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De courtes notes de Bourgogne

June 22, 2014

After several years of trying to educate myself on the wines of Burgundy, I finally managed to spend three glorious days at the Cote dÓr (golden slope) this June. I wouldn’t pretend at all to fully understand Burgundy. While theoretical knowledge gained through reading and tasting serves as a useful foundation, nothing beats the first-hand perspective and insight gained from a visit to the actual location itself. In the courtyard of Hostel-DieuOne immediately appreciates the complexity of this region and the relation of the various parcelated plots to one another. At the very least, I now have a visual reference whenever I am drinking a burgundy from any particular commune.

After trooping in to Beaune on a sleepy Sunday afternoon, 15 June 2014, I immediately lost myself in the old world charm of this historic area filled with an abundance of centuries-old buildings with weather-beaten shutters and yellowed stone walls, crumbling in some places, but it would have been unimaginable otherwise, for this is how it is supposed to be. First stop was the famous Hostel-Dieu (established 1443) with its unmistakable roof of colored tiles and I was surprised to learn that it still functioned as a hospital until as recently as 1985.  After having exhausted the long afternoon on the town’s photogenic offerings, the wifey and I sat down for a meal at one of its ubiquitous cafes, washed down with a bottle of 2011 Jean Yves Guyard Cote de Nuits Villages Le Clos de Magny (the carte de vin had promised a 2009 but I didn’t realise I was being served a 2011 till too late), dark ruby with attractive notes of rose petals with some dark cherries and an allure of smokiness, generous in body and depth without being too minerally, displaying good balance, all for EUR34.

MontrachetHaving collected my Renault early next morning, I wasted no time hitting the D974 (previously known as the N74, as notated in the maps of Clive Coates’ Wines of Burgundy as well as The World Atlas of Wine by Robinson & Johnson) south of Beaune, essentially looking at the Cote de Beaune on my right, its vineyards extending all the way down to the main road, turning into the narrow secondary roads (look for D113A) that dissect the various plots of vineyard at Puligny-Montrachet. Straight away one understands why certain plots are deserving of grand cru status and others less so. The relatively narrow strip of the Cote lies in a north-south axis with the vineyards facing east by south-east, the land rising imperceptibly into a gentle slope as one moves away from the main road such that, at a certain altitude, some plots attain very uniform exposure to the morning light, their positions on the slope also being optimal in collecting the rich minerals carried down from above and, almost invariably, these plots would form the grand crus. Beyond this, the slope suddenly becomes much steeper in ascent, the vines becoming more exposed to the harsh light later in the day along with other elements of the climate, culminating in thinner soil of hard rock and limestone at the top of the hill. The local Office de Tourisme has done something to enhance visitors’ understanding, for each well-known plot (except La Tache!) is now properly sign-posted. The Holy Grail of BurgundyIt was thus that I suddenly found myself at Bienvenues-Batard-Montrachet, then Batard-Montrachet, followed by the ancient stone arch of Chevaliers-Montrachet nearby, each plot located progressively higher on the gentle slope, and, finally, Le Montrachet, optimally facing E-SE, with the gates of various domains marking their own sub-plots although within the famous vineyard itself, the rows of vines are totally seamless. At this time of the year, flowering has occurred and tiny bunches of fruit could be seen emerging from the vines and throughout the Cote dÓr, workers could be seen busy with green harvesting. For an amateur like me, being there in person at these famous sites was orgasmic enough and the entire morning was spent soaking in the photogenic sights, followed by lunch north of Beaune at Nuits St-Georges, where a generic Bourgogne blanc (I missed the producer, at EUR3 per glass) was surprisingly lively, generous and balanced.

