Beautiful Burgundy, The wine, the place the food

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Flag of France  , Bourgogne,
Friday, September 14, 2012

After breakfast we set out on our tour of the Beaune region with Vincent as our guide. We went in the Quartly's car and Vincent drove. First stop was on the side of a small road just out of Beaune. We were surrounded by rolling hills covered in vines. Unlike Australian vineyards the vines are kept neatly trimmed and the rows between them are very narrow. Vincent explained how due to uplifting and erosion the soil in each of the vineyards is quite different. The soil where we were was very rocky and you could see great piles of rocks where the original vignerons has attempted to clear the land.He also explained that the roots of the vines extend about 20 to 30 metres into the soil to reach water. This makes the vines hardier. As a result they do not irrigate their land. He went on to explain the very complicated system of classifying Burgundy wines. Wines produced from the valley floor are the lesser quality wines known as were classified simply as "Bourgogne’. These wines can be made of grapes grown from all over the valley. Next level up in the classification system are the village wines which come from the lower slopes, if any wine comes from a single plot of vines they are allowed to put the plot name on the label. The premier cru and the grand cru are two higher levels and are therefore the best quality and the most expensive. They come from vineyards which face south and east and get more sun, making more flavoursome grapes.

We proceeded south through the predominantly red wine villages of Pommard and Volnay, and then through the high quality white wine villages of Mersault ,Puligny, Montrachet and Chassagne-Montrachet. We stopped at the Le Montrachet plot which is one of only three grand cru white wine plots in Burgundy. Wines from this small plot of land would sell from $200 a bottle. Next stop was the Chateau Chassagne-Montrachet, here we had a tour of the winery and tasted six wines, three white, three red. The young man who took us on the tour spoke very basic English and Vincent was frequently called upon for translations. On the other hand the young girl who did the tasting spoke very good English.

For lunch, Vincent had booked us into a small, village restaurant specialising in the boeuf burguignone. We shared a charcuterie plate and a tomato and mozzarella salad, John and David had chicken, Liz and I had the boeuf. We drank a bottle of 2008 Mersault Le Clos de Tavaux – Monopole and a 2008 Pommard 1er Cru Les Rugiens made by Domaine Francoise Gaunoux. The host of the restaurant, obviously realising he was entertaining like-minded people, then produced a 1966 Marc de Burguignone, something similar to a wood-aged grappa. It was about 40% alcohol. It tasted like a mouthful of methylated spirits. As if that was not enough then he produced a bottle of Calvados with a narrow neck and an apple inside. Of course the scientists in us immediately wanted to know how the apple got in the bottle, we were envisaging a Julius Sumner-Miller “Why is it so" moment. Apparently, much to our disbelief, they put the bottles around the flower on the tree and the apple develops inside the bottle.

After lunch we visited a few other small towns and wandered about on cliff tops admiring the view from a variety of angles. It really is a beautiful part of the world. When we got home we had a Jacuzzi in 'the grotto’. The grotto started as a cave under the gites (place where we were staying) that Vincent used to play in as a kid. In recent years he and Jean-Louis (his father) have dug it out and installed a Jacuzzi, which we were assured was so hot we would want to go in the pool after. Clearly French hot is the new Sydney cold!!

After hot showers, we set out by taxi to the town of Chagny, home to ‘Lamelloise’ a Michelin three star restaurant. We chose the cheapest menu, for no other reason than we didn’t think we could eat any more. However, each of the four courses was supplemented with one and occasionally two mini bite size courses, each exquisitely prepared and presented. A cherry tomato stuffed with a snail, a bite size piece of mackerel on avocado in a tart case, fois gras dipped in butter on a toothpick and then there were the petit fours before and after the dessert course. We worked out that we had tasted 26 different things. You’ll be pleased to know that between the four of us we only drank a bottle of champagne, one white and one red.

We were enjoying observing the other patrons of the restaurant. And just to remind John and me later when we read this blog, and so as not to bore all you others I will just use a few key words: the circus folk and the cranky Americans. But the piece-de-resistance was when at about two hours into the evening there was a slight disturbance at the table next to us. We turned around to watch a huge sharpei emerge from under the table. For you non-dog lovers, a sharpei is a medium to large size dog, sometimes called a roly-poly dog. Needless to say we were gobsmacked. This was very much an inside restaurant. But wait, there’s more, just as we had come to terms with a dog in the dining room, there was another disturbance and yes, you guessed it, not one but two dogs!! We felt that this was taking canine-homo sapien relationships a bit too far. Smudgie would have loved it, though I suspect she would not have sat so still for most of the night.

Taxi home and bed. Tomorrow we meet the Meaghers and get on the boat, so blog writing will take a back seat.
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