we visited the enjoyable wine bar PROVA a couple of Portuguese Bastardotimes and I purchased a bottle of Conceito Bastardo 2014 to take home. Sporting a delightfully original label, it was young so has lain in our cellar until a few weeks ago, when I opened it, yearning for a break from Savoie and Bugey wines, which I’m tasting at full-stretch in preparation for the next book, Wines of the French Alps.

If you weren’t aware, Portugal’s Bastardo is genetically identical to Jura’s Trousseau, even though several growers in the Jura emphatically deny it is possible. Although Portugal has over 1,000 hectares there are few wines from 100% Bastardo, as much is grown in old mixed vineyards in the Douro and used for blending, usually for Port. This varietal example is from the Conceito winery (the brand name means ‘concept’) based in the Douro Valley.  Wine Grapes has little good to say about unfortified varietal Trousseau, but this wine is a cracker, with light colour, a cherry-like nose, good acidity, balanced alcohol (13.5%) and lovely fruit. It was definitely less rustic and earthy than a Jura Trousseau, but a really enjoyable wine.

SAVAGNIN
Late last summer on a visit to the Haute Savoie vineyards just south of Lac Léman, I finally went to the biodynamically-run estate Les Vignes de Paradis, owned by Dominique Lucas, one of the up-and-coming Savoie stars. For me, the excitement lies in his range of Chasselas from the vineyards of Crépy, Marin and Marignin which he is making better than anyone in the region (more in the book to come). However, he has also planted a range of other varieties including Savagnin. Les Vignes de Paradis 2015 Savagnin IGP des Allobroges, which I tasted from that very hot vintage, had been made in concrete egg and weighed in at a hefty 14.5%, but it wore it well, with the wine showing surprising crispness and ripe lemon curd flavours. It had been open more than a week, yet was alive and kicking. An oddity, sporting a high price tag, it proved yet again what a magical grape this is.

Dominique Lucas

Dominique Lucas of Les Vignes du Paradis is ever the experimenter – the camera and hand belong to Mick Rock, photographer, shooting for the next book.

An enjoyable diversion at the Oregon stands at London’s Real Wine Fair, led me to taste Coury Old Vine Savagnin Rose from Jeff Vejr’s Golden Cluster winery. I’m including it here even though Savagnin Rose [no accent!] is not grown in the Jura as far as I know – surprisingly it is not the same as the Savagnin Muscaté grown by a few growers like Marnes Blanches (for its cuvée Savagnin Le Jensillard) in the Sud Revermont, but instead is the non-aromatic version of Gewurztraminer, known best in Alsace as Klevener de Heiligenstein. All are genetically identical, though. From a vineyard planted 50 years ago by a pioneering rare grape grower in Oregon, Charles Coury, honoured by Jeff Vejr in several of his fascinating wines, this Savagnin Rose was simply-speaking delicious – a triumph for this rare grape.

Garry Crittenden is a brilliantly persistent marketeer and one of those who did much to put Australian wine on the map in the UK especially 25 years ago. His son, Rollo is an excellent winemaker and Garry’s successor at Crittenden Estate in Victoria’s Mornington Peninsular region – he is also a huge Jura wine fan. Thanks to both Garry and Rollo, I was able to taste their very first vintage of sous voile (oxidative, under-the-veil-of-yeast) Savagnin 2011, named Cri de Coeur before I published Jura Wine so I wrote about it in that appendix 3. And, they hosted Brett and I for an all-too-fast visit when I was in Melbourne in early 2015 when we were able to taste the 2013 while still in barrel. In May, clever Garry alerted me to the fact that Jancis Robinson MW had a spare sample bottle of the Crittenden Estate Cri de Coeur Savagnin 2013, so as I was briefly in London, off I went to retrieve it so that I could taste it, giving it to others blind at the end of a celebration tasting for the success of the Kickstarter campaign for Wines of the French Alps.

Crittenden Estate, Mornington, Australia

Rollo and Garry Crittenden. © Brett Jones.

This is a part of what I wrote to Garry afterwards: “I tasted this with a group of wine educators and keen wine consumers last night AFTER a whole series of Savoie and other French Alps wines and for many, after a long day of tastings! I gave it to them blind stating it had nothing to do with the French Alps. First reaction, especially on nosing it, from several, was – well, it must be Jura (of course, they were a little biased being in my house!), so I said no and they agreed it was oxidative but probably not Sherry. Then the palate surprised because it appears ‘sweeter’, but see below. Everyone was intrigued and most of them, impressed.

