Snagging one of the last bottles of a great producer’s Vin Jaune

Perhaps the least-well-known French winemaking region among wine drinkers in the United States is the Jura. One reason for that is that wines from the Jura are pretty uniformly unusual; I don’t think I have a particularly great wine palate, but I’ve been told numerous times that it takes a sophisticated palate to appreciate a Jura wine. True or not, and regardless of the state of my own, I love Jura wines. I’ve actually not tasted a single Jura wine from any producer that I’ve not been completely enamored with. (It’s not a long list; I’ve had four producers’ Jura wines.)

But I was really pleased to score a very special bottle of Jura wine, a 2009 Vin Jaune from Jacques Puffeney.

Map of the Jura, courtesy of Rosenthal Wine Merchants; click to enlarge

Jacques Puffeney has been referred to as the pope of Jura, having made exceptional and renowned examples of Jura wines since the very early 1960s, including the oxidative whites the region is particularly known for. But in late 2014, Puffeney announced his retirement. Neither of his two daughters had participated in the wine business, and had no interest in taking over his vineyards. Thus, it was truly the end of an era from an amazing producer.

Both Wine Spectator and Decanter have articles from a few years back with more information on Puffeney if you’re interested.

While he’ll see through the distribution of his remaining bottles, there will never be more Puffeney wine. What’s out there is what’s out there.

About a month ago, I saw a bottle of Puffeney’s Vin Jaune, the classic and most famous Jura wine (literal translation: “yellow wine”), in the Reserve Room at Hazel’s, a liquor store with an excellent wine selections that’s located in Boulder, northwest of Denver, Colorado. It didn’t click at the time the significance of the bottle, and after some debate, I chose not to bring it home.

In the intervening time, I had the chance to enjoy a Vin Jaune from another Jura producer, Domaine de Montbourgeau. (Like Puffeney, it’s imported in the US by Rosenthal, who brings over some amazing wines, including every Jura wine I’ve had to date.) It was my first Vin Jaune, and it was an amazing experience. Knowing ahead of time that it fit well with another product of the Jura region, Comté cheese, I had cheese and crackers at the ready. Drinking it, especially accompanied by the Comté, was a sublime experience.

To understand the significance of Vin Jaune, you should read the Wikipedia article about it. There’s a ton of tradition that goes into it, and the result is a bold, unusual (or downright weird), white wine that I find hard to describe. If you are accustomed to and enjoy traditional white wines that are so common in the US, you’ll probably hate Vin Jaune. But that comment is coming from someone who doesn’t find mainstream white wines to have enough substance, character or dimension to be enjoyable. Tastes vary, and mine clearly lie very much outside the mainstream — which is probably why Vin Jaune excites me so.

The first sip of the Montbourgeau Vin Jaune was one of those where even I asked myself, “Hmmm, do I like this?” Like many complex wines, letting it open-up a bit brought benefits, and the more of it I sipped the more I loved it. Each time the wine hit my tongue, I discovered some other dimension of it, some new flavor, or some new element that triggered a reaction all over again. This is what I love the most about drinking complex wines; it’s an adventure that evolves from start to finish.

With the Montbourgeau in particular, I found caramel, honeysuckle, citrus, seashore, pipe tobacco, and musty wine cellar flavors and aromas. It was bold, complex and thoroughly enjoyable. It left me with a very strong desire to seek out more Vin Jaune.

The problem is, Vin Jaune isn’t cheap; you can expect to pay at least $80 to $100 a bottle for it — often more — and at least in my area, it’s very, very difficult to find. Most wine shops don’t carry it, because so few people know of it or appreciate it. I’ve been to wine stores around the country, and I’ve seen Vin Jaune on the shelf at precisely two stores: the amazing Houston Wine Merchant in Houston, and the bottle of Puffeney I’m writing this post about. (The Montbourgeau was a special order.)

How the bottle of Puffeney Vin Jaune came to be in the Reserve Room at Hazel’s I don’t know, and I don’t know how long it’s been there. What I do know is that I’m very pleased to have it sitting in my cellar at this moment, waiting for just the right occasion to consume this very special wine for what very likely will be the first, last and only time I’ll have one from Puffeney. At least I will have had an opportunity to join the “remember when?” conversations with other wine geeks who appreciate this weird “yellow wine” from France, made by a storied and renowned producer.