Tucked in-between Burgundy and Switzerland is the Jura, a fascinating and beautiful wine region that's well worth exploring. The Jura mountain range is a northern extension of the Alps, separated from the Alps proper by lake Geneva on the Swiss-French border. The wine region of the same name is in the Western foothills of the range, to the North-West of Geneva.
Being fairly remote, the region has maintained it's own wine traditions and varieties, which take you into an ancient vinous world. There are five principle varieties of the region; Pinot Noir and Chardonnay (from Burgundy but also cultivated in the Jura for centuries), Trousseau (a bit like a lighter version of Pinot Noir), Poulsard (making light red, pink and orange wines) and their signature white variety, Savignin. The last three are local varieties not really found outside the region.
The appellation Côtes du Jura covers all of the wine region and contains a couple of other sub-appellations, the most famous of which being Arbois. Both make wines in all colours from any of the main varieties. What's really interesting though, is that the appellations also make a couple of odd-ball wines - Vin Jaune and Vin de Paille. Vin Jaune comes from either of the main appellations or from the smaller Château-Chalon, which specialises in this ancient and slightly bizarre style. It's the Jura's answer to Sherry, with wines aged in barrels for over six years under a thin covering of yeast, called the voile (meaning the veil), which is similar to the flor covering in Sherry. This gives extremely complex flavours to the wine and as the wine is made in an oxidative way, it is very stable and can last in bottle for donkey's years.
The other speciality wine made in the Jura is Vin de Paille (straw wine), which is sweet wine made from grapes that have been concentrated by drying them on straw mats (though these days they're more likely to be dried hanging up). Unlike Vin Jaune this isn't unique to the Jura; it's a style used in other areas of France, all over Italy (most famously in Vin Santo for sweet wines and in Amarone for dry red wines), in Germany and Austria (where it's called Stohwein) and indeed anywhere where there are quality conscious producers wanting to have a go. In the Jura it's made with all three of their unique varieties; Poulsard, Trousseau and Savagnin, along with Chardonnay. The wine I had the other day was a bottle of 2002 Arbois Vin de Paille from the producer Jacques Puffeney. It was absolutely superb. Very complex, rich, dark nutty flavours that just went on and on. You'd really want it with some Christmas pudding or something else dark and rich that could stand up to it. Alternatively it makes a lovely digestif, just on it's own instead of a pudding at the end of the meal, which is how we had it. A real winner.
So if you are heading through the Jura region, do stop off and pick up some odd looking bottles; you're unlikely to find them anywhere else and it's very rewarding to explore these lesser-known delights.