Trousseau is somewhat of a mystery to many wine drinkers. Indigenous to the Jura region of France, in the town of Montigny-les-Arsures, the dark-skinned grape varietal has quite the history in Europe and is known to have been cultivated for at least 200 years under a variety of names. Curiously, until recently it has most widely been known in Portugal as Bastardo where it is made into dry red table wines as well as their most famous exports, Porto and Madeira. In Spain, it can be found under other names, Merenzao and Verdejo Negro, where it is used both alone and in red blends.
The most compelling Trousseau are those that can be coaxed into a subtle and balanced expression of tart red fruit, minerality and mossy earth. Trousseau can easily become a high-octane wine, due to the naturally abundant sugars in the grape varietal. Due to this, it can be considered fully ripe and ready to pick when at a lower sugar level than other varietals, thus producing a wine that is higher in acid with less alcohol.
I first discovered Trousseau while “palate trouncing” through the wines of the Jura in my first years in the restaurant world. I was instantly taken by these unusual and rustic wines, at times confused by their strangeness and curious as to what made them so much different than the polished New and Old-World wines to which I’d become so accustomed. The initial rawness and brutality impressed but intimidated me. I was confused but not put off. As I began to dig deeper into the world of Jura wine, I discovered there existed a subtlety and odd grace to these wines that I had never had the opportunity of tasting. Odd grace – like an elephant on ice skates.
Let’s not beat around the bush: I have fallen for Trousseau. I am drawn to varietals with strange minerality and evocative dark forest matter, bright and light fruit piercing through the undergrowth to create a truly compelling wine. It can take on notes of light and bright sour cherries, ripe red fruit and expiring green matter or, depending on vinification technique, become a pungent, alcohol-driven, red fruit beast in need of a good chill. It is the forgotten street poet of grapes – full of nuance, easily irritable (thus “Bastardo”), and waiting for recognition of its subtle, easily-overlooked beauty.
New World winemakers are clearly catching on to the appeal of the varietal and Trousseau plantings are popping up with established producers’ names attached throughout the West Coast of the U.S., notably in regions where Pinot Noir, Gamay, and other Burgundian varietals have shown a success.
For the wine drinker who appreciates Pinot Noir and Gamay, these wines should easily appeal. This is food wine: gracefully footed with delightful acid and bright, pungent fruit expression, offering excellent pairing opportunities.
Pair Trousseau with: Game birds, smoked pork, berry reduction sauces, paté, or hard cow’s milk cheese (Morbier, e.g.).
“Bring in the bottled lightning, a clean tumbler, and a corkscrew.” - Dickens
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