I never knew the Côte de Nuits was very prestigious until just a few days before my trip! I was looking at a subreddit (yes, I'm a secret Redditor) for wine aficionados. Some had gone to Beaune and explored the nearby path of the Côte de Nuits, a famous long country road where you'll find several wineries, both big and small. My submission for this subreddit was basically, "Where should I go?", a question that, much to my disappointment, remained completely unanswered. I'm not a wine expert after all... but I am an expert on drinking lots of wine ;)
Petite Copain and I hurriedly did some research and managed to book two tasting appointments with well-known wineries. We regret not making appointments with smaller producers but we learned that you have to call way in advance. Many are busy with producing/farming and not just living it up, getting drunk with their clients 24/7 ;). What is also strange is that often, these family producers are considered "less" prestigious.
The quality of wine depends on the soil and location the grapes are grown. In the Côte de Nuits, there's a specific map showing which areas have top quality soil. There are different types of soils that are rated higher than others because of its amount of clay, type of clay, other mixes of dirt/debris, position in sunlight, etc. Yes, it is that complicated.
It's also a matter of politics as there's one (or two?) wine association that will grant wineries the prestige of Grand Cru, which is the best wine you can get from Burgundy. The second best is Premier Cru and lastly is the AOC label for accomplished villager wineries. Still, the AOC label can be very prestigious depending on your village and its soil content.
Another important thing we found out while going wine tasting was that most of the "award-winning" Grand Cru wineries are mostly no longer French-owned. Though foreign-owned, these amazing wineries still keep the authentic way of making grapes.
Therefore, I suggest doing two types of visits: some to these larger wineries and some to the small-time producers. The village wineries are said to offer a friendlier experience (like you're joining in on a family gathering!) and you can be up close and center to the traditional process of making wine and the life that goes with it. Either way, wine from Burgundy is damn good.
Before we get to the good parts of wine-tasting (I know, I know... I've been a tease), I'm going to talk about Beaune, which is on the Côte de Nuits pathway.
Beaune, just like Dijon, is a cute little town. It's a bit more touristy than Dijon (and smaller), but in the sense that it caters mostly to French tourists or seasonal regulars who come to the Côte de Nuits to buy crates of wine for the year. I totally wanted a crate but alas, our apartment in Paris is not suitable to store wine... according to Petite Copain. It's true, though-- you should store wine in a cellar or wine refrigerator... neither of which we (in)conveniently have at this time :P
No one likes wine that's turned into vinegar.
Not unlike Dijon, you'll find a ton of architectural treasures as well as scenes of country living. I didn't find any ancient phallic graffiti in Beaune, not that I was looking too hard... Or maybe I was already too drunk by then to notice? :P
Sadly, we didn't spend too much time in Beaune (we had appointments to drink lots of alcohol, people!) but we did explore the main center of the town. Full of antique shops, fancy hotels, and chic bistros, Beaune is a nice place to visit. The main attraction, besides the caves or wine sellers/producers that offer tastings directly in the city, is the Hospices de Beaune l'Hôtel-Dieu. A spectacular display of Burgundy architecture (those colorful, patterned roofs!) that comes along with a beautiful, romantic history of being a charitable hospital... l'Hôtel-Dieu must be on your list of things to do! You can get lost there for an entire day!
And they also own a prestigious winery and you can buy their wine there!
The museum is very friendly to different language speakers (other than French!) so you can get an audio self-tour in a variety of languages. Also, many of the displays have English translations. The English self-guided tour was very wonderfully made, with different actors narrating the love story and history behind this hospital. While the l'Hôtel-Dieu is no longer in service for treating patients, a new medical facility nearby serves the area with the same name as well as the historical values for treating the poor and sick.
Wine Tasting in Burgundy
Finally! The part you've all been waiting for. I'm writing this as I drink a glass of wine, just to trigger back the memories. The first winery we visited was Chateau Meursault. It's not technically on the Côte de Nuits, but on the Côte de Beaune. I would say that this winery was my absolute favorite as the tasting was reasonally priced at 25 euros for seven to nine tastings!
So of course, we choose this tour/tasting. Lots of alcohol for your buck!
The estate is elegant and the people who worked there were extraordinarily friendly. At first, we weren't too sure about the service because it took us so long to meet our tour guide. Nevertheless, the waiting room/entrance building was extremely comfortable and we didn't mind waiting too much. Our tour was in French (I think tours in English are possible, but call ahead) and was extremely detailed. That's how I learned about the soil and the official map ;)
Exploring the cave or cellar was such a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I was expecting something dark and damp, with bats, but that wasn't't the case. Dark, yes. But no bats. The temperature was surprisingly comfortable... not too cold, not too warm. I guess wine likes to ferment the way I like to take naps! The cave of Chateau Meursault was quite large and we didn't visit each chamber. In fact, I think there were multiple caves!
