There’s a style of wine known as Vin Jaune, which translates (kind of awfully) as ‘yellow wine’.
Not much of it is seen in Australia, but if not for a happy accident, we might never have seen it at all.
Crittenden Estate was one winery that fell victim, planting what was believed at the time to be Albarino vines on over half an acre of their Mornington Peninsula property, back in the early 2000s. Almost a decade later, it was discovered that what they (and the wider industry) thought they had planted was not the great Spanish grape that they’d intended to plant, but actually Savagnin (DNA analysis revealed the mistake).
Not to be confused with Sauvignon Blanc, Savagnin is a French grape used to make Vin Jaune, a wine that is the vinous pride of France’s Jura region, and is about the only wine that actually pairs well with cheese (the region is also famous for Comte; Vin Jaune’s perfect match).
For the uninitiated, Vin Jaune is a “challenging” wine. Both to drink and to make, according to Crittenden’s head winemaker, Rollo Crittenden. In conventional winemaking, barrels are topped-off during aging to replace wine lost through evaporation, which in turn limits oxygen contact to the wine and keeps it nice and tasty and inhibits potentially nasty microbial growth. With Vin Jaune, extremely ripe Savagnin grapes are aged for over six years, during which time the barrel is never topped-off. Not topping-off the barrel allows the creation of a yeast film, which develops a unique nutty complexity in the wine.
“Flavour-wise, people find it most similar to sherry”, says Crittenden. “It’s a very similar process, and there are some similar characters, [although Vin Jaune isn’t fortified]. But for me, the variety still shines through. Savagnin has this beautiful core of acid and a sort of lemon zest sort of character. There’s a saline character as well, like a bit of oyster or sea spray, and a sort of Indian spice character as well.”
When the Crittenden family discovered that they had planted half an acre of Savagnin, they considered grubbing it. But instead, they decided to try making a barrel of this unique wine in the Jura style in 2011.
Keeping the yeast film intact during the aging period is difficult, they found, and if it’s torn or damaged, all contents of the barrel are destroyed. “We lost two barrels in 2013,” says Crittenden, “one to volatility, and one to excessive oxidation.”
Still, despite the frustrations, it’s been a lot of fun experimenting with this style of wines, says Crittenden. And rewarding. Once you get your head around them, you’ll find them truly delicious.
For more information on Crittenden’s Cri de Coeur Savagnin wine or to buy, follow this link below.GIVE. ME. IT!
By Anna Webster