We were lucky to have the opportunity to stay with Paul’s parents at their Airbnb in Burgundy. With hot showers, a double bed, a wine fridge and a large terrace overlooking the chardonnay vineyards of Meursault, our minds were soon taken off the fact we were not in the van. The property was owned by a lovely local lady who has run wine tours in the area for many years. Towards the end of the week we managed to get ourselves on some of them.
Day one was spent on a guided wine tour, where we were taken around three vineyards of Burgundy. We were introduced to the wine-makers and able to take a look into their daily lives.
In Burgundy the practice of wine making began in the Middle Ages; Benedictine and Cistercian monks, the Dukes of Burgundy and later families have contributed in their own way. They all gradually recognized the limitless micro-climates and their geographical difference, excellence and uniqueness (apparently Burgundy has over a 1,000 different ‘terroirs’). The landscape is chiseled into a mosaic of fossil, limestone and marl that we identify, and are familiar with, in wine as an incredible acidity and therefore freshness.
These terroir-differences in structure and aroma in the wine will only appear after many years of bottle ageing. Hide that bottle opener and practice your patience folks!
The amount of work in the wine-making business is incredible. Many places here in Burgundy don’t use machines, the process is all manual; starting from picking, collecting and selecting, all the way through to pressing, punching down and finally the bottling and labelling. Some of the wineries may use machines, but physical work and human observation remain very important throughout the process.
Pinot noir and chardonnay are the two common grape varieties grown in the area. They’re both found in each and every village; although one more dominantly than the other depending on the terroir and historical background.
Controlled appellations (AOC) are very important we’ve learned along the way. There are four appellations; regional, village, Premier Cru and Grand Cru. The difference is immense and depends on the particular geographical and climate factors a certain area holds. In our time here we tried wines across the various appellations and the quality differences were mostly very obvious.
For the first time, we tried some aligoté, a white wine from Bouzeron, which makes the perfect aperitif; light, mineral, a little floral and super refreshing.
As we visited the Côte de Beaune area, we stopped in at Gutrin Fils to sample their chardonnays from 2015 and 2016. We received some basic information on the vintages and how the maturation will effect the wines and how even just one year in the bottle will improve it. Sometimes when you’re in a famous wine making area, it’s hard not to be blown away after your first sip of wine; Zsu was thinking to buy any wine she had in site!
In amongst the hustle and bustle of Beaune city are situated many wineries. Here we visited Domain Debrey and the Hospices de Beaune. We shortly discovered that wineries are rather introducing consumers to their newest products as opposed to offering long-time-cellared wines.
Hospices de Beaune is an organisation set up to raise money for charity. It was a hospital throughout the Middle Ages, and nowadays it sees prestigious wines produced from their 60 hectare wine estate which are sold at auction to raise money for charity. Well worth a visit if you pass through Beaune! A truly amazing story of a man’s devotion to the poor and sick.
After Beaune we were taken up to the highlands of Côte de Nuits where the climate is generally a bit cooler, meaning less fruity aromas in the wine but more earthy and vegetal notes such as mushroom and asparagus. With the help of ageing in oak barrels, it will give you a wine that’s worth a lifetime experience (but, you must age in the bottle for 10 – 15 years first!). The sugars will concentrate and blend with spice and fine herb notes, the tannins soften and the long lasting taste will compliment your Beef Bourguignon better than anything!
A little story, which we thought was quite fascinating, about the potential freezing conditions and the devastation this can cause in early spring. Direct sunlight onto frozen grapes will magnify the damage caused to the grape and will later negatively affect the wine. To avoid this, the villages of the valley will all lay hay between the vines and set fire to it. The result is a thick cloud of smoke through the valley, which prevents the sun’s penetration.
You could say that Chablis is the home of un-oaked chardonnay. Being fairly close to where we were staying, we took a day trip there and visited a couple of producers and some of the Grand Cru vineyards. After a thorough and informative tasting at Domain Long-Depaquit, we discovered that they still had a few bottles of their 2011 Grand Cru available. It is not often that you can buy wine from a few years back at the winery itself, so naturally, we were delighted. It was the most interesting and complex bottle of chardonnay that any of us had tried, and at a very fair price.
We spent the remainder of our time walking and cycling around the vineyards, enjoying the little French towns that inhabit the countryside, enjoying family meals, and of course drinking the abundance of amazing wine.
And lastly, the almighty famous dish from Burgundy is the Boeuf Bourguignon. Here’s how we made ours.
1 kg stewing beef, large dice and marinate
250g mushrooms, ½’d or ¼’d depending on size
8 small onions, large dice
2 carrots, sliced about ½cm thick
3 cloves garlic, minced
80g parsley, stalks and leaves separated
1 bottle Burgundy red wine
1 C Marc de Bourgogne
a little white flour
Marinate the diced meat for 12 hours.
Strain, reserving the wine, and pat the meat dry.
Heat up a little oil in a heavy bottomed pan and brown the meat and lardons on high heat. Remove and set aside once nicely and evenly coloured.
Add a little more oil and brown the mushrooms. Remove and set aside.
Add a little more oil and brown the carrots and onions and after a short time, add the garlic.
Deglaze with the Marc de Bourgogne and then add everything back to the pot along with the wine and minced parsley stalks. You may also need a little water to cover adequately.
Allow to cook at just below a simmer until the meat is tender – about 3 to 4 hours – ensuring that at no point does it begin to stick to the bottom.
Take a couple of tablespoons of plain white flour and mix with some cold water to form a slushy mixture. Thicken to your taste – making sure you cook the flour out!
And serve with a Burgundy style pinot noir of course!