The exotic taste of Jurançon

Twice, over the last couple of weeks, I tasted a 2005 dry Jurançon called Cuvée Marie, made by Charles Hours (and his daughter Marie, I believe) at Clos Uroulat. What a trip to take in the middle of winter: here is a wine jumping at you with exotic fruit flavors: guava, passionfruit, a touch of grapefruit, and a bit of fresh coconut on top of that. Like a piña colada, without the hard liquor and hangover. And as a bonus, this wine from southwest France, right at the foothills of the Pyrénées, made from 90% Gros Manseng and 10% courbu, had a lovely structure, and a lively acidity that could soften up nicely over the next few years as the wine matures and develops.

The high acidity, while a little sharp for sipping the wine on its own, just now, is terrific when drinking the wine with, say, a dish of monkfish baked with rosemary and served over a freshly-crushed tomato sauce: in such a context, it uplifts the fish, while the ripe fruit wraps around the whole dish to broaden the range of flavors. Quite nice.

The acidity, typical of gros manseng (and petit manseng, which is the third varietal allowed in the appellation, with courbu) is also key to Jurançon’s reputation for producing sweet, dessert wines. Without acidity, sweet wines are just jammy and overly sweet.

This particular character of Jurançon wines is best exemplified by Henri Ramonteu’s Domaine Cauhapé, where he produces the whole range of wines, from the very dry Chant des Vignes to the syrupy, concentrated, ice-wine-like Folie de Janvier. It’s quite a spectacular range, all with good ageing potential and nuances for every type of meal. But not, as I recall, the exuberant tropical-drink folly of Cuvée Marie…