I was first introduced to Jurancon through a dessert wine poured in a local French bistro here in San Francisco. "Here, try this," said our waiter and whipped out a few glasses which he filled with a nearly colorless wine with a simple parchment colored label. "Henry the Fourth was baptized in this stuff" he said as he wandered off. We thought, "did we hear him right?" but sure enough, that is the claim to fame of this tiny little appellation in the south-eastern part of Provence in southern France. It also happens to be one of France's oldest appellations.
The steep slopes of the Pyrenees to the south provide hillside vineyards with a base of alluvial clay mixed with stones and pebbles. Most of the grapes grown in the region are either Gros Manseng, Petit Manseng, or Courbu, with a little Camaralet de Lasseube and Lauzet thrown in for good measure. Never heard of these varietals? You're not alone. They haven't strayed much out of their region of origin in the Basque region since they were first planted. Manseng (of which Gros and Petite are derivatives) is planted in a scant 2500 acres in all of France, most of it centered around the town of Jurancon and Gascon. Courbu (also known as Petite Courbu) is so obscure that even the Oxford Companion to Wine has only a two line entry for it, saying it grows in Southwest France.
Never you mind, though, there are really only two things you need to know about Jurancon and its grapes. They make basically two wines -- one sweet, one dry (sec). The sweet wine, which was served by our waiter, is made like Sauternes (botrytized), and is fabulous -- not quite as sweet as Sauternes but gorgeously floral in the same way. The dry wine, I hadn't tried nor seen until I was wandering through Kermit Lynch's store the other day and saw a case of bright green bottles in the corner.
The dry version of Jurancon is made primarily with Gros Manseng while the smaller berried Petite is usually the basis for the dessert wine. The wines, both sweet and dry, share some remarkable aromas. Think of crossing a great New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc with an Alsatian Gewürztraminer and you begin to get the picture.
If you're looking for something new in the way of white wine and want something really undiscovered, try searching out some of this, it's not really on anyone's radar screen. Even the Editor in Chief of Wine Spectator had never heard of it until recently....
Light straw in color, this wine has a really great nose stuffed full of exotic citrus flavors -- pomelo, mandarin orange, kumquat -- topped with notes of honey and dandelion, making you think this is going to be a sweet sweet wine filled with fruit. On the contrary, the body of the wine is bone dry, with excellent acidity. In the mouth it is snappy and crisp with flavors of minerals, honey, pink grapefruit and a little spicy note of white pepper and cinnamon. It has an excellent lingering finish with elements of orange zest.
Ah, the possibilities. This can go with everything from shellfish to pasta to cheese. I had it with herb crusted halibut fillets over wild rice pilaf, but I'd also pair it with any pasta in a white sauce or anything that had goat cheese in it. A very versatile wine.
Overall Score: 9.5/10
How Much?: $12
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