Coq au Vin Jaune Night, a.k.a. Jurafest, has become more or less an annual event among my group of friends in Portland. This year, inspired as always by the aristocratically elegant version of coq au vin jaune aux morilles that we tasted many years ago at Jean-Paul Jeunet in Arbois, my friend Pete continued to refine his technique of creating this iconic dish, reexamining his methods and taking the whole thing in a surprising new direction. It turned out to be spectacular, aided further by a Berthet-Bondet Château-Chalon that formed the base of the sauce, rather than just a sous voile savagnin as we normally use. If you think there isn’t a difference between the two when used for cooking, well, there is. If you think it’s ridiculously decadent and extravagant to use an entire bottle of Château-Chalon to cook with, well, that’s true too.
Of course, we washed this fantastic poultry down with plenty of wines from the Jura, ranging from chardonnay to savagnin sous voile to multiple vintages of poulsard (or should I say ploussard) from Emmanuel Houillon. The headlining act of the night, however, was vin jaune, one of the world’s great forgotten wines. It was a revelation for me to taste the 2000 from Domaine Labet—I’ve enjoyed several of the estate’s other wines but have never had the opportunity to taste the vin jaune. Pure, savory and subtly intense, it’s one of the most elegant vins jaunes I’ve ever tasted, which is hardly surprising as it’s only 13.5 percent alcohol. We paired it with the 2000 Berthet-Bondet Château-Chalon (a bottle that we didn’t reduce in a saucepan), another superbly delicate and elegant wine. From one of the finest producers in the appellation, this clearly demonstrated the finesse of the cru in its silky texture and ethereal, filigreed aroma.
A pair of wines from Jacques Puffeney was outstanding: the 1996 Arbois Vin Jaune is one of the finest Puffeney wines I’ve ever tasted, and this bottle was as lovely as ever, balancing a saline, oyster-shell character with pungent aromas of spiced pear, jackfruit, curry powder, saffron and candied citrus. It’s still extremely youthful, needing more time to develop in the bottle, whereas the 1988 is showing superbly well now, its sappy, boldly fragrant depth complemented by spicy notes of clove, mace and nutmeg.
The most sought-after of all vins jaunes is the rare version made by Pierre Overnoy, made in miniscule quantities in selected vintages before he retired in 2001. With his avoidance of sulfur, his 1998 was deeper in color than the other wines on the table, but that was hardly a fault—its resonant depth and sophisticated complexity of aroma elevated this wine above the rest, finishing with astounding intensity, subtlety and length. It was the sort of wine that prevented you from putting anything else in your mouth for another five minutes after each sip, its panoply of flavors fiercely gripping your palate and refusing to let go. The phrase “wine of meditation” is often overused, in any language, but Overnoy’s vin jaune, in any vintage, is one of the few wines that truly merits the description.