Most wine in the world is made in the same way but there are some that all-together abandon the norm and create wines of a very different style. To make wine of any kind, a series of steps are taken that vary depending upon the location and decisions of the winemaker. It is the timing, method, treatment, weather and many other factors that determine the outcome of the wine.

In an effort to highlight some very interesting methods of winemaking, let’s begin with the basic steps necessary to make “normal” wine. It begins in the vineyard where vines are cared for during the entire growing season. The very important decision of when to harvest the grapes is made and the grapes are picked either by hand or mechanically. The grapes are moved to the winemaking facility which is sometimes on the same land as the vineyard (making it a Chateau by French standards) but very often, is miles away. Here the grapes are sorted and unwanted debris is removed. Stems are removed (though sometimes they are purposefully left on to create a different mouth-feel and flavors in the end product). The grapes are then gently crushed so that alcoholic fermentation may begin. The process of fermentation begins and will continue for a couple of weeks. When the desired level of completion is met, the ooey gooey, alcohol-y juice is pressed to separate the remaining skins from the juice. The wine is then put in a vessel to mature; most typically the vessel will be a stainless steel vat or oak barrels. After anywhere from a couple of months to several years, the wine is then bottled where it will be set aside for further aging or released for sale. There are quite a few other steps and important decisions about the treatment of the grapes / must (what the juice is called before it turns into alcohol) / wine, but those are the basic steps for red wine made across the world. When making white wine, the same steps are followed except that the juice is pressed before fermentation rather than after – this prevents the wine from becoming colored as a result of contact with the skins of the grape which would result in wine with color.

”Vin Jaune,” or “yellow wine” from Eastern France and “Amarone,” made in Northeast Italy are two unique styles of wine that are made by all-together interesting processes.

First: Vin Jaune. This wine is produced in the Jura region of France. Not nearly as well-known as Burgundy or Bordeaux, wines from Jura are most typically made from local varieties such as Savignin (white), Poulsard (red), Trousseau (red) and a few others that are not found elsewhere the world. The Jura region is just east of Burgundy and north of Savoie on the lower slopes of the Jura Moutains. The vines are scattered among woodland and meadows. Appellations include Arbois, Chateau-Chalon (the most famous for Vin Jaune), L’Etoile and Cotes du Jura. The best vineyards are similar to those found in the Cote d’Or in Burgundy in that they are on a south or southeasterly facing slope.

Vin Jaune is made from the Savignin grape. The grapes are picked well-ripened, fermented as typical dry wine and then put in 60 gallon casks with a generous amount of ullage (the space between the top of the barrel and the surface of the wine). An indigenous yeast strain invades the ageing wine and creates a thick film called voile (meaning “veil”). This yeast impacts the flavor of the wine greatly and creates notes of nuttiness. The wine and voile are left to age for at least six years and three months… yes – six years. The fun does not stop there though. The Vin Jaune is then bottled in a special, 62 cl bottle called a clavelin. The 62 cl reflects the amount of wine lost to evaporation during the extensive ageing. So what does Vin Jaune taste like? It tastes a lot like Sherry but even more so, like Tokaji. It is dry, nutty, spicy and full-bodied. It is good with first courses and savory dishes and should be opened well in advance of consuming.

Amarone is simply fabulous and I want to pay it its dues, so I am not going to jam it into this post. I’ll do a part II for Rare Wines and talk about this raisin-y vino soon… Try and find a Vin Jaune at your local wine shop and tell me what you think…