Ok, let me take you on a journey of the Jura and its gastronomy including the wines and Comté. This region, shadowed by Bordeaux and Burgundy, is not very well-known. Even the cheese, Comté , is not as famous as its competitor, Gruyère. I threw this question, “Which cheese is the best among and Beaufort ?” to French people. It’s a darn hard question if you’re a cheese lover. Ok, then, “Which cheese is stinkier Comté or Gruyère?” To my surprise, Gruyère. Hmm…my obsession with cheese led me to a Gruyère fruitière 2 years ago but it didn’t sweep me off feet as much as Comte did.
Before this trip, I visited by chance a Comte fromagerie, caves de affinage, where cheeses are ripened, but I didn’t have a camera with me at that time and only hoped to have another chance for a visit, which didn’t happen. I still remember the shock, the strong, sharp ammonia odor stinging my nostrils and then my eyes – I couldn’t keep my eyes open – when I walked inside the ripening room. I couldn’t believe the smell was real; no smell of cheese! Wheels of cheese on different shelves were at different stages of ripeness and the older it ages the smaller the thickness is. We bought two big pieces, weighing approx. 850g each of young Comte, aged 8 months, and old Comte, aged 24 months. You would probably remember these appearing in a few previous posts as I gnawed at them little by little almost every day like a little mouse with a big tummy.
Finally, we’re going to the town of Comte! On Day one, heading toward Poligny, I was so excited about tasting different Comte cheese. I relied on my local guide, Cyrille, for finding the best Comte fromagerie and he relied on his brother’s, which was very useful – “There are three stores in the square. Go to the one in the middle.”
Standing at the small square with three fromageries in sight in a form of triangle. Which one is the middle? Well…sigh… but somehow my instinct pulled me towards this one, so we entered and did our first real tasting.
Oh…this is it! I’ve found it finally! The Comte cheese there was not only delicious but also took my memory back to the very first Comte I had in Sydney that had cast a French cheese spell on me. It was nothing like other Comte cheeses I’d tasted up to that point. My endeavor paid off. How was the cheese different? The 18 month-old was super fruity and creamy, and 28 month-old super nutty and mushroomy. The 24 month-old, which we bought a small slice for gratitude without tasting in the shop, had a distinctive flavour of orange, pineapple and toasted nuts, and above all, had salt crystals as you might see in the photos. That salt crystals aren’t so common in Comte cheeses as in Parmesan, but that is what I tasted and liked in Sydney. – update: I found a website of the fromagerie, Vagne, and it is located in Chateau-Chalon! I see myself going there one day. It looks very pretty.
Even though I’d found THE cheese, I still wanted to try some more just in case I’d find a better one – typical human nature, maybe just mine. The next one might be THE middle one Cyrille’s brother meant. Oh la la~~all of the Comte were so so salty, especially the first 32 month-old Comte, and I had to sneekily put the slices of samples given in my jacket pocket.
Well, we might as well try the last fromagerie. There we bought Mimolette instead of Comte. By then, I’d developed the sense to detect good Comte cheese by the look and smell and none of their Comte looked nice and the actual taste was very bland. So we returned to the first shop and bought 3 kg of Comte cheese, some for me, some for friends, and some for charity auction – sounds weird. huh? 🙂
The night fell. It was too late to visit wineries so we went to a supermarket to familiarise ourselves with labels and varieties, then I spotted Chateau-Chalon and couldn’t take my eyes off the bottle for some reason. Before the trip, I didn’t study about Jura wines and wineries, which is my way of trusting my instinct and removing prejudices and allowing unexpected adventures to happen.
I bought the bottle to celebrate the first day of our wine trip after dinner, but fast-forward time, we didn’t get to drink it that night and opened it after the trip back at Cyrille’s house. I will tell you the conclusion: it was THE Jura wine I was expecting. Cyrille instantly fell in love with Chateau-Chalon and every time he sipped it, a big happy smile cracked across his big face. I will tell you more about Chateau-Chalon in another post so please bear with me and let’s experience the Jura cuisine.
Poligny is a bit of a dead town and there wasn’t much going on. After visiting Arbois, we wished we had gone straight and stayed there. The only place I felt like entering among two options available was Casa…something, sorry I forgot, with a long pizza menu. But I was glad that they had some other dishes worth a try. The entrée with smoked duck breast, magret de canard fumé and Girolles, local mushrooms, was very delicious.