So, now I’ve re-tasted it – I had meant to open it early last night but it never happened, so Crittenden Cri de Coeur Savagninnow it’s been open 24 hours. For me it shows some walnuts and even classic spices, such as ginger and turmeric on the nose; on the palate, it is not as aggressive as some Jura oxidative Savagnin, showing almost sweetness, but it’s more of a textural creamy sweetness rather than sugar. The finish is very long and I see no reason for it not to age well for several years. A great success and much more Jura-like than the previous incarnation, but still shows the extra warmth of your location. Congrats to Rollo.”

Savagnin and Trousseau are right up there among the great grape varieties of the world, and while Jura shows the way, it’s such fun to explore their merits from elsewhere.

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Only one word to describe the 2013 vintage

You won’t usually hear wine public relations or marketing people use the word ‘catastrophe’ either in English or French, but I am beginning to wonder whether the meaning is subtly different in contemporary French. In the past few weeks I have heard the word used by the smallest and the largest, and by both the most insular and the most worldly of Jura producers to describe the 2013 vintage. They are usually pretty honest with me, but this seems extreme.

Saint Vernier

Saint Vernier, patron saint of Jura vignerons, must have taken time off in 2013 ©Wink Lorch

‘Cata’ is short for ‘catastrophe’, and when pronounced in French either ‘CaTa’ or ‘catastroff’ with the emphasis on the ‘stroff’ it comes over with some impact. This shocking word was used by Stéphane Tissot when I spoke to him on his mobile phone on his last day of harvest this year on 14 October. Then last Monday I heard it several times from organic producers, both established and relatively new, in Paris for Le Nez dans le Vert trade tasting, even though they all wore a brave little smile. Then I spoke on the phone to the director of the large négociant Maison du Vigneron (part of Grands Chais de France) and tentatively asked about the harvest, couching it with ‘I know quantity is low and it hasn’t been easy, but how was….?’ And yet again ‘catastrophe’ was the answer. To be fair, a few bright souls gamely admitted that Jura was at least lucky to be spared the horrific hail storms that nearby Burgundy suffered. So, what went wrong?

A shortage?
This is not about quality but about quantity. As debates continue in the world of wine about a worldwide shortage of wine (is there or isn’t there?), amongst the most successful producers of the Jura wine world there will be a shortage of certain wines, no doubt. There have now been two seriously small harvests in a row, 2012 and 2013, which for some producers added together hardly equate to a normal harvest level. The 2011 vintage was generous, 2010 not very big, and so it goes on, with vintages more and more like a yo-yo in terms of quantity.

A very late spring
The winter 2012-2013 was long with unusual amounts of snow and spring was slow to start. At first producers were upbeat as they knew that this meant less risk of dangerous spring frost. However, when the cold continued into May, they began to get worried as the vines were hardly starting to grow. Towards the end of that month it was not only still wet, but seriously cold for the time of year.

And then the Savagnin ‘did a runner’!

I was perplexed when vignerons with a wry smile told me ‘les Savagnins ont filé’ as although I vaguely understood the verb ‘filer’ I did not know the expression ‘filer à l’Anglaise’ and I just could not relate it to vines. It turns out that ‘filer à l’Anglaise’ means the same as ‘to take French leave’ or to do a runner. Before actual flowering, the small clusters that had formed on many Savagnin vines simply fell off because of the cold. It also happened to a lesser extent with some Poulsard and Trousseau vines. Some Savagnin vines were left with no flower clusters at all (so no grapes) and others with just one or two remaining. Just a few protected or warmer vineyards escaped the problem completely.

Poulsard Jura

A reasonable crop of Poulsard at Domaine Lambert’s vineyard in Toulouse-le-Château ©Brett Jones

Eventually flowering began at the end of June/early July depending on variety, about four weeks later than in most recent years, but the weather was still not very kind and there was much coulure, and as in 2012 once again it was worst for Poulsard. With the low quantity, producers were resigned to keeping their fingers crossed that at least there would be good summer weather, and indeed there was warmth and sunshine for almost two months in July and August. Upbeat, the growers did not mind a little rain in early September, as that gives the vines a drink and increases the volumes a little, but they did need more ripening time, forecasting harvest would be spread along the whole of October.

Fête du Biou in Pupillin

The mid-September rainy Fête du Biou procession in Pupillin ©Brett Jones

Very hasty harvest
The ban de vendanges (the permission to start picking) was set for 23 September for grapes for Crémant, and a week later for still wines. Most good producers were prepared to sit it out for much longer, but then bad weather was forecast. The whole harvest was stop-start, dodging not just rain showers, but heavy downpours at times. Suddenly grey rot started appearing and looked ready to become rampant. The vignerons rushed to get the grapes in as quickly as possible, even the Savagnins that are usually hardy enough to be left for much longer had to be brought in rapidly. Most finished picking by 12 October or soon after, and of course they had to be selective too, but there was so little quantity to pick, at least they could do it quickly.

