Off the beaten track – the wines of Jura, Corsica, Provence and Savoie
In the eighth and final part of our guide to French wines we go off the beaten track, beyond the well-trodden vineyard routes to discover some more unusual tipples. Lesser-known French wines are less well known than their more famous Burgundy, Bordeaux and Côte de Rhône peers, but nevertheless hold their own and are worth seeking out when you’re in France. In this section of the French wines guide we seek our the wines of Jura, Corsica, Provence and Savoie in search of some worthy lesser-known labels.
French wines from Jura
Tucked away in the far east of the country and shoehorned between Burgundy and the Swiss Alps, Jura ranks as the smallest wine-producing region in France. Just 2,000 hectares lie under vineyards on land made up mostly of limestone and marl. Jura runs to just four Appellations d’Origine Controlée (AOCs). While the production might be small in size, Jura wines come big on punch and taste.
Jura wine grapes
The region has a similar climate to Burgundy but with longer, colder winters. This element has a huge influence on both the type of grapes that can be grown and when they’re harvested. Jura vineyards cultivate five grape varieties that are picked in November and sometimes as late as December, well after most other French wine regions.
Savagnin is the Jura’s signature grape. This tiny variety is almost translucent and a key component in the region’s famous vin jaune and vin de paille. White wines made with savagnin are dry and slightly spicy.
Chardonnay is the most-grown grape and a key component in Jura white wines. However, the cold winters mean the whites resemble a Chablis more than a Burgundy.
Pinot Noir, Poulsard and Trousseau grapes make up Jura reds. All bold and earthy, and perfect accompaniments for poultry and game or the region’s strong cheeses.
Jura wine types
Jura is renowned for two main types of wine: vin jaune and vin de paille. The so-called ‘yellow wine’ is made from savagnin grapes, harvested as late as the vineyard owners dare before the first frosts arrive. The wine is aged in oak barrels for at least six years and three months, and uniquely, never topped up. As a result, around a third is lost to fermentation. The intense, nutty wine with pronounced spicy notes is bottled in a squat clavelin. It pairs well with cheese and mushroom dishes.
Production of the so-called ‘straw wine’ never amounts to much and this Jura wine is so rare that it comes in half-sized bottles. It’s made from grapes dried for several weeks before they’re pressed and aged. As a result, vin de paille is very sweet with intense walnut and raisin overtones.
Did you know? Wine experts attribute Jura’s remote location to the unusual wine making methods used in the region.
Try Jura wines
Jura makes an ideal side trip from the Burgundy waterways and meals onboard our luxury barge hotel cruises include wines from this unique region. Take a look and choose your next holiday on the water.
French wines from Corsica
Almost everything about Corsica is unique. This indomitable Mediterranean island has its own culture, climate, landscape, people and of course, wine production – all very different from anything you’ll come across on mainland France. So different in fact that the official French AOC authorities refer to Corsica as “a land of legends and magic”.
The island has the oldest wine-growing culture in France. The Phoenicians made the first vin some 2,500 years ago with Greeks and Romans following suit. Phylloxera devastated the vines in the 19th century and two World Wars decimated the island’s labour force. As a result, it wasn’t until the 1980s that the Corsican wine industry found its feet again.
Unique growing conditions
Corsica isn’t a particularly large island but it certainly packs in the soil types – limestone, granite, volcanic sand… – elevations (from sea level to high peaks) and microclimates. Depending on the area, the weather takes a more continental or maritime style and different types of wind also influence growing conditions.
Add to this, the island’s typical maquis vegetation with pines, fig trees and herbs such as lavender, thyme and myrtle, all of which appear to a greater or lesser extent in the grapes. This unique combination of natural elements means that Corsican wines taste quite unlike any others.
Myriad grape varieties
At the last count, there were over 25 types of grapes native to Corsica. Some of them closely resemble their French and Italian cousins, but others have nothing in common with any other vines in Europe. In keeping with the legends and magic, the names of the grapes such as Nielluciu, Carcaghjolu and Rugughonna bring to mind mysterious concoctions rather than a bottle of wine.
AOC regulations, however, specify that Corsican whites must contain at least 75% of the Vermentinu grape that produces a floral, honey-scented wine. And that reds consist of at least half Nielluccio grapes, grown in the north, and Sciaccarello grapes, grown in the south. The resulting mixture lends itself to a robust tannic background, reminiscent of a Rhône Valley red with more delicate raspberry tones, not unlike those found in a Burgundy.