For the main, Cyrille got a horse steak and I got local river fish gratin cooked in Vin Jaune with Morilles, the expensive mushrooms. Cooking with Vin Jaune, why not? Hmm…it sounded better than it tasted, though the Morilles (Morels) were worth tasting. And my dessert, fondant au chocolate, was great, too.
The sights of vineyards with yellow and red vine leaves on the way to Arbois the next day were really beautiful. We stopped at a couple of vineyards but none was open because it was All Saints Day.
Straight to the town centre then.
And start tasting some Jura wines. At the first cooperative, we tasted various wines by Domaine Rolet Pere et Fils. Browsing through the shelves, I saw Trousseau, which I’d been keen to try since I arrive in the Jura. Trousseau is another red grapes alongside more popular Poulsard and Pinot Noir. Jura reds are also quite good, which isn’t hard to figure out when you know the geography of France – it’s one hour away from the red Burgundy.
When tasting wines in Jura, you have to break the rule of white-first-then-red, because Jura whites are more powerful than reds. My previous tasting of Poulsard wines didn’t satisfy and one of the reason was the lack of tannins and complexity; Pinot Noir-like but without the Noir, I suppose. I tasted Trousseau 2007 for the first time along with Poulsard just to compare, and Trousseau still won. It was quite different, more aromatic and earthier, though it looks the same, with its pale ruby colour. Even the red seemed to have a slightly oxidated taste, if I remember correctly. We moved on to the whites, Savagnin 2006, Vin Jaune 2005, and Vin de Paille. I thought they were all interesting but I couldn’t have any opinions on them as it was the first tasting.
But, though it was the first stop, we felt like we’d visited 5 places at least. Jura wines are pretty strong and tend to tire your palate more quickly even if I spat most out so you need to take it easy.
Next, we went to Domain de la Pinte, whose owner and producer was very helpful and patiently attended us.
Pinot Noir 2006, Les Grandes Gardes, aged 18 months in a barrel was very firm and spicy with a good balance.The whites, Savagnin and Melon a queue Rouge, which I thought was a red wine, but it’s a local Chardonnay variety with a red stem; how interesting! It was very different to Burgundian Chardonnay, less buttery and nutty, but fruitier with higher acidity, which I liked about the wine.
OMG, their Vin Jaune was just amazing, I mean really complex and elegant, not overly sweet and woody like some of the vin jaunes I’d drunk. It had a particular lingering taste that reminded me of exotic tropical fruits such as guava, the fragrant taste of both sweet and tart. As I was murmuring guava, the owner said, “coing?”, which means quince in French. Ah, yeah, that! Merci!
Their Paradoxe is actually what would have been called Vin de Paille, had the abv was higher than 14%, but at 11.5%, this sweet wine made both Cyrille and me go, “WOW!”. It was unique; it was aromatic; it was delicious; it was memorable. It had all the characteristics of vin de paille but seemed to be more…how should I put it? More refined? I didn’t know the wines were biodynamic and whether or not the biodynamic thing has anything to do with the taste of the wines, we had a good time there.
Quite a lovely ancient village, I thought. If I have another chance, I’d like to spend more time in the town and definitely stay in Arbois, not Poligny; it’s bigger and there are more things to do, and it’s pretty.
Jura wines are definitely not for everyone, but this journey had completed my adventure in search of wine and food in France. I’ve been to more places in France than Cyrille, for example, which makes me proud as a lover of French gastronomy and music. Driving while listening to Charles Trenet, imagine that! Sherry and Port wines… the aged, oxidated, woody and nutty wines, they are good when they are good.
We explored a little more of the centre and, from there we made a spontaneous trip to Burgundy. I just wanted to revisit the area while the vineyards looked beautiful in all colours and to revise my previous Burgundy wine tours. We drove through Salin-les-Bains, Auxonne and all the way to Gevry Chambertin. Salin-les-Bains was a strange town, which was recommended by Cyrille’s brother, again, and we found nothing there except closed shops and a big fancy casino restaurant.
Saying bye-bye to Arbois, we headed for Burgundy. I thought it’d be a good experience for Cyrille, who had never been to Burgundy and who likes Pinot Noir. Thank you for reading and you can look forward to my Burgundy, revisited!
- In praise of Château-Chalon (jurawine.co.uk)
- Trousseau, Jura wine (fringewine.blogspot.com)
- Melon a queue Rouge (livingwines.com.au)
- La Maison du Comte (masionducomte.com )