Tag Archives: Burgundy

Marsannay and One Last Day in Beaune

At breakfast, we chatted with the gîte owners and the French family whose Weimaraner had, depending on whose side you were on, either attacked / or was attacked by the house cat. Apparently, there was no physical damage to the cat, but the emotional trauma was serious. The Weimaraner, who caught the worst of it, was recovering.

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We were headed up to the very northern tip of the Côte d’Or to Marsannay-la-Côte, where we had just one tasting appointment at Domaine Sylvain Pataille. First, we stopped to pick up Danielle Hammon of Le Serbet (Becky Wasserman Selections), the legendary import company who was our connection to most of the wineries we were able to visit. Danielle had been there at each of our tastings in Burgundy except for Bernard Moreau, acting as a liaison and occasional translator, although all of the winemakers spoke excellent English. For me, Danielle was also an excellent role model for how to taste professionally — swishing, savoring, and spitting with gusto, asking intelligent questions, and yet never letting anything go to her head. Also a Bay Area native but living in Beaune for the past three years, we enjoyed her company and her insider perspective on life and wine in Bourgogne.

Sylvain’s brother Laurent met us in the simple underground cave and began drawing off barrel samples of Chardonnay and Pinot from vineyards with names as intriguing as the flavors they produced: La Charme aux Prêtres (The Priest’s Charm), Clos du Roy (The King’s Enclosure), Les Grasses Têtes (The Fat Heads). We also sampled four Bourgogne Aligotés from four separate parcels, fermented and bottled separately, an unusual project that showcased the versatility of this little-known varietal.

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The cave at Sylvain Pataille, featuring barrel art by the winemaker’s little daughter.

Pataille is doing quite a few things that could be considered unusual; for one, he is experimenting with not sulfuring his wines to allow for the most natural expression of terroir possible. He also produces a rosé that is aged in oak barrels for two years, which is very rare for rosé wine. The “Fleur de Pinot” offered the fruit and floral qualities one expects from a rosé, but with beguiling vanilla and spice flavors that would make it excellent to pair with food.

Our next appointment was back in Beaune for lunch at Ma Cuisine with Paul Wasserman of Le Serbet. Ma Cuisine is probably the worst-kept secret in Burgundy; practically every person we spoke to did not just recommend but rather insisted that we go to this restaurant. Visiting Ma Cuisine with Paul made the experience even more fabulous, not only because he himself is fabulous company, but also because he knows the owners, knows the menu by heart, and speaks French as if he’s lived there his whole life (which he basically has).

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A “nerdy” bottle.

We ordered everything.

Foie gras with crispy sea salt; roast chicken with flash-fried white truffle; roast pigeon with plums (it was my first time trying pigeon, and it was incredible — somewhere between quail and duck). Naturally, we needed a bottle of red as well as a white, and with two wine geeks at the table, we ordered two “nerdy” bottles: a 2003 Meursault Les Tessons from Domaine Roulot, and Moreau’s Chassagne La Cardeuse 2011. I didn’t think I really “got” the red in particular until I had it with the food and then…I did.

And then, two hours later, there was dessert. Paul insisted that we go over to the dessert area, where the proprietress introduced us to an array of tartes and cakes that were just crying out, “pick me!” A tart-sweet apricot tarte and an almond-cream-pastry confection were the show-stoppers in an epic meal.

We more or less waddled out into the daylight and wandered around Beaune in a lovely daze. We got some culture at the Hospices de Beaune, which is even more beautiful inside than out:

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Inside the Hospices.

Then we strolled through the shops and took in the local color:

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The sign said Don’t Touch.

But deep down, we both knew we were just biding the time until we could drink again with relatively clear consciences. Honestly, there isn’t that much to do in Beaune besides wine: it’s why everyone is there.

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Drew getting serious about wine, finally.

We found what we were looking for at La Maison du Colombier, a “gastro bar” recommended by Paul Wasserman for its wine list as well as its tapas.

We focused on the wine.

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Bottle #1.

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Bottle #2

Once we drank up an appetite, we went with “simple” dishes: a marinated octopus that melted in your mouth; a Spanish ham as sweet and creamy as marzipan.

Sitting on the terrace on a warm summer evening, as the sun went down, I could have gone home right that moment, and gone home happy.

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Beaune by night.

But there was so much more to come…

And that means more for you, to come (probably) tomorrow!

Beaune, Part Deux: A Master Class in Burgundy

After a hearty breakfast of ham, cheese, and croissants at the gîte, we set off for Vosne-Romnée, a tiny commune about 30 minutes north of Beaune that is home to some of the most famous vineyards in Burgundy, if not in the world.

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Clock tower in Vosne-Romanée.

Our first stop was at Domaine Gérard Mugneret, which just so happens to be the next-door-neighbor to a little establishment known as Domaine de la Romanée-Conti. More on that later.

Pascal Mugneret led us down a short flight of stairs to the simple underground cave and began to expound on the importance of terroir in his winemaking. His goal as a winemaker, he said, is to stay out of the way of the terroir, and to let it speak for itself. He explained in detail the differences between the various soil and rock strata in the area and their role in creating the complex yet elegant Pinot Noirs that make the region’s wines world-famous.

Wine-tasting in Châteauneuf-du-Pape had been a fairly laid-back affair, even at the world-class Château de Vaudieu; in Burgundy, I was learning, wine-tasting is treated reverently, almost like a sacred ritual. The winemaker spoke in hushed yet passionate tones about the depth of soil, clay, sand, and limestone in each parcel we tasted from. We were largely tasting barrel samples of the still-aging 2013 vintage, each with its own distinct personality, bright red fruit playing against gripping tannins.

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Drew posing for the obligatory tourist shot in front of the Montrachet vineyard.

