Let’s start with a quick foray into wine nomenclature: “Oxidized” refers to wines that have been given prolonged exposure to oxygen, usually by mistake. “Oxidative” refers to wines that have been given a smaller, gentler dose of oxygen, usually deliberately. With rare exception, oxidized is considered a fatal flaw, the result of a winemaking screwup or poor storage. By contrast, oxidative is typically a stylistic choice by winemakers, one often born of tradition.
There is a thin line between oxidized and oxidative, a sometimes subjective distinction that turns on intent and expectations. White Burgundies, for instance, are not supposed to show signs of oxidation; when they do, they get poured down the drain. Sherries, on the other hand, are purposely exposed to oxygen; the oxidative character is a key part of what makes sherry sherry. Among sommeliers, journalists, and a small, energetic subset of consumers, oxidative wines have become wildly fashionable of late. Sherry is very trendy at the moment, for instance, and so are the wines of the Jura region of eastern France, many of which are produced in an oxidative style. It is widely thought that the best wines in the Jura are made by Jacques Puffeney, who is based in the Arbois appellation and is known as the Pope of Arbois.
The son of a vineyard worker, Puffeney worked for a time making the local cheese, Comté, before acquiring enough vines to devote himself full-time to viticulture. Puffeney makes both reds and whites, using both well-known grapes – pinot noir and chardonnay – and some obscure varieties native to the Jura, namely savagnin, a white wine grape. One of his bottlings, the Cuvée Sacha, combines savagnin and chardonnay, and is an excellent example of the oxidative Jura style.
The 2011 Jacques Puffeney Cuvée Sacha ($29) opens with a big whiff of honey, plus a sherrylike oxidative aroma and a citrus bass note. It is rich and pleasantly tart, with pronounced salinity on the palate (another hallmark of Jura wines). It is fair to say that the Sacha falls into the category known as “challenging wines” – if you like your white wines crisp and refreshing, or exuberantly fruity, this may not be to your liking. But it is a distinctive white that will pair smashingly with poultry dishes and with cheeses (particularly Comté), and it is as good an introduction as you can get to the wines of the Jura. As a wise man once said: Try it, you might like it.