Where to Taste in Burgundy

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Last Winter, while studying at the International Wine Institute of Bordeaux, I attended a class on the wine region of Burgundy (Bourgogne in French). Discussing the nuances of Burgundian terroirs from the grapes and soil to the climate and vineyard placement, inspired a spontaneous trip to this fabled region. Within weeks I had found myself traipsing through notorious villages such as Vougeot, Nuits-St-Georges, and Pommard that make up the small but mighty region of Burgundy.

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Myself along with three girlfriends, adoringly referred to as my wine tribe, took a train from Bordeaux to Paris and then Paris to Dijon, where we hunkered down for the weekend. From the region’s capital, we traveled by car to  Côte de Nuits and Côte de Beaune, visiting a collection of wine producers and acquiring a good sense of Burgundian life along the way.

As I reflect on my amazing trip one year later, my nostalgia has prompted me to compile a list of my favorite wine destinations in Burgundy.

Château de Marsannay

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Friend and French native, Alice, advised the group to prepare for dreary, cold weather. We were expecting the gray skies attributed to Burgundian winters; yet we were surprisingly greeted with sunny and pleasantly mild days.

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After dropping off our bags at the house, we had just enough time for a late afternoon tasting. Just south of the city, the Marsannay appellation is one of the closest vineyards to Dijon and is the starting point to the Route des Grand Crus. Château de Marsannay is the exclusive operator of these vineyards, making it a perfect gateway to explore the region.

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Our visit at the Château started with a tour of the cellars where aging bottles laid idle and wine barrels, called pièce in Burgundy, were lined in rows. Here we learned about the wines they produce, mainly reds but also two whites and a rosé all from Côte de Nuits.

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A tasting bookmarked our first visit of the trip. We were poured wine from various appellations and climats, a single vineyard designation, while taking in incredulous views of the Marsannay Clos de Jeu vineyard.

La Cuverie Champy

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Our first full day brought us to the city of Beaune, a cobbled and colorful town at the heart of the Burgundy winemaking region. Within walking distance to the city center is La Cuverie Champy, a small family-run boutique négociant (aka wine merchant). Champy was founded in 1720 as the the first established wine house of Burgundy and is home to the oldest wine cellar in Beaune.   

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The girls and I were treated to a private tour and tasting when we arrived. The owner led us down time-warped steps into the dark wine cave. The pull string light bulbs took a few moments to light up, leaving the girls and me in suspense. We were brought deeper into the cellar, sometimes having to duck from low stone vault ceilings and hanging cobwebs.

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I took off wandering; this was my first tour of a century-old wine cellar, after all . I followed rows of barrels, housing Pinot Noir from the 2015 vintage. For older vintages, I poked my way to the back wall where some of the oldest wine bottles in Burgundy were sleeping peacefully under a cover of dust and beloved black mold. Covering the walls as well, this black fungus thrives in dank, underground caves and is believed to contribute to the unique taste of each aging bottle.

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Back above ground, we uncorked many bottles of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from the Côte de Beaune. Among my favorites was their 2013 Pernand Vergelesses. Champy is one of the major producers of the Pernand-Vergelesses appellation, making it a special find. We discovered through our tasting flight that Champy is considered a pioneer of Burgundian winemaking for its organic and sustainable farming methods. Indeed, the estate is currently in the process of becoming entirely organically certified.

Bourchard Aîné & Fils

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Another historical wine house in Beaune is Bouchard Aîné & Fils. Their cellars are located in a stunning classic 18th-century house, Hôtel du Conseiller du Roy, showcasing the rich history of this winery and of Burgundy as a whole. Founded in 1750, Bouchard Aîné & Fils has earned a reputation for crafting some of the region’s most treasured Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays from a wide range of terriors.

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Moderately different from traditional Burgundy wine tours, Bouchard Aîné & Fils offers an interactive tour and tasting based on the theme of the five senses. This tour of the senses begins with a splash of their Saint-Véran Chardonnay in the multicolored wine cave.

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Continuing underground, we entered the Cave aux Arômes, a room dedicated to the aromas commonly found in Bourgogne wines. Glass jars containing specific herbs, flowers, spices, fruits, etc. lined the perimeter of the Aroma room waiting to take you on an olfactory journey. Some aromas such as mint leaf and vanilla were easy for me to identify while others, such as quince and kirsch, took a few more guesses. It’s amazing to realize how powerful the human sense of smell is. I was having fun smelling the different aroma families that elicited warm childhood memories of baking cookies or playing outdoors after a Spring rain. Just like that I had jumped into the complex universe of Bourgogne wines, and I hadn’t even started the tasting.

