Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Two from Tissot

Ever find yourself thinking eerily alike another? I stopped by a friend’s house not long ago to do a little tasting and cooking. For good measure I’d carried along a bottle of Domaine Tissot’s Arbois “Sélection,” one of a handful of interesting wines I’d picked up a few days earlier. As it turned out, he’d already lined up a bottle of Tissot’s Arbois Chardonnay. No advance discussion or planning, just a freak coincidence – a welcome one.

At work in the vineyards at Domaine André et Mireille Tissot
(photo courtesy of

When Stéphane Tissot began taking on more and more responsibility for the farming and winemaking at his parents André and Mireille Tissot’s estate in the mid-1990s, he immediately began a slow but sure conversion of the property to organic farming methods. That cycle moved to the next logical step with the first application of biodynamic principles in 2004, becoming “official” via full biodynamic certification by Demeter in 2005. Farming at the 32-hectare estate is natural and so too is the winemaking. All of the Tissots’ wines – as many as 28 different cuvées in any given vintage – are fermented spontaneously on their native yeasts, with sulfur used minimally if at all.

Arbois “Sélection,” Domaine André et Mireille Tissot (Stéphane et Bénédicte Tissot) 2004
$23. 13% alcohol. Cork. Importer: A Thomas Calder Selection, Potomac Selections, Landover, MD.
Tissot’s Arbois “Sélection” Blanc is a blend of 70% Chardonnay and 30% Savagnin made in an intentionally oxidative style. The two varieties are barrel fermented and aged separately for nine months, with occasional topping up of the barrels. After blending, the wine undergoes a further fifteen months of aging in barrel, this time sans ouillage (without topping up). In this environment, a partial veil of flor forms, much as with Vin Jaune though to a lesser extent, and the wine is eventually finished with a very light filtration prior to bottling, with no further sulfur treatment.

The end result is delicious. The first pour opened with a typically apple-y, oxidative nose and Sherry-like brininess and savor on the palate. As it unfolded in the glass, its flavors developed greater complexity and depth. Persimmon and kumquats, dried apricots minus their sweet-fruited aspect, sour limestone and marshmallows (yes, marshmallows). The whole package is carried along on a razor’s edge of acidity. It was mouth coating in its intensity yet not at all heavy, the flavors and texture clinging to my teeth like a free-climber might cling to a sheer rock face, with sinew, grip and desperate balance. This is certainly not for everyone but it’s one of the most exciting wines I’ve had this year. And at $23, it’s a tremendous value.

Arbois Chardonnay, Domaine André et Mireille Tissot (Stéphane et Bénédicte Tissot) 2007
$24. 13% alcohol. Cork. Importer: A Thomas Calder Selection, Potomac Selections, Landover, MD.
Quite backward – our order, that is, not the wine. In our enthusiasm to taste the “Sélection” we didn’t bother thinking about which wine to open first. It would certainly have made sense to start here but, hey, sometimes it’s more fun just to forge ahead.

This is made in a far less oxidative fashion, with spontaneous fermentation in barriques (10% new) followed by twelve months of barrel aging. Lighter and more youthful in color, as expected, it was loaded with flavors of d’Anjou pear and aromas of fresh honey and Braeburn apples, all on a taut, medium-bodied frame. Like “Sélection,” it displayed tremendous grip and energizing acidity, calling to mind Burgundian cousins such as commune level or premier cru Chablis (but with more flesh) and Viré-Clessé (but with a more intense acid and mineral profile). This could do interesting things in the cellar but it’s already drinking great. I’d love to try it with a plate of grilled scallops, completely unadorned. Definitely.

Domaine Tissot’s website, by the way, is very much worth exploring. Lots of good information about the estate as well as biodynamic farming principles, all set to a soundtrack of fermenting Savagnin.


Samantha Dugan said...

Tissot makes a delicious sparkling wine as well, good for when you can't quite eek out enough dough to splurge on the "real deal" Champagne, which with the ever rising prices is becoming more often. I love the Tissot wines but find I must be very careful who I recommend them too, kinda falls in that geek wine frame....well, guess most Jura wines do!

Wink Lorch said...

Good to see one of my favourite Jura producers written about, although with the noble exception of his Vin Jaune, I'm not particularly fond of Stéphane Tissot's traditional, oxidative whites. In fact, nor is he - he makes them really under obligation because they sell well with particularly loyal followers locally who were customers of his father (André).

The Chardonnay you tasted is just the start ... he has several single vineyard Chardonnays that are of exemplary quality, each one showing different degrees of minerality depending particularly on the soil make-up of limestone and marl.

And then there are his reds - some of the best in the Jura region. Oh yes, and his quirky sweet wines, many of which don't fall within appellation rules so must be sold as Vin de Table.

Tasting with Stéphane is an exhausting pleasure. His personal catch-phrase is 'La Vie est belle' Life is beautiful.

David McDuff said...

I'd love to have the same problem (with recommending Tissot's wines, that is). If I sold them I'd be able to drink them more often. Haven't had the bubbly yet, something I'd like to remedy soon.

Thanks for all the great information. Between these recent tastes and my past experiences with Tissot's wines, I'd be all for tasting the range at more "exhausting" depth.

I'm curious... do you dislike oxidative whites (aside from Vin Jaune) in general, or is it something particular to Tissot's?

I'm always a little perplexed when a winemaker expresses a general (non vintage specific) dislike for one of his/her own wines. Part of me respects the honesty, another part wonders why he continues to produce it just because the market wants it. In this case, I do respect the idea of maintaining a family tradition. Besides, I do like the wine!

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