Chateau Meursault does offer another tour where you get to try wine right out of the casks. The next time we visit, we plan to try it out. It felt somewhat mystical and even sacred to be down there, as the cave was hundreds of years old. The oldest bottle I saw was from the 1920's!
As I said above, it was around 25 euros to have a wine tasting of seven to nine wines, depending on the season. We got to try exactly nine, three of which were white and the rest red, getting darker and more aged as we went.
Before this wine tasting, I had only gone to a couple tastings in California. I knew you had to swish the glass and then smell the wine as the same time you drank it. However, California is much more casual than France! Their wine rituals are so.... complicated and refined. You're not supposed to drink all the wine, only taste it. Our tour guide who also led the tasting was an expert at smelling, swirling, tasting, and then delicately spitting the wine out in something that looked like it belonged in a Catholic church! We were on the tour with an older French couple and I carefully watched whether or not they copied this same routine. The man mostly drank all of the wine and the woman drank half, spitting out most of it in a stern, lady-like fashion.
Since Petit Copain was driving, I thought I could drink all of those glasses of wine. Petit Copain, despite wanting to be a responsible driver, didn't want to waste good wine either. So we drank as much as possible. At the end, nine glasses in one hour were way too much. With my last glass, I attempted to spit out my wine like the classy tour guide. HOWEVER, stupid clumsy American me spat out the wine in the most indelicate way: the wine came out of my mouth like it was a big, loud, splattering loogy than a discreet stream of fluid. I wasn't even that drunk yet!
People pretended not to be offended as they heard my wine spittle hit the Catholic-looking metal stand really loudly. I think the darn thing rang a little.
At the end of our Meursault tasting, Petite Copain and I bought two terrific bottles of wine, one white and one red (a Premier Cru). Unfortunately, both of us were too tipsy to drive. Our other tasting wasn't for hours, so we went back into the car to rest. This was when Petit Copain pulled out a giant bag of plain madeleines. Surprise! Bread and fat do help soak up alcohol, as well as water and time. I sat in the car and watched Petit Copain consume 100 madeleines. I ate about 30. It was... interesting.
Hours later, after having a long walk and even more madeleines and water, we were able to go to our next tasting at Chateau de Pommard.
Chateau de Pommard was on the same path as Meursault so it was easy to get to. Considered to be more prestigious than Meursault, we were excited that maybe we'd get to taste 1920's wine or something. Our greeting was cold, as the person who checked us in kind of left us to hang around with no comfy chairs or ETA for our tour. Still, the grounds of the chateau were beautiful, and awe-inspiring and so we went to explore until a tour guide found us.
Our tour was supposed to be in English, but unfortunately, our guide was a bit tired and maybe even tipsy. His English took a downfall right in the middle of explaining the soil content within the estate... I have to give him props though... it's not an easy feat, even for me, a native speaker, to explain!. Our tour ended up being mostly in French but I didn't mind too much. After the initial introduction to the chateau, he took us underground.
Unlike the deal we had with Chateau Meursault, Chateau de Pommard was a bit more expensive. For about the same price (25-30 euros), we had a tasting of five wines, in addition to the cave tour. We choose this time to only taste the red wines, ranging from 30-200 euros a bottle. Let me tell you, Grand Cru is mindblowing. Its density is heavier than younger, less prestigious wines and the taste is smooth, oaky, and like silk on the tongue.
We definitely didn't spit out any wine during this tasting but luckily we didn't get wasted either. Petit Copain and I spent the most money here, with one white (we didn't try it but the guide recommended it to us), one Premier Cru, and one lesser Grand Cru. So no, we didn't buy a 200 bottle of wine nor a bottle from the 1920's. Still, we did spend a lot on a grand total of five wines that day.
Wine tasting in Burgundy was the most memorable journey I have ever experienced in my life so far. I can't wait to go back and visit more wineries. Perhaps one day, when Petit Copain and I have a house with a proper cave or whatever, we'll get some crates. Until then, I'll be daydreaming of our days here. We still have two bottles from our trip...
One that we're saving for our upcoming wedding. More on that later... :)
That ends my trip review for Burgundy. À bientôt, my dear readers!