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Thursday 11 September 2014

Jura - A Rough Guide‏

A visit to Chateau-Chalon in Jura
Jura is like a staircase, says our hotelier; you have the plain below (and there is a magnificent view of it from our bedroom window) and we are on the first step.
We are in Chateau-Chalon, a small, hilltop town about an hour's drive east of Beaune. The drive is completely flat until, for the last few kilometers, there is a steep climb, emerging onto a a rocky precipice. This is Chateau-Chalon and our hotel room looks straight back at the Cote d'Or.
The hotelier goes on to say explain that there is a plateau behind us, before the foothills to the Jura mountains, another plateau and then the mountains themselves which lead up to the Swiss border.
After a brief stop-off in Chateau-Chalon, we will make this journey before dropping down to Lake Geneva and onwards.
Geographically located between Alsace and Burgundy, Jura shares a family resemblance to both places but also has its own personality.
Where Alsace's wine route is a pretty Franco-Germanic Disneyland full of timbered houses with flowery hanging baskets and Beaune the aristocratic capital of an ancient duchy, Jura feels rural and unspoilt.
That means, in part, that its charms are less immediately obvious to the outsider - as true of its wines as of its geography.
Arriving in Chateau-Chalon, we find a few tourists milling around the town, but not the hoards of coach-trips of Alsace or the plentiful oenophiles who descend on Burgundy's slopes and cities.
Instead, there is a quieter feel - and almost no English is spoken. There is a church and an abbey, view-points and caveaux with degustations, but it is not as prominent or well-developed as in neighbouring wine regions.
A visit to nearby Arbois confirms the same pattern - there are some things here for the sightseer, but in general Jura feels more like a place to enjoy living and being in than one that wears its tourist attractions on its sleeve.
It is quiet and pastoral rather than bustling and touristy.
We stay at the Relais des Abbesses, a hotel in the centre of the town. It is small, informal and welcoming; our evening meal takes the format of a dinner party - a long table and plates of communal food served by our host Andre along with conversation.
For a very modest €25, we get a starter, main, cheese, dessert and coffee plus regularly filled jugs of wine.
The highlight of the meal is the main course - pork medallions in a cream and wild mushroom sauce - but the choice of cheeses - Morbier, Comte and Chaorce - is a close second.
The following day, we walk around Chateau-Chalon then taste and buy some wine from Jean-Claude Credoz.
His reds, a Poulsard and a Trousseau, are light, cherry-fruited and clean - textbook entry-level Jura reds.
Of the whites, the old-vine Chardonnay has a dense texture and the Savagnin has a classic Jura cidery sharpness; the vin jaune in a 62cl clavelin is the most impressive of all - nutty, textured and evolved.
Jura wines are not cheap - entry-level prices are a few euros more than is the case in much of the rest of France; the best value, to my mind, is in the upper-end whites which offer unusual, if not unique, flavours and textures.
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