And now we arrive at Château-Chalon, the Jura’s smallest and perhaps most esoteric wine region. Located almost equi-distant between the towns of Arbois and Lons-le-Saunier, this micro wine appellation is known for one of the wine world’s most unusual wines, the mighty Vin Jaune, or Yellow Wine.
Why is it so unusual ? Any why is it so yellow ? Permit me to briefly explain : Savagnin grapes are hand-harvested late in the growing season, usually towards the end of October. Late harvesting ensures that sugar levels will permit for the finished wine to contain between 13-15% abv. Next, a slow fermentation will take place in old cask for an extended period of time. Native yeasts in the cellar, along with a bit of head space in each barrel permit for the development of a thin layer of yeast or voile to develop over the surface area of the wine. The development of such a voile will often take between 2-3 years.
And here the wine will stay, for a very long time. Continual exposure to low levels of oxygen, along with the influence of the voile will create certain chemical changes and aromatic compounds that contribute to this wine’s most unusual flavor profile. More specifically, the production of ethanal (note: this is different that ethanol) as well as the lactone sotolon. In addition, proper vigilance must taken to ensure that such wines do not develop unacceptable levels of volatile acidity due to the increased presence of oxygen, the bacteria known as acetobacter and lower levels of acidity.
By law, a minimum of 6 years and 3 months must elapse between harvest and bottling. As you can imagine, most of this time is spent in the barrel, where Vin Jaune and the process described above creates a wine that as it matures, turns a deep, golden yellow (see first picture). Finally, Vin Jaune is bottled in a special and rather squat 62cl format known affectionately as the “Clavelin”. Historically, it is said that after the requisite period of 6 years+ of ageing, this volume (62cl) is all that remained from the original 100cl of wine due to evaporation.
What do such wines taste like?
Thick, rich and SAVORY are descriptors that I often use. More specifically, Chicken consommé, mineral salts, aged parmesan, curry, roasted nuts, dried apples and pears..and always with a healthy dose of acidity and tang to round things out. Sound weird? Yes, these wines are for the chosen few, and certainly not for everyone, however I find them to be delicious and intriguing. I have the same warm fuzzy feeling about Uni (sea urchin). See? Incidently, Vin Jaune has one of the longest finishes that I have ever encountered. Seriously, minutes can go by before the fat dude sings.
In the Château-Chalon A.O.C. production of the types of wines are permitted:
In Château-Chalon A.O.C. the following varietals are permitted:
Composition: 100% Savagnin
Sub-Region/A.O.C. : Château-Chalon
Geology/Soil: Limestone, clay, marl
Importer: various: In CA, Martine’s
US Retail: $70
Berthet-Bondet’s Vin Jaune is archetypal. Curry, chicken stock, roasted nuts, dried apples, earthy cheese..and oh yeah, a salty tang to finish things off. This is simply wonderful stuff. And while we’re at it, I also highly recommend Domaine de la Tournelle’s 2001 Vin Jaune produced in the A.O.C. of Arbois. This wine has my personal record for THE longest finish that I have ever experienced in a wine. These wines are characters that you will not soon forget. They are also extremely ageworthy, and can hunker down for an additional 5-15-30+ years after release.
What to pair with Vin Jaune?
Fried Comte cheese sticks, mon dieu..
Sauteed Chicken in cream sauce with Morel mushrooms
Skate sauteed in vin jaune and brown butter sauce
Roasted Chicken with a side of sauteed mushrooms and pommes frites
Home made fish sticks?