Burgundy: The home of good food, wine and vineyards
PUBLISHED: 15:41 10 August 2012 | UPDATED: 12:08 30 October 2015
As the nose, the palate and most famously the stomach of France, Burgundy is the perfect food and wine destination, says Dominic Rippon
The very mention of Burgundy fills the mind with images of boeuf bourguignon, coq au vin, fresh escargots gros-gris and the delicious chickens from the Bresse area. And as if this weren’t enough to set a gastronome’s tummy rumbling, the region’s capital, Dijon, stands at the head of a 200-kilometre stretch of vineyard that reaches south all the way to Lyon.
Once capital of the independent duchy of Burgundy, Dijon is a vibrant, cosmopolitan university city. I drove south from there, along the N74, which cuts a path beneath the famous slopes of the Côte-d’Or, and separates the proverbial wheat of its vineyards to the west from the relative chaff to the east. I stopped first in the hamlet of Chenôve, on the outskirts of Dijon, to marvel at the Pressoirs des Ducs de Bourgogne, a collection of enormous 15th-century wooden wine presses.
Marsannay-la-Côte is the Côte-d’Or’s northernmost wine village; home to a handful of star winemakers, foremost among whom is Patrice Olivier, at Domaine Fougeray de Beauclair. The real local attraction is, however, the village of Gevrey-Chambertin, a few kilometres further south. This village is named after its world-famous Grand Cru vineyard Le Chambertin, which produces some of the world’s finest red pinot noirs. I stopped for a hearty plate of boeuf bourguignon at Martine and Eric Claudel’s rustic-chic Restaurant Le Chambolle, in the nearby village of Chambolle-Musigny, before visiting Château du Clos de Vougeot, which stands proudly at the centre of the Côte-d’Or’s most impressive ancient monastic vineyard.
Labyrinth of cellars
The vineyards of Beaune are the most extensive of the Côte-d’Or. The city is home to the large négociant houses of Patriarche Père et Fils and Bouchard Père et Fils, which boast extraordinary labyrinths of underground cellars. Above ground, the town square, Place des Halles, is flanked by the region’s best-loved building, the Hôtel-Dieu, where the town’s annual wine auction is held on the third Sunday in November. Beaune is also the best place in Burgundy to eat, and the pinnacle of its gastronomic offering is Restaurant Le Jardin des Remparts.
I set off south from Beaune and stopped in the village of Volnay to taste the elegant red wines of Domaine Rossignol-Février, before making my way to that legendary trio of white winemaking communes: Meursault, Puligny-Montrachet and Chassagne-Montrachet. The first of these villages makes rich, buttery wines, while the latter two share the prestigious Grand Cru vineyard Le Montrachet, where the chardonnay grape reaches its apogee. In Puligny, La Maison d’Olivier Leflaive is a great place to book a tutored tasting of the estate’s wines, with local culinary specialities to match.
As the vineyards of the Côte-d’Or come to a halt at the village of Santenay, those of the Côte Chalonnaise begin at Bouzeron, the only village in Burgundy with its own appellation for the white aligoté grape. South of Bouzeron, the Rully appellation makes mostly white wine, while Mercurey is better known for its reds and Montagny is a white-only appellation. The most dynamic village of the Côte Chalonnaise is Givry, where Domaine Joblot makes concentrated pinot noirs that can rival the great reds from the Côte-d’Or. The estate’s Premier Cru ‘Clos de la Servoisine’ is an intense, oak-aged pinot with real ageing potential.
A whistle-stop tour of the Côte Chalonnaise led me south again to the vineyards of the Mâconnais. Perhaps my favourite corner of Burgundy, these villages have a relaxed, unpretentious feel. I headed straight for the village of Pouilly-Fuissé, for a tasting with Bénédicte Vincent at Château de Fuissé. The estate’s Pouilly-Fuissé Vieilles Vignes stands out as a rich, toasty chardonnay, bursting with the ripe, almost exotic flavours that characterise the village’s white wines.
The vineyards of the Mâconnais are dominated by the twin limestone escarpments of the Roche de Vergisson and the Roche de Solutré, which cut dramatically through its landscape. I took the rocky footpath that leads up towards the peak of the Roche de Solutré for a panoramic view of the Mâconnais and the adjoining vineyards of Beaujolais beyond. As dusk approached, I headed back north to the village of Viré, where Frédéric Carrion’s Michelin-starred restaurant Le Relais de Montmartre proved a perfect place to end another thoroughly indulgent tour of Burgundy... as if there were any other kind.