History through the wine glass

By Stephen Pollard, November 7, 2013

Château Chalon might be one of the most famous Jura wines but they are extremely difficult to get hold of. Thanks, however, to the Oracle Paradis Wine Fund’s tasting, organised to celebrate its purchase of a bottle of the 1781, I’ve now tasted five different vintages.

Chalon was famed even before the French Revolution, so rich and long is its history. There is no “château”; Chalon is a hill-top of 19 hectares.

The Savagnin grapes are harvested late and then aged in small oak barrels for a minimum of six years and three months — although some producers age their Vin Jaune, as it’s called, for over a decade.

Because the barrels are (deliberately) not airtight, nearly 40 per cent of the wine evaporates and, as with fino sherry, a thick yeast layer develops which prevents oxidisation and gives the wine its flavours.

The winemakers would have a fit if anyone tasted a bottle less than a decade old and I can attest that, with this white wine, the older the bottle, the better the wine.

I started with a 2002. It seems odd to describe it as young and sprightly, but that’s how it tastes — similar in astringency to the white produced by Château Musar in Lebanon.

We then jumped back to 1966, which seemed as if it was only now coming into its own! Its creamy nose gives it the smell of what I can only call a Jura Burgundy. If you can find a bottle you can expect to pay around £150.
You might think a 1947 would be tired. You’d be wrong. Fresh and lightly golden, like a Sauternes, its after-taste fills the mouth and lingers. Expect to pay upwards of £800 for a bottle.

I’ve never tasted anything pre-war before. But the 1929 — a great vintage — isn’t even close to fading. Golden-brown and awe-inspiring. It’s around £1,500.

Then the pièce de résistance — a pre-phylloxera 1895, which would set you back at least £5,000. With an unbelievably powerful, perfumed nose, it tastes fresher than most modern wines. Delicate and poised, it’s perfectly toned and balanced.

I’ve never really thought of wine as moving before but tasting something that was created when my grandparents were born, before Europe had ripped itself apart in two world wars and before even the foundations of the modern world were laid was truly emotional. The tasting of a lifetime.

Last updated: 10:34am, November 7 2013