After the train trauma it took some effort to resist the attempt of the charming young woman in Dijon to hire us a higher spec car. We were rewarded by a free up-grade none the less, when she failed to locate the key for our little Fiat or Corsa. We drove south down the famous N974 past the most northerly of the Burgundy villages: Marsannay, Fixin, Gevrey Chambertin, Morey St Denis, Chambolle-Musigny, Vougeot, Vosne-Romanee, and on to Nuit-Saint Georges. The day was certainly improving.
The only obvious place for dinner was Le Chef Coq restaurant in Le Gentihommiere in Nuit-Saint Georges. This involved scallops followed by duck with a glass of 1990 Nuits-Saint-Georges from Phillippe Gavingnet for €12.50. It was a short drive to the modest but charming La Villa Fleurie, 10 minutes walk from the centre of Beaune.
Thursday: a very slow morning after a night of both of us still jangling from the stresses of the train journey. We eventually tracked down a light lunch in the Ecrit’Vin (une salade composeé and gazpacho) with another delicious glass of wine Before visiting the historic cellars of Drouhin, (some of which incorporate fourth century Roman masonry as well as a huge antiquated press) one hectare in area beneath la rue d’Enfer and the nearby Collegiale Notre Dame, and a fine tasting with Cyril Ponelle.
In the afternoon we drove north on the wonderful D974 to meet Romain Taupenot of Domaine Taupenot-Merme in Morey St Denis whose grandfather had secured the properties, cellars and winery, and whose father at 79 simply won’t stop working.
He in his turn is hoping to provide for his own two sons and his sister’s two children by trading a few rows in a potential monopole for some more grand cru vines elsewhere. (A local Clos that changed hands recently had trippled in value between 2014 and 2016; for figures as high as €100,000,000….) Expansion is a challenge!
The most pressing issue however was rain. We arrived to grey skies and humid air. Hail has already damaged some properties, and mildew and other fungi thrive. Romain anxiously awaited the right moment to spray. More thunder was due that night.
And thunder arrived – along with very heavy rain – in the evening. Fortunately we were safely inside La Grillardine – one of the many Beaune restaurants, enjoying a menu formule in an attempt to keep costs and appetite in check. We scurried back to the hotel as the deluge subsided.
As luck would have it, our 8 o’clock appointment the following Friday morning with negociant and grower Benjamin Leroux and his Norwegian importer was only 100m from our bedroom. Benjamin, with the aid of an English partner, is rapidly changing the face of burgundy trading. Ambitious, imaginative, very savvy, he is moving the goalposts of wine-making in a region very firmly fixed in its traditions.
We moved on from Leroux to Verve Ambal, a huge sparkling wine producer whose traditional method bubblies are supplemented by high-volume Charmat-method – according to the very versatile host in the tasting room. Its pragmatic approach to hosting and tasting makes all and sundry welcome.
Cyril ( of Drouhin) had recommended the restaurant Le Soufflot in Meursault on the D974, only 100 m from beautifully restored but now soulless medieval L’Hopital, at one time a refuge for lepers and the homeless. We were there within ten minutes.
Postmodernity comes to Burgundy…. Monosyllabic course names on the menu; minimalist ambience; barrista-like waiters. Oddly coffee arrived before dessert – but then France were playing Uraguay in the World Cup at 16.00 and no doubt the staff were keen to watch the match.
We wandered up to Mersault proper to the busy bar at La Place but it was hot and visibility poor. So back to Beaune for Belgium v Brazil on the hotel room telly, with a supermarket salad and some friut for supper. This was a first! Football changes values…
Saturday morning was the first bright clear day and after a slow start we headed for the Cote and a pilgrimage to the grand cru clos above Montrachet before lunch at the restaurant Le Montrachet.
The narrow lanes were busy with state-of-the-art equipment for spraying against the risk of mildew. No shortage of resources here…
Despite the clos – walled vineyards – and their lytch gate-like entrances feeling reminiscent of walled graveyards, the morning was delightful. And so was lunch….
England were playing Sweden at four; but not on main french TV! Nonetheless David made it to a bar in Place de Maddeleine by ten past, advised by our excellent hotel host. I enjoyed an hour or two catching up on the Chequers brexit summit (Theresa May must have been raised to suffer – a sort of penitential masochism. She at least deserves a medal for endurance, surely?) before we celebrated England’s success with supper at Ecrit Vin.
The next day we set off for Condrieu, via Beaujolais and Lyon, via la route de soleil…