One of the passions that Sara and I share is for wine. For more than a decade now, I in particular have been enchanted by the wines of Burgundy. In the wine world, this isn’t exactly a niche interest – Burgundy is one of the most famous and prestigious wine regions worldwide – but it is something of a generational one: our parents might have been more likely to prefer the velvety and heavy wines of Bordeaux, while younger folks seem to prefer the esoteric, funky, and individualistic wines that emerge from the varied terroirs of Burgundy.
(Sadly, too, Burgundy wine isn’t a particularly affordable passion, as Burgundy prices now rival Bordeaux and any other wine region in the world. This has particularly occurred over the past decade or so, as international speculators, particularly from East Asia, have driven up prices in what amounts to a search for investment properties. Will anyone actually drink those bottles? It seems a shame. For that matter, will anyone actually live in all those glassy high-rises in midtown Manhattan…?)
Anyway. When we were planning our France trip, a visit to Burgundy was a must. We chose Beaune, the small but mighty heart of the region, as our home base from which to explore the wines and wineries of the Côte d’Or – the evocatively-named “golden slope,” home to many of the greatest wines in the world.
The idea was to mix in exploration of Beaune itself with bike rides to various vineyards, where we might taste young and old wines and form a more complete understanding of the region. I’d called ahead to several winemakers and arranged visits (a must, in this prestigious region). Unfortunately, we hadn’t counted on a major heat wave (during which temperatures routinely exceeded 100 Freedom Degrees). Given that we were traveling by bike, riding to vineyards would be at best unpleasant and at worst hazardous, so I had to cancel our appointments. We were marooned in Beaune.
Fortunately for us, Beaune is a splendid place (if something of a playground for the rich), and we had plenty to do and plenty of opportunities to connect with wine even within the town. Highlights included:
- a great food market in the city center on Saturday
- an afternoon class at a wine tasting school, including a history of Burgundy, fundamentals of tasting and identifying wines, and a tasting of seven Burgundies including several premier cru and grand cru wines
- viewing – from the exterior only – the flamboyant Hôtel-Dieu, which was founded as an almshouse in the 15th century, evolved into something of a hospital complex, and now hosts a major wine auction every November
- cooking a few meals in our Airbnb and pairing them with some very nice wines bought at any of the million wine shops in town
One of the last things we did in Beaune was take a tour of the Edmond Fallot mustard factory! For this former co-editor of MustardAddict magazine, this trip to the last mustard-maker in Beaune was sheer joy. We got to see their old production equipment, learned all about the history of moutarde de Dijon and moutarde de Beaune, tried our hand at making our own mustard (simpler than you’d think, but I prefer their quality over our own), and sampled a thousand and one flavors of mustard (standouts included walnut, tarragon, and curry).
So, even though we had had to hole up in town more than we’d have liked, we still had a great time in Beaune.
As the day of our departure approached, we had a decision to make. We knew we needed to get to Milan by July 29th, because we had a plane to catch. (More on that later.) I had in mind to bike across the Alps from France to Italy, following Hannibal’s possible route through the Maurienne valley, while Sara was opting for the rather saner option of not crossing the Alps by loaded bicycle, instead taking the train to Milan. However, train logistics proved extremely complicated and the weather still wasn’t cooperating, to the point where even I questioned the wisdom of riding 60-mile days in a humidity-adjusted heat index pushing 110 degrees. So we bit the bullet and rented a car, which turned out to be a great move for a whole variety of reasons, but the reason that’s relevant to this post is that it allowed us to drive south through the Côte de Beaune (the southern part of the Côte d‘Or) and visit a few wineries on our way out of Burgundy.
This part was just great. It was magical being in the midst of the Golden Slope, toodling our way from tiny famous towns like Pommard to tiny famous towns like Meursault. I dare say that, regarding the greatest appellations, even more ink than grape juice is spilled each year. For a small taste of this, consider just this one blog post, some two thousand words long, about a single premier cru vineyard in Meursault. To be fair, we got to taste a wine made by Château de Cîteaux (in Meursault) of grapes from Les Perrières vineyard, and it was really exceptional.
Then, before we knew it, we had left the Côte de Beaune and crossed over into the Côte Chalonnaise to the south. Despite all our foiled plans, we had a grand time in Burgundy, and we are both eager to return, preferably at a moment in our lives when we have a better-defined income stream.