Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Wines Made With the Lauzet Grape: Jurançon

Having discovered that Château Palmer had made an unusual white wine with the Lauzet grape in the blend I thought it would be a good idea to see what other wines are made from this grape. Lauzet is used in 2 neighbouring AOCs: Jurançon and Béarn.

Lauzet contributes to the dry white and sweet wine blends (Jurançon Vendanges Tardives) in Jurançon, which lies at the foothills of the Pyrenees. Jurançon boasts a long wine-making history, with a famous royal connection. Henri of Navarre (Henry IV) was born in 1553 at Château de Pau near Jurançon. When he was christened he had his lips rubbed with a clove of garlic and moistened with a drop of Jurançon wine from which he allegedly derived great vigour and a fervent spirit which were never to leave him.

The Château de Pau is not only famous for being the birthplace of Henry IV but was once used by Napoleon as a holiday home during his period of power. It has a small garden that was tended by Marie Antoinette when she spent much of the summers in the city.

We know that the Romans planted vines in Jurançon 2000 years ago and the remains of a Roman villa lie in the commune. It was also the first place to attempt a wine classification in France long before its conception in any other French wine region. In the 14th century. The Princes of Béarn introduced the concept of "Jurançon cru", that reflected the value of the individual vineyards, aimed to safeguard the authenticity and the quality of the local wines.

Today, the steep slopes hills of Jurançon are covered with more than 1,000 hectares of vines, some at an altitude of 300 metres. The ruggedness of the nearby mountains means that vines must be trained high to escape damaging spring frosts. However the warmth of southern France and the effects of the southerly Pyrenean Fohn winds allow the grapes to become overripe for the production of great sweet white wines.

The soils of the area are largely alluvial clay and sand, being located between the rivers Gave d'Oloron and Gave de Pau and there is limestone to be found at higher elevations. There is also a soil type known as “poudingue” which is characterized by round stones of sedimentary rock, which take their name from the old English fruit pudding as they resemble a Christmas Pudding in shape and weight.

The grapes grown are Lauzet, Gros Manseng, Petit Manseng, Courbu and Camaralet de Lasseube. Gros Manseng and Petit Manseng are the white grape variation of Manseng. A Charter drawn up in 1220 (the Fors de Morlaas) by Viscount Guillaume-Raymond de Moncade is the first written record of the Manseng grape (Mansenc). The name Manseng could come from “le cépage de la maison” meaning the grape variety of the House.

Gros Manseng is used mainly for the dry Jurançons and young mellow wines and its berries are larger than the Petit Manseng. On its own, Gros Manseng does have the potential to produce intensely flavoured wines with high acidity, apricot and quince fruit along with spicy and floral notes.

Petit Manseng makes wine that is aromatic with the fragrances of cinnamon, peaches and pineapple. As Petit Manseng has a high sugar content and acidity the grapes are often left to hang on the vine until December to make sweet dessert white wines.

The wines of Petit Manseng were a favourite of the French poet Colette, who called the wine séduction du vert galant meaning “the seductive green gallant”. Winemakers in Jurançon picked up on this endorsement and began advertising their wines with posters with the slogan "Manseng means Jurançon means Sex”! Given that Henry of Navarre was nicknamed le Vert galant ("the Green gallant") which was a reference to both his dashing character and his attractiveness to women, maybe there is something in the Jurançon wine after all!

The name Courbu, without suffix, can refer to both Petit Courbu, Courbu Noir and Courbu Blanc, and not all sources differ between the two. The Courbu grape referred to in Jurançon seems to be Courbu Blanc and is a native of the area. I can not find out much about this grape at all apart from the fact that one of its synonyms is Corbeau (French for Raven), that it is susceptible to botrytis cinerea and that it has flavours of lemon, green apple, acacia and grape!

Camaralet de Lasseube is also quite rare and takes its name from the Gascon La Seube meaning forest (also the name of a commune in the region). It is also susceptible to botrytis cinerea and has flavours of cinnamon, fennel and peppermint.

The dry wines of Jurançon are golden in colour, tinged with green and have flavours ranging from lemon, sweet hay, white peach, passion fruit, toasted almonds, acacia and broom flowers. They can be similar in style to those of Vouvray.

The sweet wines of Jurançon Vendanges Tardives are said to have earned a place among the great sweet wines of France, rivalling even Sauternes. The harvest for these wines may not legally begin until 5 weeks after the harvest for the dry Jurançon wines, when the grapes have achieved a very high natural sugar levels. The Vendanges Tardives title applies only to wines made from grape must with sugar levels higher than 281 grams per litre, 50% more than is required for the Jurançon Sec wines. With age, these wines become golden and develop aromas of flowers, honeysuckle, coconut, candied fruit. apricot, mango, pineapple, beeswax, banana, cinnamon, clove and vanilla.


deana(lostpastremembered) said...

More ancient varieties to list is growing so long!!! In answer to your question... yes, I saw the giant wine server. Although they said it was correct in every detail.. it looked like a theatrical set piece... not quite right in daylight... nice idea though!! The rest of the trip was spectacular and I want to move to Bibury!

Sue said...

That would be great if you did as we could do lunch as often as we liked then! :-)