To better know the wines of the Jura region in France, you must start with Savagnin (pronounced sav-an-yan). This is a white wine grape that can produce a range of wines. Exciting, extraordinary and unusual, these wines are some of the most remarkable whites in France — and the world.
Savagnin wines, in particular the long aging Vin Jaune, are not for everybody. Their taste is different than most white wines and may not appeal to the casual wine drinker. But whether you immediately fall in love or decide it’s not to your liking, you will never forget your first taste of Savagnin.
There are three main dry white wines produced from Savagnin, with examples of each pictured below: Naturé, Savagnin and Vin Jaune. All are made entirely from Savagnin grapes.
The key term to know when talking about Savagnin is “ouillé.” This is a French word that describes the process of topping up a barrel with wine to replace the liquid lost during evaporation. When the barrel is not topped up it allows the air to mix with the wine and affect its flavors — similar to how your glass of wine develops different flavors over time as you sip.
Wines from the Jura that have been topped up will say Ouillé on the label or Naturé in the case of wines from the AOC Arbois. When the wine just says Savagnin that indicates the wine is “non ouillé,” or not topped up. Vin Jaune is non ouillé.
Naturé and Ouillé wines show Savagnin in its purest form. They are light, elegant and refreshing, with floral and citrus notes. Think Sauvignon Blanc minus the grassy notes, or a non-oaked Chardonnay. You’ll taste flavors that may include white flowers, honeysuckle, orange, lemon zest, apricot, pear, white peach, white grapefruit and anise.
Ouillé wines are meant to be enjoyed while young and should be served chilled, between 50°F and 55°F. They can be served as an aperitif or with fish, chicken, fruits de mer, smoked salmon or foie gras.
It gets a little more interesting when you move on to Savagnin (the wine) and Vin Jaune.
As anyone who has ever tasted a day-old glass of wine knows, air changes the taste. Because oxygen has been allowed to mix with the wine in the barrel, the wine develops an unusual flavor. The longer the Savagnin spends mixing with air, the stronger these flavors will be.
In talking about Savagnin and Vin Jaune it is important to note that these wines are oxidative, not oxidated. This means the flavors are desirable and have been specially cultivated and controlled through aging in barrels. The wine has not “turned” or gone bad. You can tell this because even though you get some wild and gamey notes you still get fresh fruit flavors.
Savagnin wine spends around 2 to 3 years aging in oak barrels. During its time mixing with oxygen the wine develops slight oxidative flavors that are reminiscent of ripe soft cheese and dried fruits. Flavors you’ll find in Savagnin include apricots (and dried apricots), yellow or green apples (and dried apples), Meyer lemon, orange, guava and white pepper.
Savagnin can be served with fish, white meats, cream based dishes, mushroom dishes or Comté cheese, which is also produced in the Jura. Winemakers in the Jura suggest uncorking Savagnin at least 15 minutes before serving it.
**Thank you to Robin Austin, editor of The Amateur Gastronomer for this article.