Jurançon Sec tasting
An exploration of the various styles at The Sampler

November 2013

Jamie Hutchinson (of The Sampler) and his partner Jess (an MW student) have a grand plan. They want to make wine. But rather than target the usual suspect list of wine regions, they have set their sights on Jurançon, and their dream is to make a Jurançon Sec.

This grand vision is something that they are sharing at an early stage, and it is going to be fascinating to watch it come to fruition. As part of the project, they held an exploratory tasting of Jurançon Sec, which they kindly invited me to, along with a number of their customers and friends. ‘Most of these wines we have never tried,’ shared Jamie.

‘We both wanted to make a wine, as well as selling wine.’ Which wine? ‘We worked out an area we were both excited by, Jurançon, and the Petit Manseng grape in particular,’ says Jamie.  There are five white varieties in the region, and the three common ones are all related: Petit Manseng, Gros Manseng and Petit Courbu (the other two are Camaralet and Lauzet). Petit Manseng is the number one variety. It has a savoury aspect, with notes of wax, honey, lanolin and salt. It is rich, but it ages well, and it’s also a grape that keeps its acidity all the way through the ripening process. There is great flexibility in terms of winemaking.

But what style should they be making? For the dry wines, no one has done anything much of interest. ‘No one has defined the style for the appellation,’ says Jamie. This is one of the motivtions for holding this tasting, to allow Jamie and Jessica to decide which sorts of wines they’d like to make. 

Another advantage with Jurançon is that it’s dead easy to get to, with cheap flights from London City airport to Pau, which is close to the region. Add in the fact that the locals are friendly and welcoming, and it’s a very attractive prospect. ‘We don't want to lose money on this project,’ shares Jamie, ‘but neither are we planning to make a living from it.’

They'd like to buy a small established vineyard of 1–2 hectares. They’d be growing mostly white grapes but would also like to plant Syrah if the site is suitable. They’d aim at low yields, with a focus on quality.

Officially there are 25 recognized terroirs in the region, but just three that are significantly different.

1 Monein – rolling hills (easy to work), lower altitude, warmer climate and soils of clay plus galets. The majority of famous wines from the region since 1960 have come from this terroir. Gives a soft, rich style.

2 Lasseube – highly fractured mixture of soft and hard rocks called flysch. Moving toward the mountains this is poor, well-drained soils, and these sites are cool and late ripening. Gives a more fruity style.

3 Chapelle de Rousse, which includes the village of Jurancon – this is where you find amphitheatres of chalk plus galets crushed up in a layer. These soils are tough and hard to work. This is the classic area of the region, making mineral and fresh wines.

Currently there are 820 hectares and 400 growers in the appellation. Hand harvesting is obligatory, and maximum yields are 40 hl/ha for moelleux (sweeter wines) and 65 hl/ha for dry wines. The sweet wines are made with grapes that have begun to dry and shrivel on the vine.

The climate is damp in spring, but summers are long and dry, and the autumn is usually sunny too. Winter comes late. This means growers can wait to pick; this is helped by the way that acidity is retained by the grapes here, even as sugars rise.



Larroude Lou Cep Ocean 2010 Jurançon Sec, France
Monein terroir, 90% Gros Manseng, 10% Petit Corub, harvest late September, very little oak. Aromatically intense with lovely balance. Waxy nutty notes underneath lovely dry mineral, intense citrus, apple and pear fruit. Powerful and fresh with good acidity. Lovely mineral finish. 92/100

Clos Cancaoillou Clos de la Vierge Confidence 2010 Jurançon Sec, France
Monein terroir, 38% Petit Manseng, 60% Gros Manseng, 2% Petit Corbu. Early october harvest, no oak. Distinctive nut, mineral, straw and herb characters. Great acidity but also nice pear, peach and spice richness. Just a hint of cheesiness here with some softness on the textured palate. 91/100

Bordnave Coustarret Renaissance 2011 Jurançon Sec, France
Lasseube terrois, 80% Petit Manseng, 20% Gros Manseng, harvested mid-October, no oak but lots of battonage. Very bright, fruity, pretty nose,with apples, pears, lemons, nuts and peach. The palate is lively, open and fruity with tangerine and lemon notes as well as ripe apples. An intense, pure, fruity style with nice depth. 90/100

Cauhaupe Chant des Vignes 2012 Jurançon Sec, France
Monein terroir, 60% Gros Manseng, 40% Camarelet, harvested late September, no oak. Highly aromatic with a fruity nose, quite like a Sauvignon Blanc. Rounded, fruity, textured supple palate. Jurancon for cowards. Easy and commercial. 86/100

Lafitte Teston Pacherenc Sec Cuvee Ericka 2011 Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh, France
This is Pacherenc, which is a nearby appellation that overlaps with Madiran. 60% Petit Manseng, 40% Gros Manseng, harvested October, 30% new oak. Nutty with lovely supple notes of wax, herbs, apple and citrus fruit. Some richness. Lovely weight and texture. Quite delicious but still has nice edges and a bit of spiciness. Lovely wine. 91/100

