Of Dinosaurs and Wine

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A mere 50 miles east from some of France’s most famous vineyards in the Côte d’Or of Burgundy, lies what could easily qualify as country’s most obscure, least-heralded wine region, the Jura. Even to French wine drinkers the area’s distinctive wines remain relatively unknown. A few years back, however, they caught the attention of the wine cognoscenti in the U.S. and have been popping up on the wine lists of adventurous sommeliers ever since.

If the area is known at all it’s usually as the source for the term Jurrasic, named for the ancient limestone mountain range dating from the time when dinosaurs thrived. It turns out that the limestone, clay and marl soils provide the perfect base for growing vines. Burgundy’s signature grapes—Pinot Noir and Chardonnay—are grown here too, but the region’s uniqueness stems from wines made from grapes grown nowhere else: the reds from Poulsard (Ploussard) and Trousseau, the whites from Savagnin, often aged under a veil of yeast (sous voile), similar to how some sherries are aged, and known as Vin Jaune.

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Most of the region’s wines are dry, and even though some have sherry-like flavors they are not fortified. Some producers, however, do make a little known fortified sweet wine called Macvin. It can be red, rosé or white, but all are made in similar fashion: by halting fermentation with the addition of marc brandy, usually in a 1/3 marc to 2/3 wine proportion. The resulting wine is sweet, and the alcohol is potent, somewhere between 17 and 22% abv. The wines are then aged in oak for up to six years, lending a woody, roasted walnut character.

Chateau d’Arlay is one of the famous vineyards of the region and is, in fact, said to be the oldest vineyard castle in the country. It produces mostly dry wines with only a small percentage devoted to sweet wines. Their white Macvin is made from 50% Chardonnay and 50% Savagnin but is unlike any white wine, sweet or otherwise I’ve ever tasted. The aromas alone tell you you’re in for something different, with scents of roasted walnuts, pie crust, orange and lemon peel, hazelnuts, honey, pineapple and pears. The wine is full bodied, but a tangy acidity keeps it lively. The flavors are a swirl of complexity with marzipan, pears, lemon marmalade, baked apples, honey and walnuts, but there is an unusual tartness to it too. It’s an intriguing, unique wine. We poured our half bottle of Chateau d’Arlay Macvin with a baked pear crumble made with dates, raisins and walnuts.

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Baked Apple/Pear Crumble (Adapted from StraightUpFood)
1/2 cup walnuts
2 pitted dates

Diced fruit:
3 apples or pears, peeled and diced
1 tablespoon lemon juice

Apple/Pear sauce (that will be tossed with the diced fruit, above):
2 apples/pears, peeled and dice
2 tablespoons lemon juice
5 pitted dates
¼ cup raisins
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon nutmeg

Topping: Blend the walnuts and dates in a food processor until the texture is similar to Grape Nuts. Spoon into a small bowl and set aside.

Filling: Toss the 3 peeled, diced apples with 1 tablespoon of lemon juice and set aside in a bowl. Next, in the food processor, blend all of the sauce ingredients: 2 apples, 2 tablespoons of lemon juice, 6 pitted dates, raisins, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Toss this mixture with the sliced apples.

Bake: Place the fruit filling into a 2-quart baking dish and sprinkle with date-nut topping. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes.

Preparation: 15 minutes; cooking time: 45 minutes; serves: 4

This followed a main course of homemade pizza with eggplant, artichoke hearts, peppers, onions, roasted garlic and capers accompanied by a Pater Sardus Arrugo from Sardinia.

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