Food in France is regional. So it was no surprised that when we left Burgundy and entered the Jura region the restaurant menus changed reflecting the specialties of the current region. Burgundy’s big three, the jambon persillé, bœuf bourguignon, and escargot, are less frequently seen in Jura restaurants. Replacing them are dishes built around the specialties of the Jura: The sausage, the ham, the famous cheeses, and the distinctive wines.
Of the Jura specialties there is one dish that I judge to be pilgrimage worthy: Le poulet au vin jaune et morilles or in English, “Chicken with a cream sauce made with the local yellow wine and morel mushrooms”. We like this dish so much while in Burgundy we would take short road trips from our base to the Jura to hunt it down. It is worth the search.
To understand what’s special about poulet au vin jaune et morilles you have to understand the dishes key ingredient, the region’s famous yellow wine, vin jaune. Vin jaune is made with late harvest Savagnin grape, definitely not to be confused with very different and more user friendly Sauvignon Blanc. Aside from the unusual varietal, the wine’s production process involves steps that most traditional wine makers avoid like the plague. The end product is an oxidized, yellow, and slightly funky wine, not typical traits of a fine wine. It’s most closely reminiscent of Spanish sherry. But unlike sherry it’s not a fortified wine.
Vin jaune is not a wine for everyone. Indeed, any time we order it in a restaurant in the Jura we are interviewed by the waiter to see if we know what we are getting in to. It’s only after the waiter is certain that we understand what we are requesting that we are allowed to purchase a bottle or a glass. Undoubtedly there are many foreigners who order a bottle of the expensive local yellow wine only to reject it at the table after tasting a sample. It is easy for one unfamiliar with vin jaune to think the wine they are sampling has gone off. And they are right. By any normal wine standard vin jaune would be judged to have spoiled.
Perhaps Vin Jaune is possibly best categorized as an acquired taste. Indeed, chances are that if we hadn’t spent a lot of time in nearby Burgundy getting Wanderlust repaired we would not have developed an appreciation for this particular wine. But we did and now it is a wine we seek out. It is particularly good with the region’s cheese fondue and, of course, especially appropriate for poulet au vin jaune et morilles.
Chicken in yellow wine is a dish that is all about the sauce. There’s a synergy between the intense earthiness of the morels and the nutty flavor and residual acid of the wine. It’s all held together by beautiful thick rich French cream. The flavors of the chicken, preferably the famous white chicken from the nearby Bresse region, are there also. But mostly the chicken acts as the canvas for the luxurious, complex, and slightly funky sauce. This is a dish where it is good to have bread available to sop up the remaining sauce at the end.
Poulet au vin jaune et morilles is a dish worth seeking out. There are many good reasons to visit the Jura; it is one of France’s most beautiful departments. But for us, poulet au vin jaune on its own is enough.