Camin Larredya La Part Davant 2011 Jurançon Sec, France
Chapelle de Rousse terroir. 35% Petit Manseng, 50% Gros Manseng, 15% Petit Corbu. Mixed picking. Old oak. Very rich and nutty. Ripe, warm, sweet nose. The palate is rounded and appley with rich nuttiness and nice depth. A slightly oxidative style with almost sweet nuttiness. Finishes bright and fresh with a hint of cider. 92/100

Cauhape Seve d'Automne 2010 Jurançon Sec, France
Monein terroir, 30% Petit Manseng, 70% Gros Manseng, harvested early October, 8 months in old oak. Sweet, intense aromatic nose with ripe apple and pear fruit, as well as some grapey richness. Distinctive ripe, appley palate with bold flavours and lively acidity. There's a hint of apricot as well as apples, pear and spice. A little 'made' but very nice. 91/100

Clos Guirouilh 2011 Jurançon Sec, France
Lasseube terroir, 85% Gros Manseng, 15% Petit Corbu, old vines, old oak. Lovely minerally style. Full  and citrussy with some apple notes: very fresh and stylish. Delicate tangerine and grapefruit notes here, with subtle wax/lanolin notes. Stylish.93/100

Domaine Bellegarde La Pierre Blanche 2010 Jurançon Sec, France
Monein terroir, 80% Petit Manseng, 20% Gros Manseng, harvested in November; 30% new oak, 10 month battonage. Complex and nutty with notes of straw, toast, pear and spice, as well as some peachy richness. The palate has great concentration with minerality and high acidity. Dense, focused spicy fruit, with vivid lemon character and a touch of grapefruit pith. Dense and structured. 93/100

Domaine Nigri Confluences 2012 Jurançon Sec, France
Monein terroir, 80% Petit Manseng, 10% Camarelet, 10% Lauzet. Harvested October, no new oak. Supple, bright and elegant fruit here. Some wax and herb notes under the apple and pear fruit. Lovely fruitiness with a lemony freshness, as well as a hint of tangerine. Drinking beautifully, this is a lovely wine with a rounded, fruity personality. 93/100

The final wine is a remarkable one. It's what is known as a unicorn wine: people hear of them but they never see them. Jamie reckons he has all the available stock in the world of this vintage, regarded to be one of the best ever: 6 bottles. This cost more than Yquem at £260 a bottle wholesale. The vineyard is in the Chapelle de Rousse terroir, a small amphitheatre facing E/ES (catching the morning sun not afternoon) and it's 100% Petit Manseng planted in 1925. Yields are a paltry 10 hectolitres/hectare, and there are 1000 bottles (roughly) of dry and sweet wine from the 1.8 hectares. It's aged in old oak (from Yquem and de Fargue) for three or four years, and then bottled for release any time between 5 and 20 years later.

Clos Joliette Jurançon Sec 1970
Bronze/gold colour. So complex and spicy with amazing acidity, and notes of toast, nuts, wwax, herbs and vanilla. There are also peaches, apricots, grapefruit and barley sugar. The palate has a tangy lemon character with amazing concentration and a long finish with hints of salted caramel. Remarkable wine. 96/100

Jamie and Jessica don't want to make a sweet wine, but we tried a couple anyway. On this theme, walking into a local caviste they got some strange looks when they announced, 'we're just here for the secs.'

We finished with some sweeter wines and a red:

Clos Cancaillou Crème de Tete 2008 Jurançon, France
Monien terroir, 50% Petit Manseng, 50% Gros Manseng, November harvest, no oak. Sweet, smooth and pure with nice pear and citrus notes. It has a savouriness, with hints of wax and lanolin, along with some spice. Sweet with nice texture to the pear and quince fruit. 90/100

Clos Cancaillou Crème de Tete 1983 Jurançon, France
Monien terroir, 50% Petit Manseng, 50% Gros Manseng, November harvest, no oak. Sweet and rich with some oxidation. Notes of honey and spice, pear and minerals. A bit phenolic. Some almond and baked apple richness as well as savoury structure. Nicely complex, warm and rich. 91/100

Domaine Vigneau la Juscle 2010 Jurançon, France
Harvested in January, just one in three vintages end up being picked, and yields are around 8 hl/ha. Gold colour. Wonderfully complex and bold with amazing apricot and grapefruit notes as well as some melon. Rich, viscous and intense with remarkable complexity and freshness. This is an incredible sweet wine. 95/100

Vigneau La Juscle La Fontaine du Chat NV Vin de France
This is from the 2011 vintage and is a blend of Syrah/Merlot from north-facing vineyards above Lasseaube in Saint-Faust. Very meaty, fresh and bright with sweet peppery fruit. Supple, sweet and smooth with great definition. Made in open-top fibre glass fermenters without any sulfur dioxide additions. Supple, smooth and pure with such drinkable elegance. 92/100

Wines tasted 11/13  
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