Arbois 2011, Zest de Savagnin, Domaine de l’Octavin ($50.48, Les Importations du Moine, 6 bottles/case)
100% organically and biodyamically farmed Savagnin from 70-year-old vines grown in the Les Nouvelles vineyard. Macerated on the skins for three months, making this an orange wine, then matured in old barrels for around ten months. 12.9% ABV.
Complex nose of orange peel, floor wax, faint pine needles, sawed wood, peach and lemon, among other things. Smooth and round on the attack and surface though a strong acidic undercurrent quickly makes itself felt. Richly flavoured if a little monolithic for the now (of all the wines in the tasting, this is the one I most wished had been carafed), the fruit wrapped around a mineral core. Textured more like a red wine, with light tannins coming out on the long finish. Better balanced, more complete and fresher than many orange wines. Fascinating if a bit elemental; the future looks promising though. (Buy again? Gritting my teeth at the price but yes.)
Arbois 2005, Vin jaune, Domaine Michel Gahier ($71.00/620 ml, Primavin, NLA)
100% Savagnin. Matured sous voile (under a yeast veil) in old oak barrels for more than six years. 13.5% ABV.
Lightly oxidized nose of straw, apple and dried pear, developing nori and pastry notes as the wine breathes. A marvel in the mouth: so fresh and delicate yet also so present, focused and balanced. The fruit is pure, the acidity bracing. Threads of caramel, vanilla and nuts intertwine on the minutes-long finish. Obviously oxidized but not at all fino-like. Such a buoyant wine – each sip just carries you along. A synergistic match with 36-month-old Comté and walnut bread. In short, one of the best vin jaunes I’ve tasted and easily the most delicious. As remarkable as it is now, Gahier says it needs another ten to 20 years to develop fully. (Buy again? As nearly everyone at the tasting said: yes, price be damned.)
Vin de France 2012, Corvée de Trousseau, Domaine de l’Octavin ($32.83, Les Importations du Moine, 6 bottles/case)
100% organically and biodynamically farmed Trousseau from the Les Corvées vineyard (and maybe other parcels). The whole grapes are vinified using carbonic maceration. The wine is denied Arbois AOC status because the alcohol level, 9.7% ABV, does not reach the required minimum (10%). “Boire du trousseau, ce n’est jamais une corvée” (Drinking Trousseau is never a chore) is written on the label.
I’ve seen darker rosés, though few as murky. Kaleidoscopic nose of cedar, “pale red tomato,” banana peel, red grapefruit, rhubarb and more. Faint carbon dioxide prickle. Light-bodied is putting it too strongly: the fruit is diaphanous, almost rainwatery (“eau de gazpacho” was how one taster described it) and yet the wine has the wherewithal to stand up to dried sausage, which brings out its fruit and makes you appreciate its mineral and acid backbone, dryness and length. A watercolour of a wine, quite unlike anything else I’ve encountered. (Buy again? At $23, I’d jump on it. At $33, a single bottle will have to do.)
Arbois 2011, Zerlina, Domaine de l’Octavin ($35.52, Les Importations du Moine, 6 bottles/case)
Biodyanmically and organically farmed Trousseau (50%) and Pinot Noir (50%) from the En Curon vineyard. 12% ABV.
Red berries with a hint of rubber and spice. Light- to medium-bodied, dry and silky textured. Clean on the attack, lightly structured and brightly lit. The fruit is ripe and fleet, shaded with earthier flavours. A lingering astringency and fine minerality colour the finish. (Buy again? Yes, with only a little grumbling about the price.)
Arbois 2011, Trousseau, Les Grands Vergers, Domaine Michel Gahier ($31.50, Primavin, NLA)
Les Grands Vergers is the lieu-dit (named place) where the 60- to 70-year-old vines for this 100% Trousseau are grown. (The area around Gahier’s village, Montigny-les-Arsures, is considered the homeland of Trousseau.) 12.5% ABV.
