Driving Down the Road of Grand Cru Legends

April 15, 2010

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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A wine tasting and a long lunch in the middle of France

August 18, 2009

By Wink Lorch

Red Menetou Salon bottleTesting out the insider expert advice on Wine Travel Guides is definitely one of the perks of my job. As a wine educator, I used to advise my students that by choosing top producers from lesser-known wine appellations, they would find better value than choosing a nobody from the well-known appellations. It’s no different with a wine tour, so when we wanted a stop en route to visit my sister south of Tours, we checked out Jim Budd’s guide to the Central Vineyards of the Loire and planned our Saturday.

We’d both already visited Sancerre and Pouilly-sur-Loire (home to Pouilly Fumé and arguably one of the most boring ‘famous wine villages’ in France!), so we decided on a short visit to one of the more obscure Central Vineyards appellations: Menetou-Salon, Quincy or Reuilly. We selected Menetou-Salon for the simple reason that we could link up a visit and tasting at a family-owned domaine with lunch at an interesting-sounding restaurant.

Pierre Jacolin of Le Prieuré de Saint Céols was initially reserved and somewhat preoccupied as during Saturday afternoon and Sunday that first weekend of August, the Menetou-Salon producers were holding ‘Caves Ouvertes’ (Open Cellars), meaning that for once, visitors are welcomed for tastings without needing appointments and often side-events are laid on. The only wine estate in the village of Saint Céols, set in an large old Benedictine priory linked to the famous Cluny monastery, the Jacolins had invited several local artisans to display and sell their crafts, arts and foods. Last minute preparations under the supervision of Pierre’s wife Christine were underway while we were tasting. As so often happens when tasting wines with a producer, as soon as he realized from our questions that we were genuinely interested, Pierre gave us plenty of information along with the wines to taste.

Domaine Jacolin in Menetou-Salon

The Jacolins' house in St-Céols © Brett Jones

The Jacolin range consists of two whites (Sauvignon Blanc), a rosé and two reds from Pinot Noir. As everywhere in the Loire’s Central Vineyards area, the whites made up the majority production from the domaine at around 70%. The slightly more expensive wine named Cuvée des Bénédictins was aged for longer on the yeast lees and bottled later giving a much deeper flavour and ageing potential than the ‘basic’ fresh and zippy white. Both the rosé and the two reds (the better one again named Cuvée des Bénédictins and this time, spending time in oak barrels) had longer maceration on the skins than most producers in the area give their Pinots. This gave more structured wines calling out loudly for food. After tasting a few older vintages, which impressed us greatly, we were offered a taste of a very different kind of drink – a Crème de Cassis made from blackcurrants grown on their family farm, and Pierre urged us to taste it neat, without adding any white wine to make a Kir. It was absolutely the most concentrated blackcurrant flavour I’d ever encountered and I could imagine it would be delicious over vanilla ice cream – we bought a bottle to try another day.

C'heu l'Zib Restaurant in Menetou-Salon ©Brett Jones

C'heu l'Zib, Menetou-Salon ©Brett Jones

As always, tasting made me hungry, so I was ready for lunch when we arrived at the restaurant C’heu l’Zib (Chez l’Zib) in the middle of the nearby village of Menetou-Salon. Apart from the food itself, the whole experience at Chez l’Zib (C’heu is the dialect word) reminded me of eating in the Italian countryside, though I suspect that decades ago there may have been more restaurants like this in France too. The warm, rustic interior is full of wood (including the trestle-like tables and rather uncomfortable school-like chairs), with decorations hanging from the ceiling and every piece of wall or beam, an open fire for winter and a bar in the corner. There is a cosy family atmosphere with strangers often sharing tables. Although a menu of sorts is displayed outside, there is no menu handed to you and you are expected to eat the menu of the day, which will include some choices. From most tables, you can see into the busy kitchen at the end where several women of all ages and one lone man bustled away. The restaurant was full this Saturday lunchtime with a mixture of locals and (French) tourists in the know.

Everything about the food is homely, simple, seasonal, regional and delicious. I started with half a melon (served completely plain) and Brett had perfect, rustic pork terrine. He followed with a classic of the restaurant, locally caught pike served simply in a typical beurre blanc (cream, butter and wine) sauce. I had tow magnificent slices of veal shin cooked in wine. Carrots in butter and simple roasted potatoes were served on the side. After, a big bowl of green salad and a cheese plate including several of the local goats’ cheeses were passed from table to table and replenished as needed. Dessert focussed on slices (however big you wanted) of a rich chocolate charlotte and there was a bowl of stewed plumss and another of marinated grapes. Phew! I feel full just writing this and to think that one option was to choose both the fish course and the meat course! The wine choice is even simpler: red or white, Menetou-Salon of course, from whatever producer they have around. You can have a bottle, a half-bottle or a glass …

Menetou Salon bottle sculpture © Jim Budd

Bottle sculpture in Menetou-Salon © Jim Budd

Our meal for two with a half a bottle of white and a glass of red plus a couple of coffees came to just 78 Euros. We had a slow walk around the village, inspected some badly hail-damaged vines (sadly 2009, the year in which the appellation celebrates its 50th birthday, commemorated by a bottle sculpture, has not been kind to Menetou-Salon) and then ambled off to the local woods for a siesta. Thanks to Jim Budd for recommending these gems in one of his five Loire guides.

