Have you ever read about Wilt Chamberlin’s record-setting rookie NBA season? Or what about Jimi Hendrix’s first live performances in London in 1966? Legend has it that Hendrix’s virtuosity left rock royalty like Eric Clapton and the Rolling Stones contemplating early retirement. The fact is, not every young talent requires years of grooming and dues-paying to achieve greatness—some people are bonafide superstars at birth. Such is the case with Joseph Dorbon, the man behind today’s stupendous Jura red.
It felt like a bomb had been dropped on the sommelier community when these wines first arrived in the US last year. Their astonishing quality immediately made it clear that Dorbon is “The Next Big Thing” in the Jura. Today we are offering Dorbon’s rarest (and what I consider his best) red, the 2015 “Les Bernardines.” This exquisite single-vineyard blend of old-vine Pinot Noir and Poulsard proves why top-quality Jura reds are among the most sought-after wines on Earth. Just like Hendrix, you’ll never forget your first “Dorbon experience.” Love fine red Burgundy? This will be you favorite new discovery.
I don’t fault anyone for exercising caution in France’s Jura region. I’ll be the first to say that for every great, life-changing bottle that emerges from the hillside village of Arbois, it seems like there are 10 other ones that disappoint or worse, are deeply flawed. Still, there’s a shortlist of top producers who seem to have “cracked the code” and release outstanding, world-class wine every vintage. Houillon-Overnoy, Jacques Puffeney, Jean-François Ganevat—these are wines that sommeliers and collectors fight over every release, locking the wines into an endless cycle of higher prices and tighter availability. Fortunately, for those of us who don’t have unlimited financial resources and time with which to pursue Jura wines, there is a new name in the Jura producing wines of extraordinary quality and bulletproof consistency.
Joseph Dorbon is the proprietor of a small bed & breakfast in the small village of Vadans, across the road from Montigny-lès-Arsures (one of the region’s most prized hillsides) and six miles north of Arbois, the viticultural epicenter of Jura. Dorbon began farming grapes and producing wine in 1996 but has stayed almost entirely out of the public eye until quite recently. He works a small collection of vineyards and the microscopic amount of wine they produce initially flowed exclusively to guests of Dorbon’s B&B and local restaurants, but quickly became a sought after “secret treasure” for devoted Jura collectors and sommeliers.
The vines that produce today’s wine are located in “Les Bernardines,” a single parcel of 40+-year-old Pinot Noir and Poulsard planted in the region’s famed limestone and clay soil. Dorbon’s vines are in the final stage of achieving official organic certification and are tilled by horse and harvested by hand. The clusters are de-stemmed and fermented with natural, airborne yeasts before aging in stainless steel for one year, followed by further aging in neutral 225-liter French oak barrels. This gradual, patient process holds more in common with cellars one hour west in Burgundy than it does with some of Dorbon’s more progressive neighbors in the Jura. In other words, this is not a funky, spritzy, “challenging” Jura wine. On the contrary, Dorbon’s careful and judicious work in the vines and cellar creates a gorgeously refined red that owes equal homage to Burgundy and its native alpine terroir.
Joseph Dorbon’s 2015 “Les Bernardines” Vieilles Vignes (old vines) slowly blossoms with a breeze of Alpine flowers, savory mushrooms, and herbs. With a few minutes of air, the wine’s vivid fruit emerges in all its glory. Ornate strawberry and rhubarb notes fill the glass—not just the fruit, but the strawberry stems and foliage, and all the finest details of moist soil surrounding it. As with all the greatest Jura reds, one glass of this wine instantly transports you directly to Joseph Dorbon’s rural hillside vineyard. 2015 is a dream vintage in an inconsistent, marginal climate like the Jura and this wine’s fruit, minerality, and freshness are all turned up a notch. That’s great news for the aging potential of this bottle, and I expect it will continue opening up and improving well into the mid 2020s. The vintage’s characteristic softness and ripeness (relatively speaking—this is still the Jura!) also means it is absolutely delicious today. Please decant for 20-30 minutes and serve in large Burgundy stems at 55-60 degrees. I love Jura reds with mushrooms and can confirm that today’s bottle was absolutely singing last weekend alongside a plate of Marc Vetri’s famed tagliatelle. It’s not necessarily a “classic” food/wine pairing, but perhaps it should be!
Ploussard (Poulsard) 60%, Pinot Noir 40%
Limestone & Clay