In eighteen years of Dijon living I have discovered with shame a jewel on my doorstep. Not fifty minutes from my door is the enchanting, fairytale landscape of the Jura, and quite specifically Chateau Chalon.
The Jura’s wines are very à la mode and it is a a mode very much en retard. I have certain clients with an unquenchable thirst whether for the mineral and agrume Chardonnays of Jean Ganevat, the fine Pinots or the Poulsards and Trousseaus of which no one had heard of or spoken of just a few years ago. These wines were tiny, hidden secrets: parochial and guarded avidly.
The most well known wines of the Jura were the heavily, and somewhat shamelessly, commercialised Vins Fous! of Henri Maire. Sadly it must be said there is Jura wine, and there is also other Jura wine. Wine making there is of course as old and venerable as other French region, and it is just a jurassic pebble’s throw away from the Côte d’Or.
But how so the mysterious apparition there of the voile, the veil, the waxy layer of dead yeast known as flor in far off Jerez? That veil is the key to the region’s very individual wines, making the Savignins and Vin Jaunes irresistable to anyone imbued by the instiable draw of savoury Manzanilla.
I had specifically come to Chateau Chalon, a lovely, stuck in the ages, French village perched on an almost impossible bluff, to visit Domaine Macle (some corroboration); poly-culturists since 1860, Jean Macle and his wife, the impeccably coiffed Elyane, sold the farm and worked just the vineyards in the 1960’s. The reins have now passed on to Olivier who, horreur d’horreurs (or at least his father’s) even indulges in du vin oeillé (that’s straight white chardonnay to you and me).
But for the major part, production is entirely traditional: old Burgundy 225 litre barriques, 12 hectares of vines, no reds and an awful lot of patience.
I tasted four wines, the 2011 Chardonnay, the 2011 Savagnin Chardonnay, the new 2008 Chateau Chalon and a previously opened 1983 Chateau Chalon. Now, I have drunk vins jaunes before and have mostly found them, the local obsession with Comté cheese oblige, full, powerful and, erm, consistent.
Here was something quite remarkable; I was expecting something forceful, fleshy and broad. I was struck by something entirely opposite: a wine of considerable volume no doubt, but with a a structure of such ethereal elegance and weightlessness to be at once contradictory and utterly spellbinding. The 1983 was indeed fuller with twenty five more years of ageing, but fuller only in the sense its flavours were more expressive, more forcefully delineated, as opposed to being more forcefully pronounced. Here was a lesson in nuance.
Interestingly, like Bepi Quintarelli, the much regretted Veneto phenom, Macle suggest opening the wines well in advance – at least 24 hours for the Chateau Chalon and serving all the whites at 16-18°, so more akin to reds than whites.
Before leaving Chateau Chalon, I took a few photographs of the village, and tried to capture this suddenly precipitous and dramatic landscape (as you approach from the Dijon side it’s all high prairy and very Massif Central). This peculiar, dramatic landscape reminded me of the back drops to Leonardo’s paintings. Look behind the Mona Lisa or the Madonna of the Rocks and you’ll see this same drama: vertiginous escarpments and plummeting ravines.
So in my mind, and, as I drove off, still on my palate, the works of two masters: Leonardo and Jean Macle. Bravissimo!