Vin de Paille

Only a very few boxes of grapes were drying for Vin de Paille at Domaine Bourdy ©Brett Jones

The final tally is usually given as an average yield per hectare. An average yield for the co-operatives and large producers would be 55-60 hectolitres per hectare (hl/ha), sometimes more than this for those who pick a lot of grapes for Crémant du Jura where yields may be higher. Both the  Fruitière des Vignerons d’Arbois (co-operative) and the Maison du Vigneron averaged somewhere between 30 and 35hl/ha taking into account Crémant. As for most of the organic and other producers who aim to achieve more flavour concentration through lower yields, practicing shorter pruning and bud-rubbing, they ended up with between 10 and 25hl/ha but most were well below 20hl/ha.

Quality is fine, just hardly any wine
Because there was relatively little mildew this year, the quality has ended up as fairly good overall – most producers are saying it was better for reds, but Chardonnay suffered with some rot, and there was so little Savagnin it hardly counts (5hl/ha for some vineyards).

Especially for the many small, quality-minded young producers who have set up in the past five years, this situation is really hard. Many have found keen customers both at home and on export markets eager to buy their wines, but they now can offer no follow-on for certain cuvées. It has to be said that this is exacerbated by the current Jura trend to offer a huge range of cuvées (several producers have upwards of 20 different wines even owning just 5ha of vineyards or less), but that is part of the joy of Jura.

There is absolutely nothing they can do except make the best quality wines they can manage, and hope that financially they can make it through the next few months. Nature usually regularizes things and after particularly small vintages, the vine is ready to produce a bumper crop the following year. Many vignerons thought that this would be the case after the small 2012 vintage, but in fact 2013 was worse – they simply cannot afford to have another poor vintage in terms of quantity, or indeed quality. To avoid an even bigger catastrophe we have to all think positive thoughts for 2014.

Categories: News | Tags: , , , , | 8 Comments

In praise of Château-Chalon

Last month on my very last full research visit in preparation for the book, I spent most of the time around Château-Chalon, visiting producers there and in Ménétru-le-Vignoble, Névy-sur-Seille, Voiteur and Le Vernois. Only 20 minutes south of Arbois, this is in many ways another world, where Savagnin and oxidative wines reign supreme, born of the classic, steep grey marl vineyards below the limestone cliffs of the historic hilltop village of Château-Chalon.

vine conservatory

Vine conservatory below Château-Chalon ©Brett Jones

As well as visiting producers, we were able to sneak in behind the fancy metal doorway to the baby vine conservatory looked after by Gaël Delorme of the Société du Viticulture du Jura. Here, around 50 vine varieties are grown, including not only various versions of Jura’s big five, but all the obscure varieties Gaël has been able to find over the past ten years that were once grown in the region. This include rarities such as Enfariné, Argan, Gueuche Noir and Poulsard Blanc, some of which make their way in tiny quantities into blends made by a few producers. You will have to wait for the book to know more.

We also took a look at the wonderful educational museum of la Maison de la Haute Seille in the middle of the village. If you understand French it’s well worth spending an hour there to look at the interactive displays explaining the geology of the place, as well as history and much more. There is also a beautiful garden with one of the many spectacular Château-Chalon viewpoints over towards the Bresse plain.

sweetbreads

Sweetbreads and girolles in a lemon confit jus

In between both of our birthdays we treated ourselves to a meal at the Restauarant Hostellerie St-Germain d’Arlay that I hadn’t eaten at for some time, and has recently had a makeover, although still with the same owners, the Tupins. It was a really excellent meal, the restaurant is worthy of a Michelin star, but for now doesn’t have one, which is probably good for prices. The dilemma of what to drink was ever-present, but after an aperitif of elegant Crémant from Michel Gahier, we decided on a great value Ganevat Cuvée Oregane 2010 – his Savagnin/Chardonnay blend. I rarely get to drink Ganevat, and on visits to him it’s usually a barrel rather than bottle tasting, so this was the ideal opportunity to relax with a bottle and good food – lovely purity of ripe yellow fruits dominated.

Back in Château-Chalon, when we were there in mid-September the Savagnin grapes were a long way from ready, although the very low crop, caused by problems earlier in the year with cold and rain before and during flowering, means that with the September sunshine they can ripen quicker. Château-Chalon is the only AOC in France to have three quality control examinations – once at the vines before harvest, once as wine in vat and a final one after the requisite years of barrel ageing under the veil, before bottling in its special Château-Chalon-engraved clavelin.

