Better Know a Grape: Savagnin

Better Know a Grape: Savagnin

There’s obscure, and then there’s obscure. Tannat and Petit Verdot, subjects of my two previous BKAG installments, are a little random, but in terms of insider cult status, they don’t hold a candle to Savagnin.  (And no, that’s not a typo for “Sauvignon” — the grape is actually called Savagnin.) This white wine grape makes its home in the kind of landscapes where you would expect to catch a glimpse of Heidi yodeling and milking a cow: the French and Swiss Alps. The Savagnin-based wines you’re most likely to see in the U.S. — although, sadly, you’re not likely to see very much of them — hail from the Jura, in eastern France.

Many of these wines are, like sherry, made with deliberate oxidation. That means the winemaker intentionally, and very carefully, exposes them to oxygen during the winemaking/aging process. (Too much oxygen is usually the enemy of wine–think of how a cut apple browns when it’s exposed to air and you get the idea.) But if you carefully manage the wine’s exposure to oxygen, you get a nutty, tangy, almost salty quality to them. The fanciest and most expensive Jura wine from the Savagnin grape is called vin jaune — literally, “yellow wine.” From reputation, I know that these wines are incredibly long-lived and oddly spicy. Sadly, I have never had the opportunity to try one (although if anyone out there has a bottle in their cellar they’d like to share, don’t be afraid to drop me a line). Happily, though, I did have a chance to try this Côtes du Jura Les Chassagnes Ouillé ($28) from Phiippe Bornard, a biodynamic producer. A few things to know about this wine before you dig in: first, it has this very cool wax seal, which you can easily cut through with the little knife attachment on your corkscrew.

Second, the wine is not crystal clear. There’s definitely some cloudiness, here but it’s nothing to worry about — it’s typical of the wine style and this producer’s non-interventionist wine making approach.

The wine itself is tangy and saline, like the aftertaste of spending the day at the beach. There’s some citrus and stone fruit and honey here too, but it’s really the sherry-like twanginess that stays with you. It’s a terrific match for cheeses, particularly one of its mountain compatriots, such as Comté, or an aged Gouda.

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