Learning to Love Burgundy’s Complexities – One Step at a Time

Learning to Love Burgundy’s Complexities – One Step at a Time

Over the last decade or so, I’ve gotten a pretty good grasp of the wine growing regions of France and Italy. I can stare at the wine labels at a wine shop reminiscing about meeting wine-makers and walking among the vines – then leave the shop with an old familiar friend.  And though we’ve visited Burgundy vineyards before, I’m not familiar enough with this complex region to even explain it to a third grader. So we’re back in Burgundy again today, staying in Beaune and visiting all the major villages in Burgundy’s Côte de Beaune sub-region. It’s not too hard to do in one day because the farthest one away, Santenay, is only 10 miles south of Beaune. In addition to improving our knowledge and appreciation for the wines of Burgundy, we also had our eyes open to the beauty of daily life on a January day in the country.First stop was actually a little to the north of Beaune. The obsolete moat bed still surrounds one of the castles in Savigny-lès-Beaune. The owner’s collection of fighter jets is a bit of a shocker.

Peaceful morning among the endless miles of vines. It’s the time of year for trimming all of the fall’s post-harvest growth back to just the trunk and in some cases, just a single whip for next fall’s clusters to grow on. Some of the vineyards were dotted with workers pruning and burning the extraneous branches.
Mobile bottler comes to the barn door, fills empty bottles with wine pumped from the vats, IMG_9977 (video)  corks them and delivers pallets full of unlabeled bottles back to the winemaker. All the winemaker has to do is label and box them for delivery to the wine shops. Could you pick up six full bottles at a time?

The near constant mist and cloudiness turns the tops of the 1,000 year old stone walls into an ecosystem for all sorts of mosses and succulents.This Meursault wine retailer lists on his window, the names of the individual winemakers from the sub-region that are available in his shop. I’d would take quite a while to get acquainted with the 80+ producers just in this shop.Some of the best architecture was in Meursault.Backyard of Meursault’s City Château. Could have been a watchtower on a now disappeared wall; now just another outbuilding.Another architectural feature along Meursault’s old city wall.Finally, we compared four of France’s finest whites – Montrachet from the tiny village of Chassagne-Montrachet. Each the same vintage -2017 – from a different parcel within yards of the tasting room. Each was distinctly different. We liked the second bottle from the right the most. Fresh with bright minerality.The first bottle on the right, the Champs Gan, was from this plot-maybe 10 acres total.Last stop, the southernmost village, Santenay. This sign points to the farms and producers (called Climats here but terroirs elsewhere) that can use the name Santenay on their labels.On the way home we passed through Volnay, happy to have moved the needle a bit on the dial of our understanding of the people and place that produce this prized wine.

Back Home in Aix

Back Home in Aix

Wednesday – Thursday, May 18-19, 2016
Aix en Provence, France

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A flight from Prague to Paris, a bus ride to the train station, then a fast train whizzes us south through the lush Burgundy countryside,05181601 Burgundy and we’re back home in Aix! A few purchases to settle us in, a check-up of the apartment, which has suffered water damage from upstairs renovations of a neighbor, a good night’s sleep in our own bed, and it’s Thursday, market day. We have a morning meeting with our manager and the contractor who will manage the repairs needed (painting will have to wait until the end of the summer, to allow our three hundred year walls time to dry well) but before they come we happily head for the flower market. 05191601 flowersFull of gorgeous spring scents and colors, one stall after another tempts, until we settle on a gorgeous armful of peonies – white for fragrance, red for color.05191601 fragrant white irresistable color of redAfter our meeting, where we bravely try to comprehend the insurance requirements and details of repairs in French, we all agree that the damage could have been SO much worse. Isabel, our manager, just HAPPENED to stop by the apartment to drop off clean sheets and towels one morning, and was shocked to see water pouring from a ceiling light fixture and down the kitchen and living room walls. She quickly shut off the electricity, called the Pompiers (fire department) who came and shut off the water, then assessed the damage and dried the affected furniture. It seems that the plumbing problem began earlier the same morning, not before that – or the house would have been flooded! As it is, our home is still comfortable and live-able, with some stains on the walls and ceiling that will be taken care of at the end of the summer. Not as pretty as it was – but it will soon return to its former state – and even better, we hope!
We’ll work on deep cleaning later, but now’s the time to get back out to the markets before they close. Joining the chic shoppers on Cours Mirabeau, 05191601 join chic shoppers on courswe take in the change of seasons – colorful summer merchandise is ripe for the picking! 05191601 summer goodsA new swimsuit? Or a find-me-at-the-beach hat?05191601 summer goods1Peeking down a pretty lane, 05191601 take another route homewe take another way home, stopping for some delectable spring produce for lunch.05191602 bounty of springPeonies for the eyes, a crisp cool rosé to accompany lunch,05191602 by peonies lunch we’re happy to be back!

Up in the Air and Across the Country to Aix

Up in the Air and Across the Country to Aix

Friday, Aug. 8, 2014
Across the pond to France

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Another smooth safe trip  – thankful! Winging across the Atlantic, I peekout my window and say goodnight to the moon, next stop Paris!

And from there, a 3 1/2 hour TGV (Train à Grande Vitesse – FAST train) that departs right from the airport.