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Everything led up to the grand finale…the wine tasting. We were brought to a room that once served as a kitchen in the 18th-century. Here we were poured several Pinot Noirs from their wide collection of village designated wines. It’s fascinating to see how the same varietal is expressed in different ways depending on the terroir it derives from. Never has terroir been so apparent to me before.

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Musée de l’Hôtel-Dieu of Beaune

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Our day in Beaune concluded with a visit to one of France’s most prestigious historic monuments, the Hospices de Beaune. The most striking feature of the Hospices de Beaune is its elaborate Gothic architecture and polychrome roof made of colorful glazed tiles. This visually stunning building was constructed in the Middle Ages as a hospital for the sick. Warmly referred to as a ‘palace for the poor’, it  welcomed everyone during a period of unrest and plague.

No longer an operating hospital, the Hospices de Beaune is now a very popular museum famed for its annual wine auction. Held on the third Sunday of November, the Hospices de Beaune Auction is the world’s most renowned charity wine event. The weekend-long event raises money for historical conservation and hospitals by auctioning off old vintages and rare Grand Crus and Premier Crus of Burgundy.

Domaine Michelot Alain

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The second day of our extended weekend trip was spent in the countryside of Côte de Nuits, driving along and exploring the domaines (a winery in U.S. terms) that make up the Route des Grands Crus. Feeling lethargic from the early, brisk morning, we arrived bundled up at Domaine Alain Michelot in the center of Nuits-Saint-Georges. We were advised to leave our coats and hats on as we we’re beginning our visit in classic Burgundian fashion – underground.

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Despite being even cooler from the wintry day outside, the wine cellar was intimate and inviting. The Domaine’s fourth generation winemaker led us throughout the cave and poured a few Pinot Noir samples from the barrel. The samples were from different vintages and at different points in the aging process. Altogether the aging of their various appellations lasts 18 months in oak barrels, with 25% new French oak. Once ready, their wines are then sold to fine restaurants, wine stores, and in the export markets, usually sold out within months.

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Domaine de Bertagna

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The contemporary tasting room of Domaine de Bertagna is within a few hundred feet from the famous Château de Clos de Vougeot in the Vougeot appellation. The vibrant red walls, exposed chalk exteriors, and stately chandeliers makes this tasting experience stand out from the rest even before you pick up a glass.

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Like most Burgundian producers, Domaine de Bertagna produces wine from many different appellations – 18 to be exact, five of which are Grand Crus and seven are Premier Crus. We started our tasting with the house’s collection of Chardonnays. To clarify where each wine comes from, each Chardonnay was placed atop its specific vineyard location on a map. Burgundy is certainly complicated with its thousands of quilt-like vineyard patches, but seeing them, touching them, and tasting their distinctive wines helps one begin to demystify this intricate region.

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Concluding our tasting with a splash of Domaine Bertagna’s 2013 Corton Grand Cru was naturally a treat. Each with a glass in hand, we descended a staircase from the tasting room which led to the estate’s underground cellar. By this point in our trip, I was becoming oddly comfortable with the smell of black mold and dampen earth, and was frankly enjoying meandering my way through the humid cellars.

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Domaine Armelle et Bernard Rion

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The last stop of the trip was at Domaine Armelle et Bernard Rion, a quaint family-owned winery hosting tastings in the cellar of their home. Our tasting was led by Armelle and Bernard’s daughter, Alice, fifth generation of the family business. Our experience focused on the family’s passion of wine and truffles. Owning a truffle plantation in addition to vineyards, this family dedicates equal time to producing some of Burgundy’s great wine and food offerings.

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Here, I tried my first Aligoté, which is the only other white grape varietal permitted in Burgundy. Unfortunately, Aligoté is almost forgotten, and plantings are becoming more and rare due to the financial success of Chardonnay. The grape has so much untapped potential and I really enjoyed my first tasting of the wine it can produce. Handled with equal care as the estate’s Chardonnays, this wine was young, fresh, and well-made.

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Perhaps the highlight of my visit to this hidden gem, was getting to play with their truffle-hunting dogs! These curly cuties are Lagotto Romagnols, a dog breed coming from Romagne, Italy. They are fancied for their special skills to find truffles, their stamina, and their vivacity. The pups surely were a vivacious group at that. I would love to come back to Burgundy for truffle hunting in the Fall to see these amazing dogs in action.

One year later, and it somehow still feels like yesterday that I had this once-in-a-lifetime trip to the wine region of Burgundy, France. I undeniably experienced a slew of different destinations  that all combined to make the perfect weekend with my wine tribe. While these were my favorite wineries, there are still so many more than need to be explored. I hope the girls are ready to revisit Burgundy with me in the future to discover Chablis and Côte Chalonnaise.

 

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