Château-Chalon vineyards

View up to the vineyards and village of Château-Chalon from Névy-sur-Seille ©Brett Jones

The inspection committee toured the vineyards of Château-Chalon, checking the grapes for ripeness and health, yesterday 3rd October and have declared the vintage suitable for making the AOC in 2013 (not as in 2001 last time it was rejected). Picking may begin next Wednesday 9th October, though I expect many will wait longer if the weather permits. With the pressure of writing and the distance from my home, I could not attend the inspection, so instead celebrated with a glass of delicious, delicate and elegant Domaine De Lahaye Château-Chalon 2005 from Guillaume Tissot of Névy sur Seille – open over two weeks and just hitting its best!

Do take a look at the old news reel video of Harvest in Château-Chalon 1968 for a taste of nostalgia and the romance of harvest. And then you might like to view my offering, shot from above the village of Névy-sur-Seille and showing all the vineyards of the four villages eligible for AOC Château-Chalon, which also include Ménétru-le-Vignoble and Domblans.

Categories: Images of Jura, Jura culture, News | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

Savagnin confirmed as a founder grape variety

With the launch of the Wine Grapes book, Jancis Robinson MW has dubbed Jura’s famous white grape Savagnin a ‘founder grape variety’. It has been known for a long time that Savagnin was part of the Traminer family, but the book will reveal much more including not only an array of synonyms for Savagnin, but also that it is the parent of such diverse and much more fashionable grape varieties as Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc and Grüner Veltliner.

Jura Savagnin grapes

Savagnin Vert and Jaune, harvested October 6th and destined for Domaine Pignier Vin Jaune ©Wink Lorch

Savagnin’s written history in the Jura goes back to at least the 14th century, and it is also called Naturé especially in 18th century texts. Savagnin exists in various colour mutations, the most common of which today are Savagnin Vert and Savagnin Jaune. At harvest with Domaine Pignier earlier this month, Jean-Etienne Pignier explained to me that he likes to grow both Vert (green) and Jaune (yellow) in the vineyards, as the mix adds complexity to the blend, even for Vin Jaune.

In the Jura, Savagnin tends to be planted on the best grey or blue marl soils, often in steep south-facing expositions. It resists disease reasonably well, though as a late ripener may be prone to grey rot, as well as to the more desirable ‘noble’ rot. Some producers, Pignier included, like to have a level of nobly-rotted berries included in harvest, also adding to the complexity of their Vin Jaune. Yields of Savagnin are relatively low and it gives good sugar levels with high balancing acid levels.

Savagnin grapes

With a leaf for identifcation, Savagnin, ready for the press ©Wink Lorch

There are 300-400 hectares of Savagnin grown in the Jura, and it is the only variety allowed for Vin Jaune (including of course, Château-Chalon), so traditionally all Savagnin would start off in the winery being a potential Vin Jaune, with less successful barrels being drawn off during the six years of ageing for making a traditional Savagnin white or to blend with Chardonnay (often labelled Tradition). Because of starting life as a potential Vin Jaune all these wines would be oxidative, giving rise to the common, and arguably erroneous, descriptor for Savagnin as ‘nutty’ in flavour, a flavour that actually has more to do with the oxidative ageing process in unfilled barrels under a veil of yeast than to the grape itself.

Since the 1990s increasing numbers of Jura growers have been making small quantities of so-called Savagnin Ouillé. The French word ‘ouillé’ means ‘topped-up’ and refers to the making of Savagnin wines in what to most regions would be a ‘normal’ white wine making method. Whether aged in tank or barrel, the white wine is protected from oxygen during the ageing process. I have loved many producers’ Savagnin Ouillé wines since I first tasted them around 10 years ago as they show the true flavours of this fascinating grape – in particular a vivid lemon character, but also floral, and often the mineral character that is so typical of Jura, I find can be really harnessed in Savagnin Ouillé.

Some of the good producers making Savagnin Ouillé are in AOC Arbois: Fréderic Lornet (Naturé), Tournelle, Stéphane Tissot (Traminer), Philippe Bornard, Overnoy/Houillon, Renardière, Jacques Tisot (Naturé), Octavin and Ligier; and in AOC Côtes du Jura: Ganevat, Labet, Rijckaert, Badoz, Pignier and Buronfosse.

Wine Grapes by Jancis Robinson MW, Julia Harding MW and José Vouillamoz is available to buy with a limited special offer on Jancis’ site or for a similar price you can purchase via my Amazon UK or Amazon US stores (when I will eventually receive a few pennies). I have just received my own weighty copy , in which I expect to find all sorts of fascinating information on all the Jura grape varieties.

Categories: Jura wine education, News | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: