One of the most interesting wines I know is vin jaune, which translates to yellow wine. It is a special wine, made with the oxidative method (rather than the reductive method like most wines are made with) from the Jura region of France. It is made exclusively from the savagnin grape.
It is a well-known fact that oxygen can be bad for wine. It is oxygen that allows the wine to develop and mature. And it is also oxygen that allows wine to eventually turn into vinegar. This is the case for wines that are made using the reductive method.
Oxidative wines are a whole another approach to winemaking. They actually thrive on oxygen. When a reductive wine is fermenting in the barrel, the liquid that evaporates with time – the angel’s share – is topped up with more wine so the amount of oxygen in the barrel can be minimized. On the other hand, with oxidative wines, the angel’s share is left as is and a film of yeast is allowed to form on top of the liquid. The wine develops in the barrel in this manner for years. The oxygen cultivates the yeast, and the yeast is what gives vin jaune its peculiar color, taste, and aroma. Because oxygen is such an integral part of vin jaune, it can age forever. And once you open a bottle, you can keep it for a couple of months, whereas with most reductive wines, it’s better to finish the bottle within a few days of opening.
The color, as the name suggests, is a deep yellow. The aroma is that of a sweet wine. Its signature aroma is nuts. There is also a bit of – for lack of a better word – funk. I think that’s what some people refer to when they say that this wine smells like curry 😉 But despite what the aroma suggests, vin jaune is bone dry, acidic, and intense in taste. Most people are taken aback when they try vin jaune for the first time. They either love it or hate it. I belong to the former camp – it’s actually one of my favorites.
There are a number of villages in Jura that produces vin jaune but the best come from Château Chalon. And, of course, that’s what I’ll be featuring in this post 🙂 Chateau Chalon spends a minimum of six years in the barrel before it can be released for sale.
Another particular characteristic of vin jaune is the bottle it comes in – the clavelin, which holds 62 cl of liquid (rather than the usual 75 cl) and the cork is sealed with wax (while I love vin jaune, I hate trying to scrape the wax off the bottle).
My favorite Château Chalon producer is Jean Macle and I have a bottle from 2003.
You can see immediately from the picture how rich the color of the wine is. Even though this is not a young wine, I find that a bit of carafing helps to open up the wine. I wouldn’t necessarily do that to an older reductive wine (depending on what stage of its like the wine is at, the burst of oxygen from the carafing process might kill it). However, if there is a lot of sediment in the bottle, I might decant it.
Vin jaune is definitely not an aperitif wine and it demands food. There are two foods that go superbly with vin jaune: chicken with a cream sauce and comté cheese.
The free-range chicken dish I’m making is based on a Joel Robuchon recipe and it actually has vin jaune in the sauce. The sauce also has morel mushrooms, crème fraiche, and egg yolks (I got a little carried away when I was counting my eggs so my sauce is a bit more yellow than it should be). It’s a super quick recipe and takes less than an hour from start to finish.
I served myself the leg:
And my dinner guest, the breast:
The chicken turned out very tender and moist; and the sauce was so delicious! Chicken is a versatile food and it can go with either red or white wine. However, when it’s served in a creamy sauce, white wine works best. Especially if the sauce features a particular wine, the obvious choice of wine pairing is that same wine in the sauce. Anytime, you have a food that mirrors the flavors of the wine, it’s a good match.
The vin jaune adds complexity by creating another layer of flavor to the sauce. It’s also a source of acidity in a sauce that may otherwise be too rich with all the crème fraiche. That’s why acidic wines, like vin jaune, and creamy sauces pair really well together. The relationship works both ways: at the same time, the richness of the sauce works to balance the acidity and the sharpness in the wine.
Now for the cheese course! The classic pairing for vin jaune is comté cheese, also from the Jura region. Comté is a nutty cheese with a slightly sweet finish. Both of these qualities echo the aromas of vin jaune. Another reason why comté works well with the wine is that it is an aged cow’s milk cheese (aging times can vary from 4 to 24 months). Through aging, the comté develops more complex and concentrated flavors, giving it the necessary strength to stand up to the flavors of the wine. This makes an aged comté a fantastic match to vin jaune based on intensity of flavors. One of the most important things about food and wine pairing is matching the intensities of the food and the wine so that neither overpowers the other.
For lots more pictures of food and wine, check out my Instagram account: @thatperfectbottle