Burgundy, with its fresh and friendly attitude towards wine production, is perhaps the most historically significant wine region in France. The scale of its vineyards contrasts the 50ha average of Bordeaux, and so does the wine making approach. Between Lyon and Dijon dwell mainly tiny estates split between farming French families, not as much insurance and luxury brands as in Bordeaux. The Burgundians have made wine mainly from the terroir and winemaking technique expressive chardonnay in whites and the sensitive and for most wine connoisseurs the most impressive red varietal – Pinot Noir. No blending, single grape varietals express that unique French term, terroir, best. For everyday simple pleasure there is Aligoté, that unlike the jewels of Burgundy have not found much of their way out of the region, so it is consumed locally.
Burgundy versus Bordeaux
As my friend, a wine connoisseur, said: “In this economically challenging time it is Burgundy which caught my attention. It offers high quality wines while the prices are kept much lower compared to Bordeaux.”
I took his words to heart and decided to explore it first hand. I packed my wine guidebook and boarded the plane from Heathrow to Lyon. What I found were valleys of price differences. Value in Macon and other Southern appellations mounted in the Everest of wine – La Tache and DRC around Vosne-Romanee. Visiting some of the top estates is virtually impossible unless you have the right contacts. On the other spectrum of vinous tourism though are the tastings, literally, in the homes of the producers. Authenticity still rules in this region, over the plush tasting rooms. There are some grander chateaux, such as Chateau Meursault and some negotiants, wine producers who buy grapes rather than grow themselves, and market them well, but overall it feels lovely rural. If I throw the ball, I can compare the farming-oriented Sonoma with Burgundy and the spectacle of Napa in California with Bordeaux.
While landing I observed the astonishingly colourful landscape of autumnal Burgundy, wondering if one can eschew cars and cycle or walk instead. As I learned soon, one can do either. Cycling paths between the villages are well signposted and so are the walking off the wine you drunk trails.
Beaune is surrounded by villages with pompous names in the wine parlance like Aloxe-Corton, Pommard, Savigny-lés-Beaune, Meursault, Volnay, Vosne-Romaneé, Puligny – and Chasagne-Montrachet. If we judge by wine, than Beaune is the king of Burgundy.
Dijon is famous for its luscious mustard and Lyon for its outnumbered Michelin star restaurants (in 2009, there are 37 of which three have three Michelin stars!). But if we talk wine, it is Beaune and the villages around bursting with the most spectacular vineyards.
Producers around Beaune
The town itself is located in Côtè de Beaune just below the Côtè de Nuits. The later a home of Domaine Louis Jadot, Madamme Leroy and the most bang for the bank Domaine de la Romanée Conti. All within 20 minutes by car from Beaune. In Côtè de Beaune, some great negotiants and producers like Bouchard Pére & Fils, Domaine des Comtes Lafon and Domaine Bonneau du Martray figure on the labels of the world famous wines.
Bouchard Pére & Fils is located right in the centre of Beaune at Rue du Château. Its best wines are Chevalier-Montrachet and the long named Beaune Gréves Vigne de l’Enfant Jésus.
A stone throw from the town is Domaine des Comtes Lafon producing Meursault from the outstanding terroir Perriéres where the premier cru quality chardonnay is planted. It is a much better choice than the touristy Château de Meursault that has vineyards at Perriéres as well. I have tasted a couple of wines from this 11th century property and was disappointed by lack of complexity. Still, as an experience, I really enjoyed sipping from the freely available open bottles while touring the 800,000 bottles cellar under the castle.
Where to eat
Eat at the ultra-casual and superb daily-changing menu of Caves Madeleine. The more upscale Bistro de L’Hotel offers not only typical Burgundian food, and its Gratin truffles will blow your mind (the local Chicken of Bresse is also a must try), but also a wide choice of local wines. The Beaune 1er Gréves 2006 – De Montille was so tender and fruity, that we drunk the bottle before the cheese tray arrived! The wines by the glass on the award-winning list are also interesting to sip on to broaden one’s palate.
What is amazing about Beaune’s wines is that they can be enjoyed young – tasting gentle with a refreshing zing of acidity, but not as much as in the more age-worthy crus further away. Even though there is not a single Grand Cru in the area, the wines won’t disappoint you. We all have different preferences and if your taste buds are like mine, the fresh juicy reds from Savigny-lés-Beaunes will make you very happy.
Further info about the region: www.terroir-france.com/wine/bourgogne