Located just north of Geneva on the border of Switzerland, Jura has a long and storied tradition of winemaking, though the average wine drinker hardly knows it. Despite 2,000 years of wine history, as well as the home of Louis Pasteur's famous experiments on why grape juiced turned to wine and then into vinegar, Jura is a shadow of its former self. Phylloxera hit this region hard, and the simple whites and light red wines made here were almost lost to antiquity. Recently Jura has been making a bit of a comeback.
Weather in Jura can be unpredictable. The mountains nereby are known for stirring up spring frosts, heavy summer rains, and even a devastating hail storm or two. Despite this Jura enjoys a typical warm continental climate in the summer and hard and cold winter conditions. White wines fair well, but red grapes may have a hard time reaching full ripeness. The local clay and limestone soil is perfect for creating crisp and dry whites and soft and light-bodied reds.
Côtes du Jura is the large AOC that encompasses the region, while the smaller AOCs of Arbois, Château-Chalon (for vin jaunes) and L'Etoile lay within. White wines are made from Chardonnay and Savagnin. Reds are much more plentiful and usually a blend of Pinot Noir, Poulsard and Trousseau. These wines can be very close to a Rosé. Even the delicate and feminine Pinot Noir is used to add weight and body to the reds, a distinction that no other region can claim. Excellent sparkling wines are made from Chardonnay where it is often called Melon d'Arbois or Gamay Blanc.
Two other wines produced in this region near the feet of the Alps are the famous Vin Jaunes and Vins de Paille. The Vin Jaune (Yellow Wine) is made in a process very similar to Fino Sherry in that a yeast forms on the surface of the wine as it is kept in large open vats. Under this Flor the wine oxidizes and takes on a yellowish hue, along with notes of almonds and bitter herbs. These wines can be very long lived.
Gaining in popularity are the unctuous Vins de Paille, which are made by allowing the grapes to dry on straw mats before fermentation. The process may be the same as Amarone, but the end result is a wine heavy in character, weight and residual sugar. A lovely treat if you can find one.