Bottle of Vin Jaune / Photo: Tom Arena
In Eastern France, between Burgundy and the Swiss border, sits Jura—a small region known for an unusual wine called Vin Jaune. Made from the indigenous grape Savagnin, Vin Jaune translates to “yellow wine” and, as the story goes, was first created when a winemaker discovered a forgotten barrel in the back of their cellar.
From this legend comes the tradition of Vin Jaune’s 60-month barrel aging process, during which time the wine remains untouched, untopped and watched with a vigilant eye.
“We mainly monitor the yeasts that make up the veil,” says Mélanie Dugois, winemaker of Domaine Dugois. “The biggest problem would be that the veil dies, and the wine isn’t drawn off in time.”
The “veil” refers to a thin layer of yeast that forms at the surface of the wine, a technique known locally as sous voile. If you’re familiar with Sherry’s flor, then this will ring a bell: The yeast simultaneously protects the wine from direct contact with air and allows for slow, controlled oxidation.
The winemakers in the regional appellations of Arbois, Côtes du Jura, L’Étoile and Château-Chalon reject the use of modern technology—a move that preserves the traditional character of the wine at the expense of time and profit. That the wine ages in non-temperature-controlled cellars is a source of both pride and discovery. In doing so, winemakers have found that where the wine rests is just as significant as when and how.
“We will choose cold cellars for aging to bring notes of apples and almonds to the wine,” says Dugois. Conversely, “attics will be chosen to obtain yellow wines rich in spicy notes such as curry or even more pronounced nutty flavors.” Then, an assemblage is created to produce a remarkable wine that combines the nuances of both techniques.
If ever there was a wine to be savored, this is it. “No yellow wine is alike,” says Dugois. “It is a rich and surprising universe, each sip bringing something new as the wine opens.