Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Wine tour

We drove south from Dijon in the direction of Beaune, on the Route des Grands Crus, a driving tour of the vineyards of the Cotes d'Or - the stretch of hillsides where some of the finest wines in the world are grown and made. If we were lucky, we'd find a "cave" or cellar that was open for tasting. Our hostess explained that many of the great winemakers do tastings by appointment only. In other cases, a so-called tasting takes place in a village wine store. We were interested in finding the rare middle ground - a cave where a winemaker provided tastings to anyone who dropped in.

We drove past the village of Fixin, with its church steeple showing the traditional tiled roof of Burgundy, with its geometric pattern.

The vineyards were on either side of the road. We drove through towns whose names I only knew from wine lists - Gevrey-Chambertin, Morey St. Denis, Vougeot.

I noticed that in many of the vineyards, there were rosebushes planted at the roadside end of the row. This pretty pink rosebush is in the vineyards of Chambertin.

We drove through the hilly village of Vosne Romanee, and just as the narrow street dead-ended into a rolling vineyard, we saw a sign for an open cave. It was really just a small house, with a garage. The proprietess led us into the garage and down a narrow flight of stairs, warning us to mind our steps, as the stairs were tricky and the headroom low.

Below was a room that was like a typical suburban basement, except for the smell of wine, and the giant vats along the wall. The proprietess brought three small glasses out from beneath a narrow counter, and showed us a list of the wines she had available. She pointed to a basin where one could spit after tasting - [The Man I Love] and I chose not to use it, but our friend was the designated driver, and she used the basin.

First we tasted the Bourgogne-Aligote - the crisp, tart white wine made of the Aligote grape. This wine, simple and inexpensive, is the wine used to make the apertif Kir. After that, we progressed through a tasting of red wines, starting with the basic appellation up through higher and higher levels of quality.

Word to the wise American traveller - don't attempt this unless you possess at least one of the following qualities - 1) fluent French 2) knowledge of Burgundy wines or 3) a friend who possesses both. A discussion between our friend and the proprietress ensued, but we were lost without some translation and some schooling.

I was curious, too, about the etiquette of such a ritual. By the time we left, we had been offered tastings of six different wines, completely for free. Is one compelled, then, to buy some of the wines? It wasn't clear, but we did buy one of the finer wines, and our friend bought six of the Aligote - to keep onhand for apertifs. To give you an idea of the range of value, the Aligote cost just 4 Euros per bottle - while the highest quality wine cost 29 Euros.

We continued on past the vineyards. At one location, the old and gnarled stems of the vines were cut back, and only tiny shoots of leafs sprung forth from them. It looked as if new plants were being grafted onto the roots. A stone marker in the wall showed that this was the vineyard known as La Tache - one of the finest of the Grands Crus of the Cotes de Nuits.

Grown, made and bottled by the estate Dominee de la Romanee Conti, La Tache wines are some of the rarest, most expensive, and most avidly collected wines in the world.

Grow strong, little vines!!!

We continued south, moving beyond the Cotes de Nuit into the Cotes de Beune. Our next tasting came in the village of Aloxe-Corton. We parked and strolled the winding streets of this pretty little village.

Beyond one crumbling wall was a round pointed turret - like something out of a fairy tale. We walked down winding streets. There were several wine merchants with their signs out advertising that they were hosting "caveau" tastings - but as our friend pointed out, these were wine shops that offered tastings of their wares, which could be bottles from any producers - not winemakers offering tastings of the wines they produced.

We went down one winding lane where you could see the roof of the chateau tower, with its patterned roof.

At the end of the lane was a small hotel with a sign announcing tastings in its caves. This is the Hotel Villa Louise, a small hotel that is also home to the Winery Louise Perrin. We walked through the gate, beneath an arbor of plump white grapes, into a small garden courtyard, and asked the woman at the desk if they were offering a tasting.

The caves of the Villa Louise are entered by a steep stone stairway in the courtyard. The vaulted cellar held racks of bottles on shelves, and some barrels. The floor was covered in clean beige gravel - for those who wished to spit after tasting, it was simply a matter of using the floor.

The cave itself was a vaulted stone space, more high-ceilinged than you would expect for a basement space. It was clean - no spider webs! Neatly stacked racks of wine were arrayed in a side chamber.

We bought one very nice wine to take home and save, and then we also bought several bottles of the plain Bourgogne, to drink at dinner that night, and to take back to Paris with us for the rest of our stay. While we waited for the proprieter to gather our items, we relaxed in the pretty garden behind the hotel.

All in all, a good introduction to the Burgundy wine country. Although we realized we needed to learn much much more before being able to fully enjoy it, our small taste made us eager to try.


Gary's third pottery blog said...

That is so gorgeous...I better win that lottery and get over there!

Pumpkin Delight (Kimberly) said...

Wine tasting in France? The life of luxury I think. The countryside is so beautiful.

KBeau said...

Fixin sounds like it could have come right out of the American South. As in "I'm fixin' to go to town."

Anonymous said...

Will you adopt me? :)