There are dark and brooding red wines, light and joyous red wines, and everything in between, and all can be delicious and satisfying - they all have their place. Poulsard, though, exists almost outside of the spectrum of red wine. As far as I know, Poulsard is vinified only in the Jura region of France. The grapes are relatively large and therefore have a low skin to juice ratio - the opposite of what is prized in say, Burgundy Pinot Noir. And the skins are not heavily pigmented. The resulting wine tends to be light in color, almost like a rosé.
But don't be fooled by the light color as these are, when well grown and well made, powerful and structured wines with great depth of aroma and flavor. Unusual aromas and flavors, too. The fruit veers towards pomegranate, red currant, cranberry, and blood orange. That sounds precious because it's so specific - but I promise you that it is true. I often find dried roses on the nose, in addition to those same bright fruits, and sometimes a salty, chalky bass note. Perhaps I haven't had enough experience with the wines, or maybe I'm just missing something, but I find that the wines are more about fruit and particularity of structure than they are about minerals and earth. The structure can be surprising, by the way, because it is firm, while the wine appears to be so light and delicate.
I love drinking Poulsard because it is such an aromatically expressive and spare red wine. It isn't a wilting lily - it's not delicate, exactly. A good Poulsard can stand up to mushrooms, steak, and other earthy hearty fare. But there is no extract, really, nothing other than the essence of the thing. This analogy is overused, but here I think it fits - Poulsard can be Burgundian in its melding of finesse, grace, and power. I misunderstood good Beaujolais for a few years because the wines are so brightly acidic and fresh. I thought of it as a light wine. Beaujolais can be joyous and light in body, but Morgon, Moulin-a-Vent, Fleurie (well, maybe Fleurie), these are not light wines. They are deeply and darkly fruited, and rich next to a Poulsard. I would drink Morgon with blood sausage, but not Poulsard.
The best Poulsards I've had are thrilling, but the problem is, the best Poulsards are quite hard to find and drink. I feel comfortable saying that Pierre Overnoy/Emmanuel Houillon make the finest Poulsard, and although Louis/Dressner imports the wine to the US, we're talking about a handful of cases for the US. I was able as recently as the 2007 vintage to walk into Chambers Street and buy this wine on the shelf for under $30. Those days are gone forever. Now the wine is just not seen on shelves, in NYC anyway. Another favorite for me is the Poulsard made by Domaine Ganevat, whose wines have also become rare and dear here in NYC.
Not long ago I found myself craving Poulsard and I realized that I haven't had a bottle since the end of 2012 at this amazing dinner in Stockholm. I knew that I would buy and drink Poulsard, but which one? What should I be drinking, if I'm not drinking Overnoy or Ganevat? I decided to gather a few friends who also appreciate the glory of this very light and strange grape, to buy every Poulsard we could find, and drink them together over dinner.
Three years ago I did a small Poulsard tasting and there were 5 wines I found to include. Last week I found 11 wines and chose to include 9 of them, and this excludes Overnoy and Ganevat. This probably reflects the rising popularity of Jura wines in general, and also the diligent work of several importers, and people like Sophie Barrett of Chambers Street Wines, who believe in the wines and want to offer them to curious customers. I'm sorry to say that on our recent Poulsard evening all of the tasters were a little bit underwhelmed by the wines as a group, but we agreed that a few of them were quite good.
I've always found that Poulsard is reductive and funky when first opened, and does much better when decanted. And so we decanted our bottles and drank them slowly with a feast of Middle Eastern food. Following are my impressions, but I want to mention that some of the wines that did not impress me on this night were better on other nights, in different vintages. All of the wines cost between $20 and $30, and are currently available on (some) NYC shelves.
My favorite wines:
Wines that I liked, but might not buy again:
2011 Domaine de Montbourgeau Côtes du Jura Poulsard, imported by Neal Rosenthal Wine Merchant. I was surprised at how this wine showed because 1) Montbourgeau makes great wine; and 2) the Poulsard, while not the shining star of the Montbourgeau lineup, is still quite good. This wine was so forward and candied in its fruit and it didn't feel balanced, or all that interesting. But it was drinkable and pleasant for whatever that's worth.
Wines that showed poorly:
2010 Puffeney Arbois Poulsard, imported by Neal Rosenthal Wine Merchant. I don't know...Puffeney is "The Pope of the Jura," and I respect him immensely as a producer, and love his Trousseau, but I don't think I'm a fan of his Poulsard. This one was candied fruit and awkward, not rewarding.
Sadly, our bottle of 2011 Domaine des Marnes Blanches, imported by Selection Massale, was corked.