Touring Burgundy Wine Country

Wednesday – Friday, October 1 – 3, 2008

Wednesday we woke to a very overcast day with rain threatening. We decided to go into Beaune as it was market day and is always fun to browse through the stalls and stroll around the ancient walled city.

First, however, we thought we would explore the neighboring village of Levernois. From all appearances, it is a pretty upscale area, with impressive houses and manicured parks. It also is home to a golf course – not exactly commonplace in France. We checked out several small hotels and restaurants that looked quite attractive, and then took a quick tour through the grounds of the Hostellerie Levernois, a Relais and Chateaux property known for its plush accommodations and fine food. The grounds were expansive and quite impressive, strewn at random with Botero look-alike statues. We made a mental note that this might be a nice place to stay or dine on our next visit to Beaune.

After exploring the town and checking out part of the golf course, we headed into Beaune. There was a small marché (market) going on, so we checked it out. Lots of Burgundian knick knacks, plus cheeses, meats, and produce, but we passed on buying anything. We checked out several wine caves to see what selections they offered. As there are literally thousands of vineyards in Burgundy, some less than an acre, choosing wines is a real task. There are many good shippers, but most own small plots throughout the country, so you still have to decide which to choose…then there’s the matter of the vintage. We decided to taste some wines at a shop called “Magnum” which had a nice selection and an impressive roster of older vintages. Bev had a Chassagne Montrachet white, and David a Nuits St. George red. Both were excellent. We decided it was time for lunch and that we would return to purchase after our meal.

We headed for Le Grande Bleu, an enjoyable restaurant a short stroll from the central square. We had dined there before and it was very good, so a repeat visit seemed in order. It specializes in seafood with a Burgundian flavor. Bev had a lobster, while David had œufs en meurette (eggs poached in red burgundy with ham and onions). Both were excellent, and the Meursault we ordered was perfect with both.

After lunch, it was back to the process of serious wine shopping. We bought two red and two white Burgundies at Magnum for starters. Then we strolled around the corner to Alain Hess, which specializes in fine cheeses, gourmet foods, and wine. We reluctantly passed on the cheeses, so they are reported to be the best in Beaune, and picked up a couple of other items essential to our travels: pappardelle pasta from Italy, and a good crème de Cassis so we can make Kirs when we are in our house. We couldn’t resist a bottle of Pierre Morey’s 2002 Meursault – something for a special occasion. We packed up our purchases, headed back to the car, and then to our hotel.

That evening, we enjoyed a wonderful dinner at Cave des Arches www.caveau-des-arches.com , located in the old part of Beaune. The dining areas are below ground in old wine caves, which makes for a great setting. The menu offered a lot of interesting options, the wine list extensive and affordable, and the service good, so the evening and meal were both enjoyable.

Back at our hotel we shared a nightcap with two men from San Francisco who were visiting Burgundy for the first time. They were not conversant in French, or wines, so most the time to date had ordered red when they wanted white, and vice versa. Bev pointed out the two key words to look for ‘blanc’ and ‘rouge’ and they were as delighted as if they had discovered fire.

The next morning we packed up the car and headed…north. No, Millie was not sending us in the wrong direction, we simply wanted to check out villages in the north of Burgundy (Cote de Nuits) before heading to the south to our hotel. We roamed through the villages of Flagey Echezaux, Chambolle Musigny, Vosnee Romanee, Nuits St. George, and Gevrey Chambertin, looking for good photo ops. Unfortunately, the sun hid behind angry grey clouds most the time, so we had little success.

Giving up, we drove south to Puligny Montrachet  and our hotel, Le Montrachet (www.Le-Montrachet.com ). We were greeted by Corinne, the delightful long-time assistant manager and given the tour of the new expansion. It has been some years since we were here last, so the new lounge, dining room, and bar area were all new to us, and quite impressive. Then, David lugged everything up to our ‘usual  room’ before we headed to Meursault for a quick snack. That night we had a great dinner in the new dining room – mushroom tarte and lobster salad followed by a whole Poularde de Bresse (chicken) served two ways. After a wonderful meal, off to our chamber.

Friday was wine touring day. We headed south to Chassagne Montrachet, first driving through the Grands Cru vineyards of Le Montrachet. These are arguably the best white wines in the world, about two dozen plots on the gentle slopes above Puligny Montrachet. The output from less than 100 acres is all there is, which is why a bottle costs $200 and up. We next went past the equally famous Grand Cru vineyards of Batard Montrachet and Chevalier Montrachet, a bit less expensive, but just as fabulous. We made a mental note to have a bottle of Batard from our cellar when we get home (we have five left) and headed into the village of Chassagne Montrachet. Burgundy villages are smaller and more basic than you find elsewhere – the mayor’s office, post office, maybe a store or two, and dozens of vineyard “offices.” Normally the garage or barn of an old building crammed with equipment, bottles, etc. Chassagne has one restaurant, Le Chassagne (www.restaurant-lechassagne.com), which has a Michelin star and serves light Burgundian fare. Judging by the cars parked everywhere, we were sure that the tiny restaurant was jammed, so were surprised when we walked in and found it empty. Bon chance. We had a great wine and fabulous meal (surprise, oeufs en meurette again for David) and then went downstairs to buy some wine from their cellar. Two bottles of an excellent Chateau Maltroye and two bottles of Bourgogne Aligote (for making Kir) found their way into the trunk. More touring, then back to the hotel.

Dinner at Le Montrachet started out well. Thierry Gazagnes, the owner who we first met 11 years ago greeted us warmly and sat us in his new lounge with wine. We were seated in a bit, and began our meal. The dining room filled up as we ate, and it became apparent that the kitchen was not totally up to speed serving a full house – they had only just re-opened in July. It was almost 40 minutes from appetizer to main course, 25 minutes from main course to dessert, and 20 minutes for a cup of tea. Almost three hours for a three-course meal. The staff seemed to grow flustered and tired as things wore on.  I’m sure that Thierry will work things out. The food is outstanding, so it’s just a matter of getting the staff coordinated and up to speed.

Off to bed, then we will back in the morning, give Millie a pain chocolate and coffee, and head south to our home in Eygalières.

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