Secrets of the Jura

Date: 20 January, 2022 / Author: Katrina Smith

Jura, a small wine producing area nestled between the French and Swiss borders, has for many years held a reputation solely for its signature ‘yellow’ wine, vin jaune. In recent years, however, the region has gained a cult following for a range of more conventional wines, all of high quality, and all of which have character, charm and in a lot of cases, longevity.

With just over 200 wineries and 11 million bottles produced annually, Jura is France’s smallest wine producing region. Its rural location and significant distance from major transport links means Jura is far less frequented than neighbouring Burgundy – its situation adding further to its mystery.

A recent visit to François Rousset-Martin in Nevy-sur-Seille did little to dispel an expectation of seclusion and rusticity. Snow-capped, steep vineyards continued to flank narrow country roads up until the eponymous winemaker’s front door. Rousset-Martin offered a warm welcome, explaining he has been in the wine game for some time, upholding a family tradition of winemakers stretching back to his great-grandfather. It was only recently in 2018, however, that he stopped selling grapes to the local cooperative, choosing to become fully immersed in his own production from grape to glass.

Cuvee du Professeur Savagnin
Cuvee du Professeur Savagnin
François Rousset-Martin in his cellar
François Rousset-Martin in his cellar

Working with varieties synonymous with Jura, such as Savagnin and Poulsard, as well as classic grapes, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, Rousset-Martin’s approach is about expressing individuality. He works from four different cellars dotted around the village, with each location conveying a unique terroir. Rather than blending for consistency, 90% of wine produced is bottled by hand, barrel by barrel, resulting in a considerable number of fascinating final outcomes. Here are a few:

2018 Chardonnay-Savagnin
A blend of 80% Chardonnay and 20% Savagnin. Previous vintages saw grapes pressed together, but 2018 was such a generous harvest that a separate vinification took place before maturation in old 228-litre burgundy barrels. A bright and intense wine, with notes of bruised apple, crystalized lemon and walnut.

2018 Chardonnay La Chaux
Referring to the lime-dominant soil, La Chaux has a vibrant, crunchy, tart profile with gooseberry, grapefruit and lime aromas. The palate is much more savoury with a miso, umami finish.

2018 Terres Blanches Chardonnay
Literally meaning white marl, this is the ripest Chardonnay of Rousset-Martin’s wines, and closest to a Burgundian style. Ripe red apple, banana chips and honey intermingle with an oyster-shell salinity.

2018 Cuvée du Professor
A tribute to his father, this wine is 100% Savagnin with great definition of citrus fruit and herbal notes of thyme and bay leaf. Three years maturation in a 600-litre barrel adds weight and body to the wine. The finish is incredibly long, evolving from fruit to botanical to medicinal aromas and flavours. Unlike anything I have ever tasted before.

Our tasting finished with a side-by-side comparison of two vins jaune from Château-Chalon commune, vintages 1997 and 1969. This style of wine shares many similarities with sherry, produced in barrels ‘sur voile’, under a yeasty film that partially protects the wine from oxygen. Most vins jaunes spend a few years in this maturation state, gaining nutty, complex flavours that stand them apart from conventional white wines.

A side-by-side comparison of two vins jaune from Château Chalon
A side-by-side comparison of two vins jaune from Château Chalon
Rousset Martin Cellar
Rousset Martin Cellar

Château Chalon 1997
Produced by Rousset-Martin’s father, this wine was only bottled recently, in 2017, and had therefore spent 20 years in barrel. Incredibly broad and rich with flavours of toasted almonds, soft peach, apple, toffee apple and seaweed.

Château Chalon 1969
This really was a magical moment, tasting a piece of history. Made by Rousset-Martin’s great-grandfather and bottled a few years later in 1977, there is an amazing amount of freshness and vibrancy still prevalent. Citrus peel and orchard fruit flavours combine with concentrated salted almond notes and a honeyed finish.

Katrina would like to offer a huge thank you to François for his time and generosity. Although in short supply, a couple of his wines are available at Vinifiedwine.com for those wishing to experience a piece of Jura magic.

Katrina Smith is an award-winning wine professional with 10 years experience in the industry. She is currently studying towards the revered Master of Wine qualification whilst providing virtual educational wine services via her business Tipple Talk.

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