Burgundy is almost a cliche, but it is a great one. Taking a wine tour through that area of France, only a couple hours’ drive from Paris, is really as remarkable as it sounds. While Parisians were turning their tunnels into catacombs filled with skeletons, Burgundians transformed theirs into wine cellars. Rustic family-owned wineries, French words ringing in your ears, the lack of pretention that Napa sometimes harbors and the lack of stretch Hummers carting sorority or bachelorette parties around or references to Sideways, well, you can’t get much more picture-perfect than that. If you’ve already ventured around the Parisian sites and have a few days to spare, rent a car and head out of town.
Jon and I ventured with a couple Czech friends, Michel and Klara (picture above, in Troyes), for a trip to Burgundy one lovely fall weekend. Jon and I first took the TGV from Paris to Reims, the capital of Champagne, to taste some true Champagne (because it’s not only sparkling wine if it’s not made in Champagne – those snooty French). Our friends picked us up in Reims and we continued through the vineyards and picturesque French countryside, complete with sheep and roadside barrels, through Troyes, then through Dijon, down to Beaune, capital city of Burgundy.
We stayed at someone’s chateau/ two-bedroom bed& breakfast: Chateau Georges, a quaint and adorable private chateau built in the 1500’s that fits the brochure image of a French weekend for Americans (photo, right). The owner was a quiet man who spoke no English, with a daughter studying abroad in Washington, D.C. and a wife-doctor in Paris. He would quietly shuffle around preparing incredible breakfast spreads for us and waiting patiently for us to get out of bed to serve us. He had a cellar full of wine, which we could probably look at but we didn’t.
Now the more challenging part of the wine trip is designating a driver. Since it was Michel’s car, he ended up driving, though he snagged dips here and there. The highlight was Marche aux Vins, a one-stop shop for wines. Situated in the bustling winemaking center of Beaune, the expansive Marche aux Vins is one of the largest wine tasting cellars in the area. For 10 euros, visitors get a tasting dish and map to nearly 25 different bottles. Tasters descend into the cool, candlelit underground lined with dusty bottles and barrels to sample the region’s recent vintages. The upstairs houses the Grand Crus, with sommeliers lurking over shoulders to ensure tasters don’t double-pour on the expensive bottles.
We’d also stopped along several other wineries on the road which all led us into their dusty cool cellars filled with barrels and poured us sumptuous tastings. The thing about wine is it truly helps your foreign language skills. By the end of the day, Michel and I were chatting away in French to everyone around us whether they knew what we were talking about or not. Our favorite was Domaine Gaston et Pierre Ravaut. I don’t believe it was customary, but we ended up on a long tour through the cellar with Pierre dipping a turkey baster into different vats to let us compare a wine that had been sitting for, say, three months, versus one sitting for longer. It is possible that our chatty French questions may have illustrated interest and thus the grand tour.
Of course, no trip to Burgundy would be complete without an obligatory stop for beef burgundy (or boeuf bourgogne) and escargot, another specialty of the area. Ooh, la la.