An Introduction to Jura

France’s wine regions are some of the most famous in the world. Casual wine drinkers could likely list several off the top of their heads, as well as grapes grown in these regions.

Ask casual or even well-versed wine drinkers about the Jura and the response will be much different.

Though smaller and not as well known, the Jura produces exceptional whites and reds that deserve to be recognized.

The Jura department is located within the Franche-Comté province in eastern France, between Burgundy and the Swiss border. Americans may know the Jura best for its cheese: Comté and Morbier. The Laughing Cow cheese is also based there.

Sloping vineyards and rolling hills extend in every direction. To the east are the forested Jura Mountain range, after which the department (and the Jurassic geological period) was named.

Near the northern end of Jura is the town of Arbois. It has the honor of being the first place in France to be named an AOC, a designation it received in 1936. Arbois is also where Louis Pasteur grew up; his childhood home is now a museum. Fifteen miles southwest is the perched village of Château-Chalon, home to the most prized Vin Jaune and some of the most celebrated vineyards in France.

Meaning “yellow wine,” Vin Jaune is made from Savagnin grapes. The wine is aged at least 6 years and 3 months in oak barrels, during which time a thick layer of yeast called “the veil” forms.

In addition to Savagnin, Burgundian varieties Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are grown in the Jura, as are local red grapes Poulsard and Trousseau. Winemakers in the also produce Cremant (sparkling wine made in the traditional Champagne style), Vin de Paille (sweet wine), and Macvin (fortified wine made from marc, grape juice and spices).

In the Jura you’ll find a unique camaraderie among the vintners. In part it’s due to the small size of the region, but mainly it is because they share a real passion for their grapes, soil and terroir. Family and tradition are important too; wine estates are passed down through sons and daughters and relatives work together to produce wine.

You can’t help but be passionate about wines from the Jura, with their marked acidic and oxidative flavors. These are conversation-starting wines; Vin Jaune especially is the kind of wine you could spend hours sipping and discussing.

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