A blog devoted to exploring wines made from unusual grape varieties and/or grown in unfamiliar regions all over the world. All wines are purchased by me from shops in the Boston metro area or directly from wineries that I have visited. If a reviewed bottle is a free sample, that fact is acknowledged prior to the bottle's review. I do not receive any compensation from any of the wineries, wine shops or companies that I mention on the blog.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Poulsard - Arbois, Jura, France

Yesterday we talked a bit about one of the Jura's two unusual red grapes Trousseau.  Today we'll visit with Trousseau's lesser known and, in many ways, more provincial running-mate Poulsard (often spelled Ploussard by many Jura producers).  I say more provincial because while Trousseau can be found (albeit in limited quantities) in a few other wine regions throughout the world, Poulsard is found virtually nowhere else on earth outside of a small area in eastern France.

There are several good reasons for that, and almost all of them have to do with the grape's skin.  As you can see from the picture on the left, Poulsard is a very thin-skinned grape, which has a lot of consequences both in the winery and in the vineyard.  In the winery, the grapes tend to produce very lightly colored wines that can resemble rosé wines more than full-throttle reds.  The grape has so little pigmentation that it is often bolstered with fellow thin-skinned grape Pinot Noir to provide a bit of extra color and extraction.  This isn't a problem in itself, but it is a problem in the marketplace where dense reds are what many consumers are looking for.  That's a style of wine that Poulsard just isn't ever going to make.

In the vineyard, the thin skins mean that the grape is difficult to grow.  The only thing that is protecting the juice inside of each berry is the grape's skin and the thinner that skin is, the more susceptible the grapes are to a variety of diseases.  Poulsard is particularly vulnerable to various fungal diseases and rot, which makes sense as these are all diseases that tend to thrive when there is a breach in the skin at some point and the sugary juice is exposed to whatever pathogens are floating around in the air.  Couple these problems with the vine's tendency to yield irregularly and it starts to make sense that plantings of the grape are declining.  Poulsard was, at one time, the most planted grape in the Jura but it has recently fallen to number two behind Chardonnay.

The upside for Poulsard is that it is a very versatile grape once it gets to the winery.  Sure, the light style is a barrier to producing blockbusters, but it lends itself very well to sparkling wines (such as the Crémant du Jura written about earlier) and it adds a nice red berry fruit character to the vin de paille wines made in the area without being overwhelming.  The red wines made from the grape also happen to be excellent with a little chill on them and are wonderful for summertime (I don't know what the weather is like where you are, but we're in the mid-90's here lately and the thought of chugging a Syrah or Cabernet Sauvignon makes me a little nauseous right now).

I was able to try two different Poulsard based wines, both of which I picked up from my friends at The Wine Bottega.  The first was a 2009 Michel Gahier from Arbois, Jura, that I picked up for about $25.  In the glass, the wine was a medium pink color.  The nose was moderately open with aromas of raspberries, wet tea leaves and damp earth.  On the palate the wine was on the lighter side of medium with fairly high acid and, surprisingly, a little bit of tannic grip to it.  Right out of the bottle, the wine was a little tight and tasted fairly thin but it opened up quickly with flavors of wild strawberries, tart cherries, raspberries and black tea.  This was kind of the mirror image of yesterday's Trousseau from Gahier which was wild and savage on the nose but came up a little short on the palate.  The nose on this wine never really erupted but the palate was full of juicy red fruit with a little earthiness to ground it.  Again, the comparison point for this is probably Pinot Noir or possibly something like Schiava.

The second bottle I tried was a NV bottling from Philippe Bornard called "Tant-Mieux."  This was a fizzy Poulsard that was bottled under crown cap and clocked in at 9.5% alcohol.  It's bottled as table wine, presumably because of the fizz, which I'm guessing isn't allowed in the Jura DOC.  The bottle set me back about $35.  In the glass, the wine was a dark salmon pink color with pretty substantial bubbles.  The nose was pretty assertive and tasted kind of like strawberries and a slightly funky cheese.  I know that doesn't sound particularly appetizing, but it was definitely working here.  On the palate the wine was light and was maybe a little sweeter than off-dry with nice acidity.  There was a lot of nice strawberry fruit and, overall, the wine kind of made think about what it would be like to drink fizzy strawberry jam.  My guess is that it would be pretty similar to drinking this.  This doesn't have a lot of complexity or depth, but it's very delicious and sometimes that's enough.  The price tag is a little steep for this and I don't know that I'd pay that much for it on a consistent basis, but  it was definitely enjoyable and was the perfect thing to drink after I mowed the lawn in the 90 degree heat.

I also would like to point out that I have written the section on the Jura for AG Wine's iPhone app.  The piece is currently in the final editing stages and should be up on the app soon.  If you buy the app now, you will receive all future updates with new regions for free.  You can check out AG Wine's website here or you can go here to download the app for your iPhone or iPad.  It's definitely one of the most informative and useful wine apps that I've used and I enthusiastically recommend it for people interested in learning more about wine and less about wine scores.  I've also written the section on Alsace and the upcoming section for Savoie as well.  Their free Wine News app also syndicates my posts so you can follow Fringe Wine and many other great writers on the go for free.  In the interest of full disclosure, I do not receive any financial compensation from AG Wine for any of the content or promotion that I provide to them.

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