One of the things I like about wine is diversity and the fact that there are always new “wow-moments” no matter how many wines you already had in your life. And just the other day, I had a quite special discovery-moment with a Château-Chalon, a vin jaune from the Jura. In fact, Didier who is an expert for those types of wines since he is himself from the Jura region, liberally brought a bottle when he recently came for a visit.
As some of you might know, Vin jaune is a wine made from the Savagnin grape (aka Traminer) and is only vinified in satisfying years. After fermentation it must age approximately 6 years and 3 months in barrels where it is covered hermetically by a layer of yeast called the voile (veil). It protects the wine but also lends it a distinctive taste. At the same time, and mostly during the 3 years it can take until the voile is formed, the wine slightly oxydzes and until the end of the aging process approximately 40% of the vin jaune also evaporates (so called “angel’s share”).
But actually it isn’t really over then since the wines are meant to age in the cellar for many decades afterwards. The label clearly displays ” Vin de Garde” which unmistakably dictates what someone is supposed to do with the bottles: leave them alone until your hair turns grey. Thus opening a 2002 is somewhat of a crime and maybe not as rewarding as it should be, but nevertheless we popped open that bottle and observed it over 3-4 days (leaving it open).
Actually it wasn’t the first time I had a vin jaune. A few years ago when I attended a wine-tasting class, we all had a sip of this intriguing wine and it appeared to me as dry as the theory that came with it: interesting but not captivating, my palate maybe not being quite ready for savoring the unexpected back then.
This time I was fully concentrated on the wine and of course it was another type of experience. It is still intriguing from the start. The intensity of it is overwhelming – from the nose to the finish. First, you clearly depict walnuts, but the perfume is much more mystical than only walnuts, think of a computerized tomography of a walnut with all sorts of complexity in-between the layers. The nose is compelling and forces you to take a sip. You’d like to swirl the wine a bit more but it is hopeless as the glass always comes to your lips. And there again, a very expressive wine, a quintessence of a wine.
Naturally, one thinks of Sherry and both wines are nearly made the same way – the Voile is called Flor in Jerez and as in Jura the Solera method works through evaporation. The main difference between the two are the grape varietals and the fortification. In fact, wines of Jerez are cut with alcohol before bottling or fortified just like Port-wines or Vins Doux Naturels in France thus being more powerful depending on the style.
So maybe this makes Vin Jaunes more pure (or at least less of a mass product)and natural. The natural feel is actually very obvious: for example there is a certain dry saltiness on the palate, but it isn’t the revolting kind, being well integrated in a balanced wine and thus feeling very natural. You would think at first that Vin Jaune is an austere wine but the bottle empties way too fast for that. Especially when you pair it with its natural food complice: Comté cheese, young or aged, also from the Jura region. That way. an aperitif becomes joyful and sophisticated and makes any subsequent dinner a tough challenge, the bar having been set pretty high.
Well of course I forgot to mention the complexity of the taste and the sheer endless finish, but I guess you got the picture already. And of course as Didier explains it on his post about this wine, it is somehow an acquired taste, but if you take the time as we did, and bring some curiousity and open-mindness you’ll quickly fall for those rich and expressive, multi-layered yet balanced Vins Jaunes from the Jura.