La TacheThe Cote de Nuits, north of Beaune, was the object of my pursuit in the afternoon and Vosne-Romanee was the first commune to be encountered moving northward on the D974 after the village of Nuits St-Georges. Knowing that the grand crus practically lie next to the D122, a secondary road within the vineyards (also known as the Route des Grand Crus) that run parallel to the D974, it was a relatively easy matter to quickly locate that Holy Grail of all climats: Romanee-Conti. Like most of its grand cru counterparts, this plot is demarcated by an ancient low wall with just a faded plague at a corner bearing the famous name. On the other hand, La Tache was difficult to confirm. Well, locating it was easy enough using the map as a reference, being just a small plot lower down from Romanee-Conti, but how does one know for sure that it is indeed La Tache? I remembered having seen pictures showing the name inscribed on the low wall, but we failed to spot it despite driving up and down past that plot repeatedly and having two natives confirming that we were looking at La Tache. In the end, I got out the car and walked in the scorching heat for a closer look. It paid off, for right in the middle of the perimetry is indeed a terribly faded plague bearing the famous name, which would have been easily overlooked ten paces away. Vines of Musigny overlooking chateau du Clos du VougeotAdjacent to Vosne-Romanee is the largest grand cru in Burgundy, the Clos du Vougeot with its famous chateau within. Again, one has to be there to appreciate the high wall that surrounds the plot, and to understand why this grand cru is derided by many, for it truly stretches right down to the D974, with much of it lying on unimpressive flat ground. As I went up the slope to gain a better camera angle of the chateau, I was surprised to encounter the Musigny of Domaine Comte Georges de Vogue on the upslope, immediately diagonal to the Clos du Vougeot. Amazing!! The vines in the foreground that you see in the photo here are actually Musigny, overlooking Clos du Vougeot. Downslope, but again immediately adjacent to Clos du Vougeot lie Les Amoureuses. Again, I cannot emphasise enough that the relation and close proximity of these climats to one another can only be appreciated on site. Clos de BezeContinuing along the D122 through Morey-St Denis brought me straight to Chambertin grand cru, and little wonder Clos de Beze is held in the same regard as the former, for it is just immediately adjacent at the same altitude, albeit separated by a dirt lane and facing more eastward.

An evening drive south to the small town of Chagny, 16 June 2014, brought us to Lameloise, the famous restaurant located within the most elegant hotel of the same name in the town, for our 20th anniversary dinner. Apart from ala carte, a multi-course degustation was available at EUR190 but we opted for the 4-course (with a cheese selection) menu at EUR130 that actually turned out to be more than 4 courses, as is the usual practice in these fine establishments. The vin de carte, while less voluminous than the one at La Tour dÁrgent (Paris), was thorough enough, obviously focusing largely on burgundy but with plenty of gems priced very reasonably. We opted to start with a half-bottle of the 2010 Jean Marc Morey St Aubin Les Chamois 1er cru, popped and poured. The impression I’ve had of various St Aubin whites was that they are gorgeous on the nose without quite living up to expectations on the palate. However, this particular wine was luminous right from the first pour, almost golden in hue, giving off an attractive pungency with a hint of white flowers and gentle citrus, possessing more body and weight than usual for a St Aubin amidst a fair degree of chalky minerality, with further notes of tropical fruit, bananas and melons coming on as it opened up over time with a  gradual build up in intensity and fullness. LameloiseThis is a really good St Aubin, well-priced at only EUR40 in this three-Michelin star restaurant. It went quite perfectly with the host of starters, including the signature omble chevalier & ecrevisses as well as foie gras & coquillages. Coming from the kitchen of the venerated Eric Pras, one is assured of unadulterated traditional offerings oozing with fresh natural flavors and balance without any of the molecular nonsense. For the mains, I opted for a half bottle of 2009 David Duband Gevrey-Chambertin (EUR60), popped and poured. This was a shade darker than usual, rather shy and shut on the nose although it carried good weight and balance with notes of dark cherries tapering towards a minty finish. It became broader and more open as dinner wore on, its stony minerality more obvious but lacking in further development although it matched my pigeonneau well.

The next evening before we departed Beaune, I brought a bottle of 2009 Louis Jadot Chorey-les-Beaune (EUR17) back to the hotel room to go with some cheese as well as the World Cup action. This commune lies rather low on the Cote de Beaune, next to its better known neighbour Savigny-les-Beaune. As expected, the reds from this region tend to be more gruff and rustic with vegetal characters, but Louis Jadot has done well in this outstanding vintage, producing a wine of adequate weight and concentration, darker in color and tone with notes of dark cherries and a dash of jam and apricot without any trace of green, although its tannins still need time to settle down. So much to see, do and eat but so little time. I’m sure I’ll be back.

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