Wed 18 Apr 2012
The Jura Mountains, in east-central France, between Burgundy and Switzerland, remain an exotic and remote region for most winelovers, even those who may know a considerable amount about French wine. Landscape, grape varieties and methods in the Jura and Arbois appellations are unique, and so are the wines, which tend toward delicacy and elegance. While chardonnay and pinot noir are widely cultivated in Jura and Arbois, the red trousseau and poulsard (helpfully also called ploussard) and the white savagnin (not sauvignon) are what give the region its distinctive qualities. Savagnin is allowed in all white wine production of the regions but is the only grape permitted in the unusual vin jaune (“yellow wine”), which is akin to Sherry but without being fortified.
One of the most progressive estates in Arbois is Domaine André et Mireille Tissot, founded in 1962. André and Mireille’s son Stéphane, after working at wineries in Australia and South Africa, took over the domaine in 1990 and operates it with his wife Bénédicte. They produce 28 wines, each a remarkable distillation of vineyard and grape and frank individuality, the kinds of wines that make a wine-writer think, “Oh, yes, this is why I love wine!” Stéphane Tissot converted the estate to all organic practices in 1999, followed by biodynamic methods in 2004; the Tissot vineyards are certified by Demeter.
Tasted at the “Return to Terroir” event in New York, February 27. Prices are approximate. Various small importers.
My first note on the Tissot Classique Chardonnay 2010, Arbois, is “god, how lovely!” The grapes for this chardonnay derive from vineyards planted in 1962, ’74 and ’78. The wine ages 12 months in the standard Burgundy barrel of 228 liters, but only 10 percent of the barrels were new. This is chardonnay of wonderful purity and intensity, very floral and spicy, with ethereal scents and flavors of apple, grapefruit and roasted lemon nestled in shale and limestone. The sense of tension and resolution between clean, bright acidity and a moderately lush texture afford a great deal of pleasure, assuring a quality of liveliness and confidence that remains subtle and graceful. Now through 2014 or ’15. Excellent. About $26 to $30.
Image from thewinecountry.com.
The vineyards for Tissot’s La Graviers Chardonnay 2010, Arbois, were planted in 1952, ’53, ’64, ’70, ’72, ’76 and then, after a span of 26 years, in 2002. The wine aged 16 months in barriques, 1/3 new oak barrels. This is a chardonnay of the utmost purity, delicacy and elegance; it’s an exquisite and airy fabric of quince and ginger, roasted lemon and camellia, cloves and limestone, all wrapped in a structure that’s as honed and fine-boned as an 18th century Wedgwood tea-cup, yet displaying surprising heft and substance for all that — and, in the finish, touches of burgeoning shale-like minerality and a drop of wild-flower honey. You can scarcely imagine how diametrically opposed this wine is to the typical heavy-handed, over-wrought chardonnay from California. Production was about 550 cases. Now through 2016 to ’17. Excellent. About $26 to $30.
Image from blindtastingclub.net.
Another chardonnay, this one Le Clos de la Tour de Curon 2009, Arbois. The vineyard was planted in 2002; the wine aged 24 months in barriques, 1/3 new barrels. This is altogether deeper, richer and spicier than the two previous examples of Tissot’s chardonnays, but neither is it blatant nor ponderous. The wine is quite dry, scintillating with limestone-like minerality and almost tingling with crisp, vibrant acidity, yet the stones-and-bones approach does not neglect piquant, intriguing (and fairly remarkable) aromas and flavors of preserved lemon, dried lavender and chestnut honey (but not the latter’s sweetness), with a final fillip of cloves and allspice. Yes, a savory, almost food-like chardonnay that manages to be completely balanced and true and authentic. Production was about 138 cases. Now through 2016 to ’19. Excellent. About $27 to $32.
The sole red wine under consideration here is Tissot’s Singulier Trousseau 2010, Arbois. In the chilly environs of the foothills of the Alps, red wines tend to be delicate and refined, certainly the case with this gossamer, almost powdery, eminently attractive wine, which aged 12 months in old oak foudres, that is large casks. The color is pale rose with a slight bluish magenta cast; aromas of dried cherries and red currants are permeated by notes of cloves, cinnamon and rose petals, segueing in the mouth to those spicy cherries and red currants but encompassing hints of pale plums and tart mulberries. This is dry, lovely, graceful, charming, almost ephemeral, yet it’s enlivened by chiming acidity, pliant tannins and a vibrant mineral element that provide the necessary structure to be taken seriously. Now through 2014 to ’15. Excellent. About $27 to $29.
The oxidized wines of the Jura and Arbois are difficult to write about because they resemble the best products of Spain’s Sherry regions yet they’re also distinctly their own. For example, Tissot’s Savagnin 2008 was made from vineyards planted in 1968, ’74, ’96, ’97 and 2000; the wine aged 25 months in barriques that are not topped up, so some evaporation occurs along with the formation of a layer of yeast on top of the quietly resting wine. The result is something like a superior Manzanilla Sherry — very dry and nutty — but with beguiling hints of green olives, dried figs, dried thyme and rosemary, with the latter’s slight resinous quality, and roasted almonds. Now through 2018 to ’22. Excellent. About — quite approximately — $27 to $29.
Let’s discuss the Vin Jaune “En Speis” 2005 and the Vin Jaune “Les Brayeres” 2005 together. Remember that these rare wines, however Sherry-like they may seem in character, are not fortified, as Sherry is. Because of the winters in the Jura mountains, it may take two or three years for the veil or voile of yeast to grow across the surface of the wine in the barrel; that length of time adds to the full time of maturing, so the vin jaune of the Jura may not, by law, be released for six years and three months after harvest. The wines are bottled in unique 62-cl vessels called clavelin. “En Speis” is toffee, caramel, roasted raisins, orange rind, toasted coconut and almonds and dried figs; “Brayeres” is richer, deeper, more in the range of bittersweet chocolate and dried blood oranges, with those typical touches of raisins and almonds and a slightly astringent citrus and persimmon background. Both are bone-dry, elegant, spare, utterly distinctive. Such wines last for ages, so let’s say, now through 2035 to ’40. No kidding. Excellent. Each about $70.
Image, much cropped, from julienmarchand.com.
And let’s not neglect the delightful Domaine Tissot Crémant du Jura Brut, non-vintage, which doesn’t mean that it came from no year but that the grapes came from several vintages. The blend is 55 percent chardonnay, 35 percent pinot noir and 10 percent indigenous trousseau and poulsard grapes. This sparkling wine is made in the “ancient tradition,” as regions outside of Champagne often term the classic methode champenoise of second fermentation in the bottle. The color is brassy-gold shot with an upward surge of golden glinting bubbles, and actually this feels like a golden sparkling wine, seemingly an exhalation of the sun and beautiful long glowing afternoons. From the glass waft scents of cloves and sandalwood, orange blossom and waxy white flowers, roasted lemons and lime peel; the wine is clean, fresh and crisp, yet the texture is almost dense, almost lush, though cut with a kind of bright, glancing acidity and seething layers of limestone and flint. 12.5 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $18 to $22, representing Great Value.