A 237 year old bottle of Vin Jaune (Yellow Wine) from the Jura has fetched the record price of 57,000 euros ($77,000) at an auction in a local wine festival at Arbois. The wine festival was started 15 years ago by Badoz Bernard started 15 years ago and is called the Percée du Vin Jaune.
Badoz has remarked that this brings the wines of Jura up on a level with Bordeaux. The 87cl bottle dates back to 1773 and was made by Anatoile Vercel (1725-1786) from grapes grown on wines during the reign of King Louis XV (1715-1774).
The Jura lies between Burgundy and Switzerland and takes its name from the Jura Mountains. It’s an area of lakes and mountainous pastures – and some very unusual wines! It is an ancient wine making region and Arbois is the birthplace of Louis Pasteur who was ordered by Napoleon III to investigate the maturation of wine.
Pasteur used wines from his family vineyard and in doing so he discovered the role of yeast during fermentation. From this experiment the science of oenology was born, not to mention the pasteurization process that we use today for milk!
There are 5 AOCs for the area: Arbois, Château-Chalon (Vin Jaune), Crémant du Jura, Côtes du Jura , L’Etoile (named after the star shaped fossils that are common to these limestone and clay soils) and Macvin du Jura (a liqueur).
L’Etoile, Arbois and the Côtes de Jura make Mousseux (sparkling) wine in both white and rosé styles.
Written documents prove that wine-growing was already being practised in the 10th century in Arbois and in the 16th in Château Chalon. For centuries, the Jura existed in splendid isolation. Unburdened by the ways of its neighbours, the Jura developed its unusual grapes and styles of wine, which the rest of the world essentially ignored for decades.
Vin Jaune (Yellow Wine) is similar to dry fino Sherry and gets its character from being matured in a barrel under a film of yeast, known as the voile, on the wine’s surface. Vin Jaune wine ages extremely well and like Sauternes can age from 50 to 100 years.
It is made from the Savagnin grape, a white variety in the Traminer family which is less aromatic than the better known Gewürztraminer. The grapes are usually harvested in late October when the sugars have developed enough to have a potential alcohol level of 13 – 15% for the finished wine.
The grapes are fermented slowly and then kept in small old oak casks. The wine acquires its characteristic yellow colour and flavours as it ages for the requisite time of 6 years and 3 months.
The wine is very dry, aromatic and complex with flavours of walnut, almond, cinnamon, vanilla, dried fruit and apple. Vin Jaune comes in a unique bottle called a Clavelin which is 62cl – and is the only wine allowed to be sold in France in a bottle of this size.
One of the more well known wine makers in the Jura is Domain Henri Maire who are raising the profile of this tiny mountainous appellation.
The domaine dates back to the 1600s and was once owned by Louis Pasteur himself. Henri Maire, who died aged 86 in November 2003, was known as the ambassador of Jura wines.
He reminds me a lot of George Dubeouf who kick started the rise in Beaujolais Nouveau in the 1970s. Domain Henri Maire makes Vin Jeaune and Vin de Paille (Straw Wine) but it was his Vin Fou (Mad Wine) that helped the marketing of wines from the Jura in the
40s and 50s – this cheap and cheerful sparkling wine was advertised on almost every street corner in France.
The 237 year old bottle of Vin Jaune was purchased by Swiss aficionado Pierre Chevrier, who bought the bottle on behalf of for a group of French, Swiss and Belgian wine lovers. He outbid retired Paris businessman François Audouze, who, despite swearing ahead of the sale that hewould not go over 25,000 euros, went up to 56,000 before dropping out.
“I really wanted to taste it,” Audouze told a local paper, Le Progres. “The oldest bottle I’ve ever drunk was 90 years younger.”
Chevrier said: “My passion is to open bottles and I am delighted to have bought this bottle of yellow wine, which I will drink.”
If you would like to know more about Jura and its unusual wines check out my Blog Other Sparkling Wines from France: The Jura.