An Intro To Burgundy
When the wife and I go down for holidays in Italy, we stay at my parents place in Piemonte. Now let’s not let our imaginations run away with us here, it’s not exactly a clinically designed masterpiece of a villa. It’s a an abandoned farmhouse on the side of a beautiful hill overlooking the vineyards of the Aosta valley. 10 years in, we’ve got running water and electricity and I think as a family really enjoy the project of building this thing up together.
I guess the only one small drawback is that it’s your holiday. So turning up and being set to work, be it building a bathroom, or rearranging Langhe stone in a vain attempt to landscape the garden…put it this way, you’ve got to love it! And luckily I do. As does the missus. But it is nice to try and have a few days of calmness on the way down and the way home.
We drive down from London, it’s only a couple of hours down to the tunnel, and then about 10 hours driving to Northern Italy along the French motorways (sent from God in heaven to the drivers of the world!). The route takes you across to Reims (in Champagne) then down to Dijon (in the heart of Burgundy) and then finally on to the South and the tunnel through the alps to Italy. So in terms of stop overs to chill out for a couple of days, it’s not a bad route.
The road down the east of France cuts all the way down through the vineyards of Burgundy. Funny thing is, you’d imagine you’d have to go for a few miles into the countryside to come up upon the vineyards, but as I’ve discovered as I arranged a stop off in Gevrey-Chambertin, that’s not true at all. It was 5 minutes from the motorway junction!
Gevrey-Chambertin is one of the more famous wine villages in Burgundy. I’d never been before, but obviously heard about it. I’d also heard that to really understand how Burgundy works, you’ve got to go (or at least talk to someone that’s been). So before I go on about what happened there, what do I think you need to have in your head about Burgundy:
1) There are two main grapes; Pinot Noir for reds, and Chardonnay for whites
Pinot Noir is a really fussy bugger. It’s very thin skinned, so you tend to get lighter wines from it. The colour and tannin, remember, comes from the skin of the grape. It also doesn’t like it too hot or too cold. It reacts very differently depending on where it is grown, including different soils, slopes, etc.
Chardonnay is less fussy. In fact Chardonnay is often used as a benchmark for wine areas, because (to a certain extent) it will grow anywhere. But a lot like Pinot Noir, it gives very different flavours depending on where it’s grown.
2) Wine labels use the name of the vineyard plot the wine was grown in
Burgundy is different to other wine areas in the world, as the vineyard plots are set and specified by the town councils. These are the set plots that produce a certain type of flavour to the wines. They are highly prized. Instead of producers or chateaux getting the titles of Grand Cru and the like, it’s actually the vineyard sites that are honoured instead.
The ownership of the vineyard might change hands, it might have multiple producers owning small patches in the same plot. But the vineyard plot never changes. And just if you didn’t think French wine labels were annoying enough, the label usually just references the name of the vineyard and the town it comes from.
I’ll explain all that lot a bit more in the next week with some mini blogs as a follow up. For now though just try and bear with me.
We decided to stop in Gevrey-Chambertin as a colleague of mine’s uncle runs a fairly large wine concern there. Pierre Bourée Fils is the company and Bernard is the incredibly nice uncle. Nice thing was, he had wines from lots of different plots, most main grape varieties, and a few different villages too. We had a lovely time tasting with him, over a few bits and bobs of charcuterie.
Afterwards we were taken into his monopole (he is the only owner) vineyard “Le Clos De La Justice”. This translates directly as “The Enclosure of Justice”. If I understood him correctly, it’s where either the guillotine and the main jail used to be stationed during the revolution. Big!
We stayed at the Hotel Des Arts et Terroirs, which is right on the main street through the village. A lovely place run by a young local couple. The better half was a more than willing supplier of different wines for this curious english boy, and her husband was a Land Rover enthusiast! We got on just great.
One slight problem with Gevrey-Chambertin is that there’s pretty much only one restaurant, a place called Chez Guy. Really nice food, great setting, but a tad pricey for me, especially when you’re looking at spending your daily budget on wine if possible. Still, we went one night and both the missus and I were drawn to the steak tartare. It was soooo nice, I absolutely nailed it. I loved. Problem was, it didn’t love me. Or the wife.
The night spent in a modestly sized en suite bedroom was interesting to say the least. We’re now a lot closer than I think we ever wanted to be.
Yes, unfortunately that is a rather enduring memory of our first trip to Gevrey-Chambertin. But there’s no way it’ll be out last trip there. It’s so easy to get to, it’s one of the premier wine villages in Burgundy (if not the world), and the people were just so great to us.
As soon as we felt safe to do it, we jumped into the car for the last 5 hours down to Italy, obviously looking forward to our time down there. But I felt really chuffed to have discovered how easy it was to visit Burgundy. I’ll definitely be doing the rounds of the villages over the next few years.
Maybe I’ll stick clear of steak tartare though.