Eat, drink and sleep: Burgundy


The Côte de Nuits. Photograph: Jason Lowe

As we see Burgundy’s 2015 vintage released en primeur, Peter Newton offers advice on how to get the most out of a visit to the Côte d’Or

The region of Burgundy has been producing wines since Roman times but it was the monks of the Middle Ages who really put the region on the map. Today it is, without question, one of the world’s great vinous destinations. Simply taking a drive along the Route des Grands Crus (from Dijon to Santenay) sets my taste buds tingling as it passes by some of the greatest vineyards on earth – Chambertin, Clos de Vougeot, Romanée-Conti, Corton-Charlemagne, Montrachet… the list goes on.

There is something magical, almost spiritual, about seeing with one’s own eyes the vines responsible for producing some of my most memorable wine experiences and it is certainly no surprise that, like me, thousands of people make the pilgrimage to Burgundy every year to worship at the altar of their chosen vineyard(s).

The Fine Wine team visit the region for a week every November to taste the latest releases before our offer goes out the following January. The first half of the week is centred around Beaune, the region’s vinous capital, and the last two years have also included a couple of nights’ stay in Gevrey-Chambertin for easier access to the wines of the Côte de Nuits. In Beaune we tend to stay at the ever reliable, if not too glamorous, Hotel Mercure on the Avenue Charles de Gaulle – just a short walk from the centre, but there are other options. Villa Fleurie is a good inexpensive option a similar distance from the heart of town and Hôtel Belle Époque is a popular, marginally more luxurious, choice.

Considering Burgundy is such a Mecca for wine lovers, however, there seems to be a lack of quality establishments as soon as you venture outside of the main towns. In Gevrey-Chambertin, though, we have discovered a very cosy dwelling with an excellent restaurant and extensive wine list to boot: La Rôtisserie du Chambertin is a great base for exploring the Côte d’Or and the big comfy sofas and roaring fire in the reception area are perfect for enjoying a beer or two after a day’s “hard graft” tasting wines. Also worthy of mention in Gevrey is Les Deux Chèvres, an upmarket bed and breakfast set in an old winery.

Where hotels might be a little tricky, restaurants are altogether more plentiful (and one would expect nothing less in France, of course). A favourite of the team is Ecrit’ Vin (formally Gormandin) in the central square of Beaune, Place Carnot. It’s a great spot to sample some classic Burgundian dishes and the quality has improved noticeably in the last year. Outside Beaune, Le Cellier Volnaysien (in Volnay, unsurprisingly) is another great option for local cuisine. Exposed brickwork, arched ceilings and wooden beams make for a great atmosphere in their beautiful dining area. L’Auberge du Vieux Vigneron just outside Chassagne-Montrachet is another place with great atmosphere, it boasts a big open fire where they grill the meats, and it is also great value for money.

If you fancy blowing the budget then Ma Cuisine back in Beaune is the perfect place to do so. With over 800 wines on their list and a remarkable selection of Chartreuse (a favourite tipple of mine) you won’t have any problem emptying your wallet of euros. An almost legendary spot for wine trade Burgundy buffs this small, high-quality restaurant can be found in a cosy little corner just off the Place Carnot.

Photograph: Jason Lowe

Two of my most memorable culinary experiences in Burgundy, however, were not at expensive restaurants or fancy eateries. The first was at a roadside café, where we were served pasta (sacrilegious) and chunks of tender meat with cheap red Burgundy in tumblers accompanied by a horde of vineyard workers who had just come in from the cold – simple, delicious… and limitless wine! The second was actually during last November’s trip, when I had one of the best foie gras dishes of my life – in, of all places, a sports centre. You certainly wouldn’t experience that in the UK and it is heartening to know that great food really can be found anywhere and everywhere in the region.

There are a few local dishes that you must try: oeufs en meurette is a favourite of mine – poached eggs with an intensely flavoured glossy red wine sauce with lardons and shallots. Jambon persillé is also a very popular offering – potted ham hock in a bright jelly that is flecked with parsley. Of course, there is also a little known dish called boeuf Bourgignon which is a winner every time.

Once you have had your fill of the local cuisine, and after a long day tasting, it’s time for a drink. La Dilettante in Beaune comes highly recommended. It is a small wine bar with a relaxed atmosphere that also serves plates of French/Italian charcuterie and has a great selection of beers too. If you then want to push on through until the early hours try Le Bout du Monde which stays open until 2am. There are only a handful of late night bars in Beaune so you’ll probably find a few dedicated UK wine professionals there too.

One of the biggest tourist destinations of the region, and a must-see, is the Hôtel-Dieu in Beaune. Founded in 1443 as a hospital for the poor, the Hospices de Beaune still holds a famous charity auction every November and the hospital building itself, the Hôtel-Dieu, is well known for its striking architecture – but it also holds a museum full of some amazing paintings. Out of town, you can explore the area on bike or foot, there are a lot of picturesque local walks, with the hills around Pernand-Vergelesses being particularly pretty.

If you are only interested in gluttonous pleasures, however, then La Fromagerie Alain Hess, at 7 Place Carnot in Beaune is cheese heaven. It’s one of the best cheese shops in the world and colleagues of mine get shipments from there whenever they can. For something a little different there is La Moutarderie Fallot on the Rue du Faubourg Bretonnière. The main shop is in Dijon but their Beaune outlet has an amazing selection – another must(ard) visit.

Of course, the main reason for visiting the region is to try the wines and it is important to plan ahead here, as the Burgundians are not as a rule set up for visitors. Don’t expect to be able to see the top names unless you are a serious buyer of theirs already and even then, it can be extremely difficult to secure confirmed dates and times. While the wines may be glamorous, most owners are essentially farmers so their time is often dictated to by the vagaries of the weather. You may well find they are unavailable due to last minute work amongst the vines.

Burgundy is an amazing region to visit, perhaps the ultimate for wine lovers, and if you want to learn more about a region there is no better way than by making that pilgrimage.

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