After a morning spent on Pinot, we headed south to Chassagne-Montrachet for some Chardonnay at Domaine Bernard Moreau et Fils. One of the “fils” (sons), Alex, led us through an incredible side-by-side comparison of a dozen wines from Premier Cru vineyards, each with a unique nuance of minerality and acidity. Once again, the importance of terroir was stressed, and its effect was clearly noticeable with each wine showing its own distinct flavor profile character thanks purely to the expression of the soil, rocks, clay or sand it grew out of. Each wine rang its own pure note, clear as a bell: Meyer lemon, pink grapefruit, crisp pear or creamy vanilla, often with differences of just a few feet between rows or parcels to create a profoundly different experience.

We were on a tight schedule that day, so we went for a “quick” lunch (only two courses, sigh) at Auprès du Clocher in Pommard on the recommendation of Alex Moreau. The grey, chilly morning had given way to a stormy afternoon, but the rain just made our coq au vin that much more satisfying. The wine-soaked chicken fell off the bone into a rich broth of bacon, mushrooms, and vin rouge that paired naturally with an excellent bottle of Bourgogne. The chef greeted us warmly as we were leaving, wishing we could have stayed longer.

Our next appointment was at Domaine Comte Armand just across the way, where we met the newly-fledged winemaker, Paul Zinetti. Paul had just taken over from Benjamin Le Roux, who had recently departed to focus on his own projects. The new winemaker was clearly crestfallen over the recent hailstorm which hit that region of Burgundy especially hard, ruining as much as eighty percent of the crop in some areas. Paul was stoic in the face of (potential) adversity, however, and cheered up especially when discussing his Aligoté wines, a traditional yet lessern-known white varietal grown from old vines in tiny quantities. The Pinots we tasted, barrel samples from 2013, showed intense tannic structure and elegant minerality that will surely make a great name for the next generation of winemaking at Comte Armand.

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The barrel room at Benjamin Le Roux.

Our last stop was, ironically, at Benjamin Le Roux’s own eponymous winery in Beaune. Benjamin discussed the vagaries of the wine industry, not just in the fluctuations, of nature, but also in human variables such as changing global demand and palates. He also expressed the importance of balance in a winemaker’s personal life, saying that while his wines might be like his children, his actual (human) children will always come first. Zen lessons to round out a day that was the equivalent of a master class in Burgundy.

After a day full of wine, Drew just wanted a beer; we lounged on a café terrace while France won a match in the Coupe du Monde, moving into the semi-finals. All of Beaune erupted into a makeshift parade, fans of all ages with painted-blue faces, French flags, and streamers marching in the streets and honking car horns in celebration.

Still half-full from lunch, we ended the day with another “light” dinner of escargots and steak tartare, both Burgundian specialties. Escargots are not something I would want to eat every day, but raised on fine herbs and drenched in butter, they are not unlike mussels but earthier, as is to be expected.

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Evening in Beaune.

Finally, we headed back to the gîte to drink a bottle of Gigondas and watch a terrible movie dubbed in French. The usually sleepy placed had become a veritable war zone, with much screeching over the owners’ cat who had apparently gotten into a scuffle with a new tenant’s Weimaraner. Once the wailing subsided, we enjoyed a quiet evening, with an awful movie made palatable by an awfully good bottle of wine.


On The Road to Beaune

On a blustery, grey morning, we loaded ourselves into the Schtroumpfette and headed for Beaune, capital of Burgundy. We couldn’t resist stopping for lunch in Lyon, since it was roughly half-way. We once again “took the scenic route” and ended up driving through all of the villages of Côtes-du-Rhone Villages. Once we figured out how to get to the autoroute and how to successfully pay for gas, we were on our way.

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Olives are a must with a crisp white wine at lunch.

We found our way to a little Bouchon Lyonnaise, a small restaurant that serves typical Lyonnaise dishes, and ordered the kidneys and sausage Lyonnaise. Our server brought us some delicious olives while we started in on a nice white Saint Véran, a taste of things to come.

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The Salade Lyonnaise tastes even better in Lyon.

Naturally, we both had the Salade Lyonnaise, with crispy lardon (like bacon, but so much better), buttery croutons, and a perfectly poached egg. Leave it to the French to make a salad sinful.

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This was the extent of our tourism in Lyon.

Our goal of eating Salade Lyonnaise in Lyon accomplished, we hit the road for Beaune. Out in the heartland of France, golden sunflower fields flashed by, alternating with herds of creamy-white Charolais cattle and rows of wheat and corn. A powerful thunderstorm roared through, the sky dark purple and rain beating down in sheets. We would later learn that this storm brought devastating hail to the vineyards in Southern Burgundy, the third year in a row that the crop has been all but ruined in some areas.

Sunflowers and storm clouds.

Sunflowers and storm clouds.

We were staying in Ruffey-les-Beaune, just outside of Beaune, in a gîte (essentially a bed-and-breakfast) operated by a very helpful couple. Our room was decked out in Soutwestern style, complete with sombreros, an actual western saddle, and fake cacti.

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We felt right at home.

Next, we headed into central Beaune to explore. The heart of town is centered around the Hospices de Beaune, a charitable hospital built in 1443 by a wealthy chancellor as a “Palace for the Poor.” The historic building is now a museum, with a modern hospital just outside Beaune funded by an annual wine auction.

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The Hospices of Beaune.

On our host’s recommendation, we stopped into the Café Bélèna for a “light” dinner of charcuterie and more white burgundy, followed by a marc de Bourgogne and sorbet floating in crème de cassis. We were not very good at the whole “light dinner” thing.

Beaune isn’t much of a nightlife town, so we headed back to the gîte to prepare ourselves for the packed day of wine tasting ahead. Beaune, part two to follow tomorrow!

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Beautiful Beaune.