On a recent Friday night, my wife and I had some friends over to chat about life, careers, their upcoming wedding, food, and, of course wine. We put out a spread of Italian cheese and salumi - and ended up drinking a bunch of French wines. First off was a dry, slightly austere, sparkling Chenin Blanc from the Touraine, followed by some '06 Thivin Côte de Brouilly, a Bourgogne Rouge... and, finally, alongside some dry-pan-roasted mussels, sprinkled simply with black pepper, a 1997 Philippe Vandelle "L'Etoile" Vin Jaune.
Vin Jaune, you ask? This article in the New York Times and another, much more in-depth, piece in The Art of Eating, turned me on to the wonders of this wine. Made from the Savignin grape, the wine is very nutty, much like sherry, complex and really rather yummy. Shortly after reading the two articles last year, I picked up several bottles of both red and white from the Jura region (near the French Alps, south of Geneva, Switzerland). While many of the area's reds (made from Poulsard, Trousseau, and Pinot Noir for example) are enjoyed young(ish), Vin Jaunes are best enjoyed after considerable aging. Most bottles I got came from the 2000-2002 vintages.
Fortunately, my wife's cousin was doing an internship with a snowboard design firm in the region, and offered to bring something "local" back for us. While I would have loved for her to smuggle in some raw milk cheese, I (half jokingly) asked her for some Vin Juane... and she delivered! She brought back a bottle of 1997 wine from L'Etoile, located slightly south of the more famous Arbois. It was a real treat - nutty, deep, rich - but not too thick, balanced with wonderful acidity, and, overall, a perfect foil/mate for those smoky mussels.
These kinds of wines are not available everywhere - and are certainly not for everyone (in fact most people, even most French, will find them a bit weird)... but if you are adventuresome or curious, check 'em out.