As I snooze or read, we whiz out of Paris, through verdant pastoral Burgundy landscapes,

and when Mt. Saint Victoire comes into view, we’re pulling into the Aix TGV station, 18 km. outside of town.

The shuttle to Aix is ready to leave and I jump on just in time, and soon am walking in the door of Ambiance d’Aix, a smile on my face.

Our most recent renter, a talented artist, was here for a month, and has left the place in perfect shape – merci!
Only thing I need to do is unpack, catch up on emails, and pick up something for dinner. I wait til it cools down a bit, and walk down rue Gaston Saporta, peeking into the gracious entry of the Museum of Old Aix,

and stopping to take in the never-ending party that is Aix ….a jazz combo entertains the aperitif sippers on Place de l’Hotel de Ville, leaping as they wail on their sax and trumpet. They’ve got more energy than I do this evening!

Welcome back to Aix!

Tasting Burgundy

Tasting Burgundy

Monday, March 26, 2012, Part 1
Burgundy, France

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Join us on a summer tour on the Amalfi Coast, in Provence, or Amsterdam!

Grand Est, or Great East, is the name of this four-day tour provided for us by the French Tourist Office and the eastern regions of France. We’ve been in a different hotel every night, and last night’s Hotel Philippe Le Bon in Dijon was one of our favorites, with its inviting courtyard (where several of those younger members on the tour stayed up late relaxing and chatting after dinner) and spacious renovated rooms. I understand that the not-yet- renovated rooms were not at all as comfortable as ours – so ask for the upgraded rooms if you go!

If it were warmer we would have taken our breakfast out to the courtyard, but since it’s chilly we’re inside – tucked into a fireplace in the charming breakfast room.

An even larger fireplace in the foyer is big enough to house an office.

We’ve been eagerly anticipating today’s tour of renowned vineyards. Although we’re well acquainted with Bordeaux, we’ve spent very little time in Burgundy, so are looking forward to learning more (and tasting!). 
Laurent, of Wine and Voyages, is our expert guide and takes us first to the grandaddy of Burgundy’s renowned Côtes de Nuit vineyards, Clos de Vougeot. Begun by Cistercian monks in the 12th century, its a fascinating glimpse into the beginnings of viticulture in the area.
Laurent describes some of the characteristics of Pinot Noir, the grape of choice in Burgundy. Of interest to me was that its tap roots go down 40 feet!
Also, that although the volume per hectare is strictly proscribed in order to be a qualified Burgundy, from then on, the winemaker has a lot of latitude, such as deciding whether to put it in oak or not.

How fascinating that the medieval vat-house and presses have been preserved through the centuries!

Laurent tells us the origin of the Tastevin, that unique shallow cup that sommeliers wear on a ribbon around their neck. It was dark in those medieval cellars, and the monks would use a candle and this shallow bowl with convex circles on the bottom in order to see the color of the wine as they tasted for quality.

The elegant celebration hall has been  the headquarters of the Confrérie des Chevaliers du Tastevin, founded to promote Burgundy, since 1945.
Photos throughout the property show gala events – this group of Chevaliers, wine in hand, can sing as well as sip!

We finish our tour in the medieval kitchens, with fireplaces big enough to stand inside.

Sadly, there was no Clos de Vougeot for us to taste, but we did get to sample the vintages of a small producer,nearby.

We enjoy our last taste of Burgundy and a delicious lunch at Chez Guy in Gevrey- Chambertin.
And then on to Paris!

Dijon – More than Mustard!

Dijon – More than Mustard!

Sunday, March 25, 2012, Part 2
Dijon, France

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Join us on a summer tour on the Amalfi Coast, in Provence, or Amsterdam!

Does something come to mind when you hear “Dijon”? For me, it’s that served-on -every-French- salad staple, Dijon vinaigrette.  We know there’s more to Dijon that that, and we’re eager to find out!
After that marvelous morning at Les Dominicaines, our trusty busdriver shuttles us to the Mulhouse train station, and in an hour the fast train has us exiting the station  in Dijon.
Our lovely guide quickly walks us through the  town, past cheery half-timbered houses,

that renowned mustard shop

and into spacious hidden courtyards of townhomes crowned with ceramic- tiled turrets.


This is a foodie town for sure, with not just mustard, but pain d’epices (spice bread)  filling shop windows (we enjoy several samples from a friendly shop- owner) , and that ubiquitously delicious aperitif, Kir, made with the third pride of Dijon,  Cassis.

We wind through the heart of the city, which is a 97 hectare Historical Conservation area (we view just a few highlights), from the Palace of the Dukes, now the Fine Arts Museum,

into the gargoyle -fronted Notre Dame Cathedral, and the surrounding medieval streets.

That leering gargoyle may have been one of the few that tumbled off through the centuries… be careful as you walk in the door!

A sparkling Kir (which, by the way, was invented by the mayor of Dijon in the 1950’s) introduces us to dinner at Restaurant de la Porte Guillaume, and the first course, taking advantage of the plentiful Burgundy of the region (Dijon’s the capital) is Oeufs Meurette, eggs poached in red wine – a first for me! I’m not a big fan of poached eggs in the first place, and in wine??  Well, perhaps it’s an acquired taste! The main course – wait, can you guess? Beef Bourguignon, of course, and delicious it is!
We’ve seen some beautiful spots in Dijon, but what stands out is the food –  our afternoon and evening have been a tasting tour of the city!