France’s Smallest Wine Region Is Also Its Most Underrated
Wine lovers who are weary of the Disneyland-like crowds of Bordeaux and Napa Valley should book a vacation to Jura, which was named one of Travel + Leisure’s Best Places to Travel in 2017. France’s smallest wine region, and possibly its most picturesque, is set among limestone cliffs and spruce-lined valleys, with Switzerland to the east and Burgundy to the west, this sleepy, medieval-era enclave managed for decades to fly under the radar as its residents quietly perfected wine- and cheese-making. “It’s untapped by tourism in a really dramatic way,” says Cedric Nicaise, wine director at New York City’s Eleven Madison Park. “For someone looking for an oenotourism experience that’s beyond the common, it’s an awesome region to go visit.”
In the last few years, interest in Jura has exploded, as U.S. sommeliers discovered that the area’s limpid reds (made from local grapes like trousseau and pinot noir) and distinctive whites (chardonnay and savagnin) were in many cases as good as the wines of the Côte de Beaune, at a fraction of the price. Soon, Jura’s most iconic wine — vin jaune, a pale yellow, nutty, austerely dry wine—was appearing on lists everywhere from Eleven Madison Park to Denmark’s Noma. While the wines are indeed one of the great draws of Jura, the region has an abundance of other charms. “The first thing you notice about Jura is that it’s green,” says Stephane Tissot, a celebrated winemaker. Lazy and Edenic, Jura is suited to aimless walks through alpine meadows scented with wild flowers and dotted with Montbéliarde cows, or meandering bike or car rides along mountain roads, above glittering streams and lakes that teem with trout and perch.
Start with Arbois, the gastronomic and oenological capital of Jura. You can take a two-hour train from Paris to Dole, a half-hour from town, or drive in from nearby airports in Geneva or Lyon St-Exupery (a rental car is necessary for traveling in the region). Book a room at Closerie les Capucines, a stony 17th-century convent turned B&B, or at Hotel Restaurant Maison Jeunet, home to the region’s only two-Michelin-star restaurant. Top wineries around Arbois include Domaine André et Mireille Tissot and Domaine Henri Maire (which have tasting rooms in town) and Maison Pierre Overnoy (call ahead to make an appointment to visit, the norm for most wineries in Jura). Get your sweet fix at Chocolats Hirsinger, which some say is the best chocolatier in France.
Next, it’s time to head out into the rolling hills of the country. Wake up at the crack of dawn to catch one of the local fruiteries turn gallons of cow milk into Jura’s famous rounds of Comte cheese. In the summer, look for waterfalls like the Cascade de Baume-les-Messieurs where you can take a dip in swimming holes and explore dripping caves. No trip is complete without a stop in Château-Chalon, home to some of Jura’s most prestigious wineries like Domaine Macle and Domaine de Montbourgeau. But it’s the breathtaking beauty of the village itself — with its 10th-century Romanesque church and expansive view of Jura’s vineyards — that most encapsulates the charms of Jura. In the words of Jane Berg, a Jura devotee who works at wine importer Kermit Lynch, “It’s like something out of a fairy tale.”