|horse ploughing the field, Clos-de-Bèze Grand Cru, Gevrey-Chambertin|
I stayed in Beaune, the main town of the Côte de Beaune. This proved to be a great base, not only because of its location. It's a vibrant town, brought to life by the wine trade but with beautiful architecture, good but surprisingly affordable restaurants, and a lively nightlife (well, for a French town). Even more surprising given my many visits across France, the locals were extremely friendly and welcoming.
It doesn't take long to get from Beaune to the famous wine villages. Hiring a bike is a good way to explore the nearest villages: Pommard is just down the road, and before you realise it you're in Volnay. The land is quite flat, the greatest vineyards on gentle slopes that rise up to plateaux home to forests rather than vines. The villages are small and sleepy, with a restaurant or two to cater for passing tourists. They're so close to one another, the back streets connecting each village, separated just by a world-class vineyard or two.
Beaune is slightly further from the Côtes de Nuits, but it's still an easy drive. This northern part of the Côte d'Or is less beautiful and the villages (especially Vosne-Romanée) more austere and less welcoming. It is home, however, to vineyards so famous and expensive that it's startling to see them lying protected by nothing more than a low stone wall.
There's little about standing next to a Grand Cru to suggest that it produces wine worth hundreds, if not thousands, of euros a bottle. Only a church-like stone gate distinguishes them from the vineyards around them. All the vines look identical, trained on the single Guyot system. Many producers in Burgundy are organic or biodynamic and the vineyards have lots of beautiful wild flowers growing between the vines.
Visiting the vineyards is something of a religious experience: like a cathedral, they are peaceful, secluded, and have been in the same spot for over a thousand years.
Walking up to some of the most expensive vineyards in the world presents no problem, but actually tasting the wine made from them does. The wineries are located in small, family buildings in the villages and are largely closed to the public, very few of them offering tastings.
One winery that has a tasting room is Domaine LeFlaive in Puligny-Montrachet, though it's pricey: €40 for four tasting samples. In Beaune, Joseph Drouhin give a 90-minute tour of their historic winery, costing €38 per person, visiting the cold, ancient underground cellars with wines dating back to the beginning of the twentieth century and war tales of resistance fighters escaping the Nazis. At the end of the tour, there's a chance to taste six of Drouhin's wines.
|old press at Joseph Drouhin|
My sister and I stopped off at a wine shop in the small village of Morey-St-Denis. The owner was happy to give us a tasting of three of the village's wines: a Village and two Premiers Crus. After tasting them, my sister asked if she could taste the Village wine again (wishing to save some money and buy a wine she could actually drink now). The woman paused and reddened: "I don't think that would be possible. It is not easy to taste a Village wine after a Premier Cru. You would not be able to appreciate it." "But I just want to see if I still like it." A deep intake of breath, a shake of the head, and a reluctant pour. Nevertheless, my sister bought the wine. "Do you have a cellar?" the woman asked. "No." The woman cradled the bottle close to her: "Then how are you going to age the wine?"
This is the major problem with the wines of Burgundy. In the area itself, the wines are not that expensive (certainly cheaper than they are in the UK or US) but they need plenty of time to age before they are ready to drink. The whites we tasted from the 2010 and 11 vintages are still quite closed, while the reds are intense and surprisingly tannic. If you don't have the patience or wherewithal to age the wines, then it's difficult to justify buying them. However, most wine shops and restaurants do sell wine from past vintages, and I came away from Joseph Drouhin with a 1998 Côte de Beaune for just €35.
|A Burgundy tractor|