Did you know? Corsica is one of the most experiential wine-growing regions in French with new blends constantly appearing on the local market. It’s also one of the nation’s best value – wines come exempt of VAT and a good bottle starts at €5.
Wonderful wines on the water
Why not make the most of the fascinating world of French wines while enjoying some of the country’s best scenery? Discover wonderful wines on the water.
Wines from Savoie
The far-eastern region of Savoie in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alps is another of the small French wine-producing areas. Around 2,000 hectares lie under vineyards, which have traditionally produced the so-called “ski chalet wines” or, more unkindly, plonk. However, in recent years, two grapes from Savoie have been making a name for themselves in fine wine circles and nowadays merit a mention among the more unusual French wines worth seeking out.
Types of Savoie grape
Several grape varieties grow successfully in the surprisingly warm climate in Savoie, but two in particular stand out when it comes to excellent whites. The Roussanne grape, grown in Combe de Savoie on limestone slopes facing south-south-west, might be small on production (just 4% of the Savoie total) but lends itself to bold whites. Coming under the Chignin-Bergeron AOC denomination, Roussanne whites are rich and perfumed with notes of almond, apricot and even mango.
The other stand-out grape is Altesse, native to the region and grown near the source of the Rhône River as it leaves the French Alps. Produced under the Roussette de Savoie AOC, Altesse grapes age well – the best whites have spent at least three years in the barrel – and has a mostly floral flavour with hints of walnut and honey.
Did you know? All Savoie whites pair perfectly with local cheeses. For a match made in heaven, sip a chilled Chignin-Bergeron with a slice (or several) from a Beaufort wheel of cheese, weighing up to almost 60kg!
Several of our hotel barge cruises offer wine-appreciation courses given by expert sommeliers. Learn about the wines on board, see in the vineyards themselves and then sample the wines during a sumptuous evening meal. Find out more. https://www.french-waterways.com/hotel-barge-cruises/barging-in-france/
Rosé from Provence
A land of intensely Mediterranean landscapes, Cézanne and Van Gogh, lavender fields and medieval castles, Provence is perhaps the most quintessential region of France. It also ranks as one of the country’s top wine-producing areas but forget about whites and reds because Provence is the world capital of rosé wines.
Most of the vineyards that form part of the three AOCs in Provence – Côtes de Provence (the largest), Coteaux d’Aix-en-Provence and Coteaux Varois en Provence – grow grapes that are later blended into the region’s delicious rosés. Home demand is huge – rosé wine is the summer drink in France especially if you’re at a picnic or barbeque – and exports have grown in recent years too as more wine connoisseurs discover the unique pink wine from Provence.
Types of rosé grapes
Rosé wine is made from red grapes and in Provence, these tend to be Grenache, Cinsault, Mourvedre and Syrah. All thrive on the Provençal limestone soils and the long, hot summers when the dry Mistral wind blows relentlessly across the vineyards. The wind encourages ripening as well as keeping diseases caused by humidity from the vines.
Like red wine, rosés begin life fermenting with the grape skins on. But, unlike reds, the skins are removed soon afterwards, even as quickly as two hours, as soon as the producer deems the colour to be just right. Unlike rosés produced elsewhere in the world, the Provence version has a distinct orange tinge to its pink hue.
P for perfect
Provence rosés are essentially dry rather than sweet and offer a whole host of floral notes, a reflection of the land they come from. Herbs form the main background – thyme, lavender and rosemary, for example – and fruity notes include red berries and tangerines. Some have a distinct flavour of fennel and others a touch of spice on the palate.
Food pairing is easy. A Provence rosé does after all go with any food eaten al fresco in the summer months. But to ensure you get the combination just right, remember the two p’s: pink and Provence. For the former, think lobster, langoustines, ham and strawberries, and for the latter, any typical regional dish (bouillabaisse, ratatouille, salade Niçoise, pissalidiere…) finds a prime partner with a local rosé. Serve the wine at 8-12 degrees
Did you know? The best rosé wines from Provence have a gold, silver or bronze sticker on their label. 100 awards are given during the blind tastings at the annual Vins de Provence le Concours competition.
Perfect pink in Provence
Discover your preferred AOC rosé onboard a river cruise along the Rhône as it makes its way to the Mediterranean through the vineyards of Languedoc and Provence.
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