The ancient "Yellow Wine" of the Jura
|The extraordinary Vin Jaune ("Yellow wine") is made in all four of the Jura AOCs, Château Chalon, Arbois,
Côtes du Jura and l'Etoile. The Savagnin grapes are harvested late and then aged in small oak barrels for
a legal minimum of 6 years and 3 months (although some producers age their Vin Jaune for 10 years or
more in barrel). The slightly porous oak barrels are, by design, not completely airtight, and a considerable
portion - nearly 40% - of the wine therefore evaporates over the years (the so-called "angels share). No
topping up is done, and the barrels are stored in well ventilated conditions, deliberately subject to
significant temperature fluctuations - quite the opposite of normal cellar conditions. A thick layer of flor
yeast, looking like a white foam, develops on the surface of the wine and helps prevent excessive
oxidation. This aging method, similar to that used for fino sherry in Spain, but in France specific to the
Jura, allows the wine to acquire its distinct flavours, characteristic of walnut, almond, spice and apple,
before release. The barrels are tasted at least twice a year during their long maturation, and any that lack
the true Vin Jaune quality are removed and set aside for blending into lesser cuvees - in some cases
less than half of the original barrels are chosen for the final wine.
This remarkable dry wine, at its best immensely complex and very aromatic, is best appreciated after at
least 10 years in bottle and has the ability, in good vintages, to age for a century or more.
|1959: Mild spring. Then dry from May to September. Large harvest. Very great year.
1960: Cold until April, much rain until December. Very large harvest, average quality.
1961: Hail on the 12th May. Small harvest, good vintage.
1962: Snow and cold in April, also until July. Thereafter good weather. Great vintage.
1963: Long winter. Hot July, some rain in August. Good harvest of good quality.
1964: Dryish winter, fairly hot in autumn. Good vintage.
1965: Very difficult year. Gale in May caused much damage. Hot and rainy summer. Perfect weather in October. Average to poor vintage.
1966: Rainy winter and spring, thereafter good weather. Large harvest. Good vintage, exceptional in places.
1967: Cold in spring, with frosts. Very hot summer. Small harvest. Good year.
1968: Rain in summer with rot. Small harvest, average quality.
1969: Snow in March, -5C on 7th June, hot and dry in summer. Good to very good year.
1970: Late flowering. Fine summer. Large harvest of excellent quality.
1971: Intense cold in winter, still freezing at the end of April. Only 5 to 7hl/ha harvested. Great year.
1972: Wet and cold spring, cold and dry summer. Good harvest, but unripe grapes.
1973: Cold and dry until May. Heat-wave in August. Rain in September. Beautiful harvest, great year.
1974: Hot summer, but rain at harvest-time. Average year.
1975: Early spring, then hot, although some hail. Good harvest, fairly good year.
1976: Cold dry spring. then hot, interspersed with some storms. Unbalanced maturity.
1977: Cold, rain, frost, mildew, hail. Terrible year.
1978: Hot in June. Average year.
1979: Terrible weather in April, followed by perfect weather in May, thereafter hot. Large harvest, excellent year.
1980: Very rainy and cold throughout spring. A little heat in summer, then more rain. Very poor year.
1981: Rain and heat alternating until August, thereafter very fine weather. Small harvest, no AOC Château Chalon.
1982: Dry and cold spring, hot dry summer, heat-wave in August. Very large harvest, good to excellent year.
1983: Long winter, hot and dry in summer, very great year.
1984: Catastrophically bad weather, no AOC Château Chalon, disastrous year.
1985: Freezing winter, delayed budding. Very hot July through September. Great year.
1986: Bad weather in April. Hot summer. Large harvest, very good year.
1987: Poor weather in May. Hot with rain in summer. Average autumn. Good year.
1988: Appalling weather in March, thereafter near perfect until harvest. Very great year.
1989: Hot and dry from April, with occasional rain. Vines in superb condition. Very great year.
1990: Near perfect weather throughout the year, the third great vintage in a row.
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This unique wine is bottled in a unique bottle, squat with a deep punt, called a "clavelin". The bottles are made at the glassworks at La Vieille
Loye which has been making these specialist bottles since it gained the concession from Marguerite of Burgundy in 1506. Today, the bottles
are no longer hand-blown, but machine-moulded, but they still conform to the same dimensions: each clavelin has a capacity of 62cl (0.62
litres) - based on the fact that for every litre of newly made wine put into barrel, just 62 centilitres is left after nearly six and a half years of
ageing. Vin Jaune is the only wine allowed to be sold in France in a bottle of this capacity (a special dispensation had to be gained from the
European Parliament to allow for this).
|Tasting and drinking Vin Jaune and Château Chalon
Vin Jaune and Chateau-Chalon deserve their traditional name of "vin de garde" or wine for keeping, because they will both mature happily for
many decades, and in great vintages, for well over a century. The very greatest are seemingly immortal.
The ideal temperature to serve Vin Jaune is around 14° centigrade, so warmer than one would usually drink a white, closer to room
temperature. It's advisable to let the wine breathe for several hours prior to drinking, as this allows the wine to develop its subtle aromas of
walnuts, hazelnuts, wheat, tobacco and sometimes, of "curry" (French tasters routinely use the word."curry" to describe the characteristic
aroma of Vin Jaune, more accurately and precisly, it's reminiscent of the spice fenugreek). Some connoisseurs advise decanting prior to
Vin Jaune is the ideal accompaniment to trout or poultry with creamy sauces, (Bresse chicken with morels in a creamy Vin Jaune sauce is a
local speciality in the region), smoked fish such as haddock, curried dishes and many Chinese dishes. Above all, we recommend drinking it
on its own, accompanied perhaps with just some Comte cheese and walnuts. If Comte is not available, Gruyere is the closest substitute.
Vin Jaune is an expensive wine to cook with, but it's powerful and spicy flavours mean a little goes a long way, and used judiciously it can lift
an ordinary dish to a gourmet level.