Perfumy red fruit with a few black currants thrown in, faint cinnamon, old wood and smoke. Medium-bodied. There’s a freshness and a bell-like clarity to the fruit, a hallmark of all the Gahier wines. Structured with fine, firm tannins, tensed with acidity, grounded in minerals and earth that last well into the finish. A beauty. (Buy again? Yes, in multiples with no grumbling whatsoever.)
Arbois 2011, Cul Rond à la cuisse rose, Domaine de l’Octavin ($27.54, Les Importations du Moine, 6 bottles/case)
100% organically and biodynamically farmed Poulsard from the En Curon vineyard. Immediately after the grapes are crushed, the skins are removed to avoid colouring the juice (which, like that from nearly all red grapes, is clear); in other words, this is a blanc de noirs (assuming you’d call the pale Poulsard a black grape, that is). 11% ABV.
Muted, yeasty, sweaty nose that required coaxing to reveal the rumoured stone fruit. A bit spritzy on opening, which may explain the nose. Medium-bodied, possessed of a relatively dense, heading toward waxy texture. There’s an appealing tartness and a cider-like quality to the fruit. The finish is long and mineral-packed. Should probably be carafed an hour before opening. (Buy again? Sure.)
Arbois 2012, Dorabella, Domaine de l’Octavin ($31.27, Les Importations du Moine, 6 bottles/case)
100% organically and biodyanmically farmed Poulsard from 50-year-old vines from the La Mailloche vineyard plus a little form the En Curon vineyard. Vinified using carbonic maceration, like many Beaujolais. 11% ABV.
Pale red, the colour locals term rubis. Fruity, yeasty, cedary, tomatoey nose with a whiff of stinky feet. Light-bodied with lowish acid. The discreet fruit is marked by meaty, bloody and spicy notes. There’s also a bit of fizz, which may be intentional. A little disappointing compared with the disarmingly charming 2011 tasted last November but quite possibly in need of a few months to find its footing. (Buy again? A bottle to see how it evolves.)
Arbois 2012, Ploussard, Domaine Michel Gahier ($25.00, Primavin, NLA)
100% Poulsard (aka Ploussard) from 50-year-old vines in various parcels around Montigny-les-Arsures. 12.5% ABV.
Medium red. Raspberry (a bit candied), sweet spice, quartz and blossoms (musk rose and violet?). Medium-bodied. Iron and light red fruit are the dominant flavours (“blood on white strawberries” quoth one taster), while acidity streams and tannins lightly rasp. Decent length and a lingering tang. A textbook example of the grape and an excellent pairing for charcuterie. (Buy again? Yes.)
Breaking from its usual focus on a single winemaker, the most recent Jura Oenorama tasting was a study in contrasts that featured two lesser known estates: the dynamic, even edgy Domaine de l’Octavin and the more traditional Domaine Michel Gahier.
Founded in 2005 by Alice Bouvot and Charles Dagand, Domaine de l’Octavin owns five hectares of vineyards around its home base of Arbois. Its wines are as natural as they come: made from organically and biodynamically farmed grapes using a non-interventionist approach with no added anything (including sugar, yeast or sulphur) and bottled unfiltered and unfined. What’s more, the winemakers are open to experimentation; one of their wines is a blanc de noirs made from Poulsard, for example. As the owners are amateur musicians and classical music nuts, several of the wines have been named after characters in Mozart operas.
Media-shy Michel Gahier is based in Montigny-les-Arsures, where one of his neighbours and friends is Jacques Puffeney. Farming at the 6.5-hectare estate is fundamentally organic, though not certified as such. The wine-making is very traditional. The red grapes are destemmed and cold-macerated, then fermented for about one month with some punching-down of the cap early on. The wines, both red and white, are matured in old foudres and barrels and bottled unfiltered. Though off many drinkers’ radar, Gahier’s wines are much prized by Jura connoisseurs (they feature prominently on the list of Arbois’s Jean-Paul Jeunet, the Jura’s only Michelin two-star restaurant) and remain reasonably priced.
We began with a flight of Chardonnays.