By the way, in case you’ve not yet noticed, Wine Travel Guides is currently offering subscriptions at half price – only till August 26th. That makes the Gold subscription with access to 50 guides only £24.50 (approximately $42 or €30).

C’heu L’Zib, 2 Route des Aix d’Angillon, 18510 Menetou Salon
Tel: +33 (0)2 48 64 81 20 (No email, no website).
Open lunchtimes except Wednesdays. Dinner by reservation only except Wednesdays and Sundays.

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Special wine tour to be launched on Dregs Report

March 28, 2009

dregsbutton2On Wednesday 1st April Wine Travel Guides will be announcing a very special, unique, luxury wine tour opportunity in France. The announcement will appear here and will be linked to from the fabulous Dregs Report site.

Do come back and take a look. I’ll be joining a very important group of wine bloggers in contributing to an April 1st day of wine fun – naturally, it’s wine and travel that will be the theme.

Join us in putting the ridiculous back into wine touring. Check back on April 1st. LOL.

On a Screen Near You Soon: A Dreamy Wine Tour

March 1, 2009

For years I’ve known that when it comes to talking about wine, words can hardly do justice to the liquid itself: you need to taste and drink a wine for it to become alive. It’s true, words can describe a beautiful vineyard, a fascinating winemaking process, an atmospheric wine cellar or even some of the interesting people in the wine business, but words can only go so far. Visual images – photos and illustrations – often do a better job, if I’m honest. So, I really should keep quiet and get to the point.

Sunset near Cahors © Mick Rock/Cephas

Sunset near Cahors in the south-west of France © Mick Rock/Cephas

To illustrate each guide on Wine Travel Guides, I’ve chosen just one photo (because otherwise the PDF guides would be hard to print), and most of the pictures were taken by Mick Rock. Mick has been photographing everything to do with wine for over 20 years and he owns Cephas Picture Library, one of the world’s largest wine-specialist photo libraries. The library’s photos have appeared in some of the best known wine books and journals, published throughout the world. Mick’s library also provided the photos for the banner above.

Now, Mick has released a DVD called French Wine Odyssey – his personal selection of pictures from the wine world in France, many of which feature on Wine Travel Guides. The 24-minute DVD runs through a dreamy sequence of images that take you from Champagne to Bordeaux with stops in many of the more obscure wine regions of France. The pictures lead you deep into the cellars and out into the midst of the most spectacular vineyards; they even introduce you to a few characters of the French wine world. Mick has commissioned background music, which goes with the flow of his pictures.

The DVD is particularly good when viewed on a large wide screen – it would make an ideal backdrop for any wine bar, wine shop, restaurant or even in your own living room. You can preview a short excerpt, view thumbnails of all the pictures and find details of how to purchase the DVD or license it for commercial use from the Wine Odysseys website.

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The Weekly Twitter Quiz #7 – win a PDF Wine Travel Guide

February 18, 2009

Welcome, especially to any newcomers who’ve found this through the new Facebook page. Every week I give you a chance to win one of our micro-region guides (in addition to the sample guide which is available when your register on the site). We have  now reached a half-century … no less than 50 guides with 46 guides to France plus 2 guides to Tuscany and the latest additions, 2 guides to Rioja. Be the first to give the correct answer to this quiz on Twitter and you can choose any one of the guides them as your prize. Here goes:

Weekly Twitter Quiz #7 – Question
Name the pink wine made by an ancient method close to Bourg-en-Bresse.

You must follow me on twitter to compete. The first correct answer that is replied to @WineTravel wins the prize.

I will announce the answer and name the winner on Twitter first and then on a new post here with the answer and some extended explanation.

The Weekly Twitter Quiz #6 – Win a PDF Wine Travel Guide

February 11, 2009

It’s simple: enter our weekly quiz on Twitter by following me and sending a reply on Twitter with the answer to the question below. If you tweet the first correct answer, you win a choice of what will be – very soon I promise – one of 50, yes 50 travel guides to European wine regions. We have 46 guides to France (one of which, Inland Provence, you can view and download just by registering on the website), 2 guides to Tuscany, and in the next few days, 2 guides to Rioja in Spain. So scratch your heads – very quickly – tweet the answer and you will be in with a chance to win. If you don’t win, you could always subscribe

Weekly Twitter Quiz #6 – Question
Star-like fossils give their name to which wine appellation? Where?

You must follow me on twitter to compete. The first correct answer that is replied to @WineTravel wins the prize.

I will announce the answer and name the winner on Twitter first and then on a new post here with the answer and some extended explanation.

Weekly Twitter Quiz #3 – Win a PDF Wine Travel Guide

January 22, 2009

Are you following me on Twitter? I give regular updates and comments on there about wine, travel and life in general. And, once a week, usually on Wednesdays, but this week it’s Thursday, I tweet the Weekly Twitter Quiz. Just answer the question correctly on Twitter and if you are the first you win a PDF guide from Wine Travel Guides. You can choose any of the 46 micro-region guides to France or one of the two new guides to Tuscany.

Weekly Twitter Quiz #3 – Question
What two red AC wines would you most likely taste near Quéribus?

You must follow me on twitter to compete. The first correct answer that is replied to @WineTravel wins the prize.

I will announce the answer and name the winner on Twitter first and then on a new post here with the answer and some extended explanation.

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