Weekly Weird & Wonderful Wines
Week 10 - Domaine Rolet Arbois Vin Jaune 2008
Welcome back to Weekly Weird & Wonderful Wines once again, this week we have for your drinking pleasure a very curious wine.
This style called "Vin Jaune" or "Yellow Wine" is a type of wine production really only found in one particular part of France, the Jura region, located between the Swiss border to the East and Burgundy to the West.
Domaine Rolet's fine example comes from the appellation of Arbois where the native grape Savagnin is allowed to oxidise after fermentation, leading to a particularly nutty characteristic that tastes somewhat like dry Fino Sherry.
It's going to be an out there journey, but let's open our minds and dive in!
Presenting this week's wine:
Domaine Rolet Arbois Vin Jaune 2008
Category: Vino Incognitus
Wine makeup: 100% Savagnin
Origins: Both the origins of the grape Savagnin and the style of Vin Jaune are a little complex. Savagnin is thought by scientists today to be a mutation of, if not the same as, an ancient grape family called Traminer. These grapes originate around the commune of Tramin, in the state of Tyrol, which today is found within North Italy in the Alto Adige region.
This grape was traded and moved all around Europe until eventually settling within the Jura region, where it is one of the latest grapes to ripen and often one of the lowest yielding. Known for it's genetic instability, geographically separate plantings of Savagnin can almost be treated as different parts of a family instead of the exact same variety, such is the amount of variation.
Vin Jaune as a wine style currently only accounts for 6% of the Jura region's total wine production, yet is easily the flagship of the area.
It's production involves allowing a purposeful partial oxidation of the wine to occur while in french oak barrels, with no topping up of the wine taking place. Because the wine slowly evaporates in this environment, a thin film of yeast forms on top of the wine, called 'Viole' (veil) which then somewhat protects the wine from spoiling. Viole is quite similar to the 'flor' used in Sherry production, but is nowhere near as thick or heavy.
This viole typically takes two to three years to develop and allows the wine to produce Acetaldehyde as well as standard ethanol alcohol, which results in a slightly thicker body to the wine. The other result of this viole is the rather characteristic aromatic compound sotolon, which in combination with the natural aromas of Savagnin, makes Vin Jaune smell strongly of nuts, particularly walnuts and hazelnuts.
Wine must be aged for 6 years and 3 months after harvest, using these methods, before it can be bottled and this lengthy aging procedure is also one of the reasons why Vin Jaune is so yellow in hue and has such a heady aroma.
After this length of time, only roughly 62% of the original wine remains (with the rest having evaporated), and so the wine is bottled in unique, squat 620ml bottles called "clavelins" in which the wine can then be aged for decades, or even centuries as some sources suggest.
Region: The Jura wine region is one of the smallest in all of France, and at first draws many comparisons to it's immediate neighbour to the West, Burgundy. You certainly find that just like in Burgundy, most of the best vineyards are steep slopes that face to the South and South-West to catch as much sun as possible, this is especially important in Jura as the nights and Winter's here are particularly cold and harsh.
Just like Burgundy, the soil in this region is mostly comprised of Jurassic limestone, in fact the name Jurassic is named for the Jura region and it's Mountains. Blue and grey marls are highly prized, especially for growing Savagnin and Chardonnay, which thrive on the lime or calcium rich mudstone soils.
Where this wine is grown, Arbois, is one of top appellations in the region, a small, yet beautiful township located at the Northern extent of Jura, upon the Cuisance River. Arbois was the first AOC (appellation d'origine contrôlée or controlled designation of origin) in France for wine, which was established in 1936 and is now joined by over 300 others around the country.
Producer: Domaine Rolet is a family owned and operated estate established by pioneer Désiré Rolet in the early 1940's and is today run by his children, with Bernard & Guy taking care of the vines and winemaking & Pierre and Elaine focused on the marketing and day to day management.
Domaine Rolet farms nearly 60 ha in the Arbois (35ha/86acres) and Côtes du Jura AOC (20ha/49acres) regions, with a variety of different grapes being grown depending on the site and soil composition.
They produce Savagnin & Chardonnay, as well as Pinot Noir, but also produce other native varieties such as Trousseau ( also known as Bastardo and loves warm, thick gravel soils) and Poulsard/Ploussard (thrives on steep hillsides), with the latter producing a very interesting, yet incredibly pale red wines, dry rosés and even in sparkling wine blends.
I am becoming a little familiar now with the telltale signs of Vin Jaune, and though this wine was originally tasted blind, there was no doubt in my mind what was poured into my glass.
We had the wine well decanted, in a small, wide decanter for at least an hour before tasting, and by that point I could smell the classic aromas from across the table.
While this vintage is 2008, that would indicate that the wine became available for sale in early 2015, and as the most famous Vin Jaune to be sold recently was from 1774, it could be safe to say that this wine is just an infant today.
Domaine Rolet has hand picked these Savignin grapes in 2008 when they were almost over-ripe, resulting in a luscious texture to the wine, and while almost pungent, one could not deny the aromatic complexity of this wine.
Almost spicy, full of walnuts, almonds and hazelnuts with a distinct dried apricot hint that really brought the nose full circle, leading into a palate that was almost just as dry, with a subtle richness, most comparable to dried peach and green raisins, that had an almost glycerol like texture to the finish.
A beautiful example of the Vin Jaune style, which is definitely divisive, that brings a sense of elegance to a type of wine that can often be hard to swallow, yet here, only seemed to evolve with every sip.
According to Rolet, this wine is suitable to a minimum of 30 years of aging, and many quality Vin Jaune have been considered almost 'immortal' by the wine community.
To learn more about this wine head over to Domaine Rolet here.
To broaden your palate, drink down more Weird & Wonderful Wines here.