Arbois 2010, Pamina, Domaine de l’Octavin ($34.15, Les Importations du Moine, 6 bottles/case)
100% organically and biodynamically farmed Chardonnay from the La Mailloche vineyard. Fermented with indigenous yeasts. Underwent malolactic fermentation. Matured on the lees in second- to fifth-fill barrels for two years, occasionally stirred and regularly topped-up. Unfiltered, unfined. No added sulphur. 13% ABV.
Yeasty nose with nuances of lemon, browning apple, chalk and a whiff of burned rubber. Medium-bodied. Tart yet the wine remains more soft than angular. There’s straw upfront, fruit (yellow apple?) in the background and plenty of chalky minerals. A faint hazelnut note creeps in on the finish. Not what you’d call a tightly focused wine but fun to drink. (Buy again? Sure.)
Arbois 2011, Les Follasses, Domaine Michel Gahier ($25.50, Primavin, NLA)
100% Chardonnay from the high-elevation, slow-ripening Les Follasses vineyard. Matured in neutral barrels, which are kept topped-up. 12.5% ABV.
Appealing nose of limestone, spice, apple, lemon zest and a faint lactic note. Fruity but dry, round but also ethereal. Crunchy minerals add flavour and texture while the zingy acidity combines with a saline note to make the long finish a lip-smacker. Fresh and tasty – what’s not to like? (Buy again? Def.)
Arbois 2010, Les Crêts, Domaine Michel Gahier ($27.50, Primavin, NLA)
100% Chardonnay from the hilltop Les Crêts vineyard. Matured about 15 months in a large foudre and then another 12 months in smaller (600-litre) demi-muids. 12.5% ABV.
Strong burned match odours slowly gave way to hints of stone fruit, lemon and minerals. The richest and smoothest of the three. The fruit tends to apple and pear, the minerals to flint as much as chalk. Dry but a shade less than Les Follasses, the residual sugar rounding the wine and taking the edge off the sustained acidity. A faint nuttiness echoes through the very long and minerally finish. Balanced and complex – just lovely. (Buy again? With pleasure.)
Contrary to what some U.S. merchants claim, Gahier’s Les Follasses and Les Crêts bottlings are not made in an oxidative style: the barrels are kept topped up, so no yeast veil develops and the only oxidation that occurs is through the barrel staves. Gahier does make a sous voile Chardonnay, the La Fauquette bottling.
While many delicious wines were poured at last Sunday’s Small Secrets x Bar Barbara pop-up, this stood out in more ways than one.
Arbois 2007, Vin Jaune, Domaine André et Mireille Tissot ($77.25/620 ml, 10322581)
100% organically and biodynamically farmed Savagnin from several parcels. (This is the generic bottling. Now in charge of the estate, André and Mireille’s son, Stéphane, has also been making vineyard-designated vins jaunes since 1993 and recently introduced a Château Chalon.) The grapes are manually harvested, pneumatically pressed and fermented in tanks with indigenous yeasts. The resulting wine is transferred to 228-litre barrels for maturation. Contrary to conventional practice, the barrels are not topped up (the wine lost to evaporation is not replaced). A yeast veil soon forms on the surface, protecting and flavouring the wine. After six years, the wine is racked, lightly filtered and bottled in clavelins, squat 620-ml bottles (620 ml said to be the amount left from a litre of wine). No sulphur is added. 15% ABV. Quebec agent: Les vins Alain Bélanger.
Gorgeous outgoing nose. Lightly oxidized yellow plum and apple with hints of limestone, nuts and curry powder. Bone dry yet there’s a sweet fruitiness unlike anything I’ve encountered in a vin jaune and a freshness whose only parallel (in my experience) is found in Gahier’s 2005. Buoyant acidity enlightens the rich bordering on dense texture, while the fruit is faceted by mineral and butterscotch undertones and white and yellow spice overtones that perfume the long, long finish. Wonderfully pure and clean. Is Tissot pointing the way to a more immediately accessible, fruit-driven vin jaune? In any case, even in its infancy, this is delicious on its own and synergistic with aged Comté and walnuts. It also worked well with shards of old Gouda. (Buy again? Oh, yes. In fact, it’s the kind of wine that, if I had the money, I’d buy a dozen bottles of and open one every two or three years to track its evolution over its sure to be decades-long life.)