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Driving Down the Road of Grand Cru Legends

By Wink Lorch

Domaine d'Ardhuy, Côte de Nuits

There’s a road in France that always makes my heart beat a little faster, the first time I drove down it I was just 17, which is more years ago than I care to reveal. My friends with whom I was heading south from England on a European camping holiday, couldn’t understand my excitement. Look, I pointed – Gevrey-Chambertin, Morey-St-Denis, Vougeot, Nuits-St-Georges … I simply couldn’t believe all those amazing wine names were flashing by us so quickly, one after another.

I knew the names, because my big sister ran a conference centre, and used to bring home wines to sample, often Burgundies, usually from one of the big négociants that exported to the UK. I’d tasted Gevrey-Chambertin and Nuits-St-Georges several times, and already acquired a taste for them, which I confess I’ve never lost! Recently, not only did I drive down that road again, but by pure chance shortly on our return, I was invited to dinner and served a sublime 1999 Mazis Chambertin. As a wine professional I don’t admit to favourite wines, but it’s true a little of my heart always belongs to red Burgundy and the road through the vineyards looks beautiful to me whatever the season.

Real wine touring isn’t just about appointments to taste wines at the producers interspersed with restaurant meals and shopping, it’s about breathing in the air and the scenery around – if you like, call it absorbing the terroir, in the broadest sense of that difficult word. Terroir, much talked about on other blogs and articles, to me encompasses the feeling of a place, not just its soil, climate and location. Do schedule in time on your next wine tour to take a walk or a drive through the vineyards or better still, both.

View from the Route des Grands Crus © Brett Jones

Back to Burgundy and more specifically, the Côte de Nuits which is the part of the Côte d’Or (the so-called Golden Slope) that runs from just south of Dijon to Beaune. First-time wine lovers to Burgundy tend to make a beeline to Beaune, and a fine city it is too, but recently I drove north from there to rediscover the wine villages and towns that are home to some of the greatest Pinot Noir wines. As you head north on the main D774 (formerly the famous N74), you will see the best vineyards on the warm south-east facing slopes, on your left. The more interesting and officially sign-posted Route des Grands Crus takes the smaller roads through the villages just up the hill.

Quite a busy thoroughfare, the town of Nuits Saint Georges is home to several of the large Burgundy merchants and you can taste at the Moillard shop for example, which is on the main road. Visit at quieter times and you will receive a good introduction here to the difference between the complicated Burgundy quality levels of Village, Premier Cru and Grand Cru. There’s a pleasant shopping street in Nuits too with several wine shops, and I was particularly taken with a food shop called Fruirouge with tasty farm-produced jams, syrups and ideal gifts for foodies.

From Nuits, drive north through the vineyards and make a first stop to play homage to the Grands Crus vineyards above the village of Vosne-Romanée. In particular you can seek out the walled vineyard of Romanée-Conti, producing the most expensive Burgundy of all. Then drive on a little further to take a look at the quite spectacular Château du Clos de Vougeot surrounded by vineyards. If you decide to go in and visit, try to imagine the courtyard and buildings filled with the Chevaliers du Tastevins, dressed up in their red robes – quite a scene.

Sculpture, Gevrey-Chambertin © Brett Jones

Gevrey-Chambertin (originally named Gevrey, but then, like many other Burgundy towns and villages,it added on the name of its most famous vineyard) is a quiet town with an old part up the hill. You’ll catch sight of views through to the vineyards and as you drive up through the middle there is a really interesting modern metal sculpture in the form of four gates, honouring the traditional winegrowing crafts. It was installed in the year 2000 to celebrate the village hosting the winter wine festival of St-Vincent held in a different village each year. Gevrey has a couple of wine producers you can visit in the town and an excellent restaurant with wine shop next door named Chez Guy. I ate the most superb traditional Burgundy dish there of melt-in-the-mouth beef cheek, braised in local red wine of course.

Driving back down to Beaune, south of Nuits-St-Georges we visited a wine estate with a fine house at the end of tree-lined drive just off the main road. Domaine d’Ardhuy is home to the wine of Clos de Langres, a ‘Monopole’ meaning the domaine owns the vineyard outright. A vineyard named ‘clos’ has a wall around it and here the other side of the wall is where the Côte de Beaune begins. Domaine d’Ardhuy produce a range of red and white Burgundies of good quality at all levels but the Clos de Langres is a simple appellation Côte de Nuits Villages, that tastes as good as most Premiers Crus. You can visit the shop at any time, visit the old cellar and pay a small fee to taste.

The Route des Grands Crus meanders all the way through both the Côte de Nuits and the Côte de Beaune. If you love Burgundy, it’s well worth a pilgrimage to travel this road, it will remain in your mind whenever you taste the wines back home.

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