This is part three in a four-part series of new-to-me French wine regions, brought to you by the Tour de France.
The first two parts of the series can be found here:
The Tour de France is squarely in the rearview mirror now, so I will give you a neophyte cyclist (that’s me) update. The Mr. Armchair Sommelier and I continue to go out on our tandem bike a couple of times a week. I think things are getting serious now, because he bought me a pair of fancy cycling shoes and clipless pedals for my birthday.
If you’re an experienced rider, clipless pedals are like tying your shoes — you don’t even think about it. If you’re a rookie rider, clipless pedals feel like someone soldered your feet to your pedals — it’s definitely a new level of commitment to the bike. Clipless pedals are supposed to work like ski bindings, and somehow magically pop off if you crash. And we did have a minor crash (call it a little captain-stoker miscue — all part of the tandem clip-in learning curve), and exactly one of the fancy shoes popped out of it’s clipless prison. But maybe you have to crash with more velocity.
Onward to France! The next new-to-me French wine region on my Tour de France is Jurançon. This wasn’t an easy region to research. There’s not a whole lot of information out there, and what there is, is pretty brief. Case in point — in my copy of the 820-page book, Exploring Wine: A Complete Guide to the Wines of the World, there is exactly one sentence on Jurançon:
Gros and Petit Manseng grapes are used to produce sweet and dry white wines.
And there you have it. I considered making that sentence my entire post, but decided to try and dig a little deeper . . .
Jurançon is an AOC located deep inside a small pocket of southwest France, in the foothills of the Pyrenees Mountains. Jurançon is only about 60 miles away from the Atlantic Ocean, and that proximity brings higher than average rainfall to the region. A dry wind (called fohn) blows in from the Pyrenees Mountains, keeping the area dry and warm during the fall months (think Indian Summer). These conditions are ideal for the sweet wines of Jurançon, allowing the grapes to dry and concentrate while still on the vines. Soils in Jurançon mostly tend to be clay and sand, but some can be fairly rocky, full of conglomerate rocks called poudingues (the French word for pudding), because the little pebbles all mashed up in the cement-like rock resemble a Christmas pudding. I’m having a vision of fruitcake in pudding form. Shudder.
Photo Credits: Wikipedia
Jurançon has produced wine since the mid-14th century (right about the time of the Black Death in Europe). Sometime in the late 14th century, the Parliaments of Béarn & Navarre (a couple of medieval kingdoms) introduced the first attempt at classifying wine in France — waaaaay before the French AOC system of the 1930s. Whether that makes Jurançon the world’s first appellation is still up for debate, especially with folks in the Tokaj region of Hungary.
Jurançon trivia: When the future King Henry IV was christened in 1553, his lips were rubbed with a clove of garlic (to ward off evil stuff like the plague) and a drop of Jurançon wine (I’m guessing the sweet kind). The combination was supposed to give him “lifelong vigor”. Even today, this practice endures at some local christenings.
If King Henry IV was full of vim and vigor, I’m betting the cause was less garlic & wine and more fancy ruffled collar:
Jurançon produces exclusively white wines, but is perhaps most well-known for its sweet wines. Wines in Jurançon are made with these grape varieties:
- Gros Manseng — closely related to Petit Manseng, produces dry wines with fairly high acidity.
- Petit Manseng — thick skinned cousin to Gros Manseng, naturally high in sugar, used in the sweet wines of Jurançon.
- Petit Courbu — translates to “little curved one”, typically blended with Gros and Petit Manseng.
- Camaralet — a grape on the verge of extinction, only half an acre remained in southwest France in 2000, used as a blending grape.
- Lauzet — another grape on the verge of extinction, grows only in southwest France, used as a blending grape.
There are three styles of wine in Jurançon:
- Jurançon (sweet) — usually made with Petit Manseng and/or Gros Manseng. Oak aged wines, golden color with notes of tropical fruit and spice; great acidity. Grapes are harvested at 247 grams of sugar.
- Jurançon Vendanges Tardives (very sweet) — must be made with only Petit Manseng and/or Gros Manseng. Grapes aren’t harvested until they are at a level of 281 grams of sugar. The grapes are allowed to dry on the vine, concentrating the sugars and then they are hand picked.
- Jurançon Sec (dry) — can include up to 50% Courbu, Camaralet and Lauzet. Usually aged in stainless steel. Grapes are harvested at 187 grams of sugar.
Jurançon isn’t the easiest wine to find on the shelf at my local wine store. Total Wine is the biggest (convenient) wine store I have in my land, and I struck out there. The sales guy looked at me like I had three heads when I asked for Jurançon wines. I mentioned Jurançon is from an area in extreme southwestern France, and then his eyes lit up, and he tried to sell me some Bordeaux. So, I ordered a bottle online. In fact, I ordered two bottles — one sweet and one dry. Well, I thought I ordered one sweet and one dry. It turns out I ordered two bottles (two identical bottles) of dry wine.
Charles Hours Cuvée Marie Jurançon Sec 2012 ⭐⭐⭐/85
90% Gros Manseng and 10% Courbu. Really lean, but neutral nose. Maybe too cold? A serious vein of acidity, with flavors of green apple, almond, and rocks — whether they are pudding rocks, I couldn’t tell you. Contrary to the lean nose, this is a pretty full bodied wine. It reminds me of a lighter style Viognier. The moment I tasted this, I thought, “Damn. I should have sat on this one for a few years.” And then I remembered I own another bottle of this very same wine, so I’m gonna pretend that was my plan all along.
I made pasta with a pesto cream sauce (trying to use my bumper crop of basil) for dinner the night I opened the Jurançon Sec, and the pairing ended up working quite well. The acidity cut through the creaminess of the sauce, and the leanness of the wine complimented the basil pesto. I’m calling it a win!
I’m kind of bummed I didn’t get to taste a Jurançon sweet wine, but I have to leave something for our trip to France next summer . . .
Stay tuned for La Quatrième Partie: Bergerac.