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.
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.
Joseph Dorbon’s setup is simple: three hectares of organically tended vines on prime south-facing slopes above his home village of Vadans; a horse to help him plow; and a subterranean 16th-century cellar in which his soulful wines slowly take shape. We met Joseph through Michel Gahier, and indeed the two men share a certain combination of dyed-in-the-wool Jurassien spirit and boundary-pushing thoughtfulness. Vadans, a sleepy little village even for the Jura, contains soils of yellow marl, which tend to produce reds of great finesse and whites of chiseled complexity, and Dorbon’s wines follow suit; yet, like the greatest wines in the region, they are both deeply evocative of place and distinctly Joseph’s own. He works his land without chemicals, plows by horse—a difficult and little-encountered practice which he learned from his uncle—and harvests by hand. His cellar practices are minimal and steeped in Jura tradition: spontaneous fermentations without temperature regulation; aging sous-voile for his white wines; minimal (and sometimes no) additions of sulfur; and bottling of the white wines only after significant time in cask. Joseph’s evocative wines have garnered deserved attention since we first began our partnership six years ago, and their preciousness grows as he approaches retirement within the next few years.
2017 Arbois Rouge “Les Bernardines – Vieilles Vignes”
“Les Bernardines” is a vineyard in Vadans named after the Bernardine order of Cistercian monks who stewarded the land during the Middle Ages, and Joseph owns Poulsard and Pinot Noir vines within its confines. This cuvée, comprising around 80% Poulsard and 20% Pinot Noir, is co-fermented in stainless steel without temperature stabilization, and aged two full years in old Burgundy barrels. Fresh and lithe, “Les Bernardines” leads with Poulsard’s sappy red-cherry fruit, with the Pinot Noir contributing a certain suaveness of texture. The palate sees an extra boost of concentration from the 60+ year old vines, and the wine combines gentle structure with vivacious drinkability in harmonious fashion.
2019 Arbois Trousseau
Trousseau reigns supreme in Montigny-les-Arsures, the home village of Michel Gahier and Jacques Puffeney, where it produces wines of power and structure from the village’s grey-marl soils; by contrast, Vadans’ yellow-marl soils produce a more easygoing version of the variety, and Dorbon thusly treats it more breezily in the cellar than he does his Poulsard, aging it in stainless steel for just one year and adding no sulfur at all. With its clean, ringing black-cherry fruit and its varietally true spice character, Joseph’s Trousseau dazzles with its purity and drive, with only a wisp of tannins evident on the refreshing finish.
2016 Arbois Blanc “Cuvée des Moyne – Vieilles Vignes”
“Cuvée des Moyne”—moyne being the Middle French spelling of moine, or “monk”—comprises 80% Chardonnay and 20% Savagnin from vines between 40 and 70 years of age in Vadans. The varieties are interplanted, and Joseph harvests and ferments them together, aging them for three years in neutral 228-liter Burgundy casks with no topping up. This wine illustrates clearly how veil-derived characteristics—marzipan, curry, green walnuts—can coexist comfortably alongside fresh-fruit elements and vigorous acidity in a well-crafted sous-voile white wine. “Cuvée des Moyne” is downright chiseled in its minerality, with bright, direct yellow fruits framed by, rather than overwhelmed by, the saline thrust of the veil.
2010 Arbois Savagnin
Joseph purposely bottles very little of his Savagnin as Vin Jaune, and his “basic” Savagnin spends longer in barrel than is required of an actual Vin Jaune by law—in the case of this 2010, seven full years sous-voile. The resulting wine, though deeply marked by the mysterious and wildly complex aromatic and flavor spectrum of the veil, remains fresh and vinous, with stunning acidity and a saliva-prompting, bone-dry finish of incredible length.
2009 Arbois Vin Jaune
According to appellation restrictions, Vin Jaune must spend a full five years in barrel sous-voile, and it may not be released until six years and three months after the harvest; Dorbon doubles the formula, giving the rare barrels he deems worthy of being bottled as Vin Jaune a full decade in cask. The result is an oceanic wine of Herculean power, with raging acidity wed to luscious, salt-caked yellow fruits, and given additional complexity by a raw-almond character that stops short of overt oxidation. This makes most Vin Jaune taste tame by comparison, but it nonetheless retains a stunning sense of equilibrium and fine-grained minerality.