I feel wretched for not putting out an article regarding French wine on Bastille Day. France to me is les vignobles (the vineyards), and I find that the lack of a proper wine tribute to the first country that welcomed me in their vineyards is a travesty.
To make up for this, I’ve decided to write a three-part series on French (and semi-French) wine regions I’ve visited, kicking it off with Burgundy.
What a way to #throwback.
We were young.
I just finished my WSET exams, eternally grateful that we mapped out Burgundy (I paid particular attention to the region for our trip).
I was masochistic and stubbornly cocky (I decided to go to one of the most complicated wine regions on Earth to have our first wine tour for our honeymoon!).
Chad wanted to make it an exceptionally memorable experience, so he decided to book a private tour with a dedicated guide.
Our bags were packed, and after a whirlwind tour in Paris (on a tight budget, complete with a sagging bed that was made up for by the most charming patisserie down the street), we set off for Dijon in a tiny Peugeot (which we named “Tomtom” after the GPS system it came with).
Dijon is the nearest city in the Burgundy wine region, and for a fraction of the cost of our Paris hotel, we got the most charming room a few steps away from a galette shop run by the sweetest old French lady.
We were picked up for our tour by one of my favourite tour guides on earth, Sacha. He was a dry, blunt, quintessentially French guy with a vast knowledge (and pride) of the wines from his hometown of Beaune (a region in Burgundy).
We had a first stop with a tour group in a small winery, and after I eagerly asked him technical questions about the wines of the region (“Does biodynamic farming really affect the quality of the wines here?” “How close is the closest distance of two vines that change classification?”), he said, “Oh, I’m happy you know about that. Most of the few Asians we get here are from *insert country here* and do not understand that. Then they would end up disappointed.”
“Really? How do the people here feel about it?”
“Annoyed. If you don’t understand our wines yet and are looking for free bottles, we normally would suggest Bordeaux.”
He looked at me thoughtfully. “I really feel that the rest of the itinerary would be boring to you, since you already know things. May I change the rest of the itinerary to something that would probably interest you?”
I should have probably thought to myself, “You’re the only Filipinos I’ve seen since Paris. You don’t speak the language. Your embassy is about five hours away. A tour guide is asking you to get into his car to go to a place that you don’t know, a continent away from where you live. Are you &%#@$ crazy?!?”
Of course, I said yes.
He ended up taking us to Château de Corton André where I’ve had one of the best Chardonnays (in the form of an Aloxe-Corton) I’ve ever had in my life.
Let me break down some very simple, “survival” facts on Burgundy wines for your potential tour:
- Red wine of Burgundy is primarily Pinot Noir (arguably the most delicate wine grape on the planet… It requires such a delicate handling of the grapes and the wine they become, and really cold temperatures plus specific weather patterns to be at its optimum).
- White wine of Burgundy is primarily Chardonnay; incomparable to the entry-level supermarket varieties I’ve tried. Burgundy Chardonnays are gorgeous, elegant, deeply characterised whites that have beautiful notes of honey, subtle hints of butter, and a little bit of pear. The key is a lot of character balanced with equal amounts of subtlety.
- Burgundy is home to one of the most expensive red wines of the world, Romanée-Conti.
- The soils of Burgundy have extremely unequal mineral distribution, which means that vines three feet away from another set of vines can have a vastly different classification (and price).
That being said, I fell in LOVE with the glass of Chardonnay I had deep in the heart of my first wine cellar. To this day, that breathtaking glass is still my benchmark for a proper Chardonnay (a friend and fellow wino argued that it was unfair, but hey… When you’ve had the best, right?).
Speaking of Romanée-Conti, we were treated to a trip outside their vineyard. I was flabbergasted (and star-struck). Despite the fact that a few years prior to our trip, there was a legitimate threat by an individual to commit extortion by herbicide, their security involves a small wall I could easily scale, even with my ACL.
One of the things that make Romanée-Conti expensive is their use of biodynamic farming. Biodynamic farming involves a holistic understanding of the agricultural process. It involves sustainability, and treats all aspects of a vineyard (soil, ability for the plant to grow, and even the livestock) as ecologically interrelated tasks in a seemingly “spiritual science”. There is emphasis on using manures and composts as opposed to artificial chemicals.
It sounds mystical, and admittedly, I don’t know enough about the methodology to be able to concretely explain in detail how it works. Apparently, however, it is really effective. As an archbishop in the 1780s once said, the wines of Romanée-Conti are like “velvet and satin in bottles” with their smooth texture and multi-faceted character.
We couldn’t get in the premises (appointments were costly and hard to come by at the time), but just to see the vines over the walls and touch the marker was divine.
After much prodding from Sacha, (who insisted that the weather outside was “crazy” and cold… Of course, it took him a while to convince me, as I was thisclose to hugging the marker and cause an international relations issue), we headed back to the car. An eternally grateful (and sufficiently warmer) Sacha looked at me and said, “I have one more treat for you.”
We were taken to this wonderful wine shop in Beaune named Mon Millésime (“My Vintage”, click here for their website), where were treated to the art of vintage wines.
The proprietor, Philippe Renaud, explained that some of the more expensive, sought after wines are the ones which barely moved… Hence, he prefers to purchase wines that are kept in a cellar, unmoved, and located in the same region as the wine’s origin. In fact, because his shop is in Beaune, he has a preference for wines of Beaune.
I also learned from Philippe that Beaune wines prior to WWII might have inaccurate vintage labels. This is because the people of Beaune, rather than give their best vintages to the Nazis, mixed up the labels and kept the good stuff for them, and for posterity.
Well, that was certainly one way to stick it to them.
It was also a good insight to the value they put on their wines. I’ve always said that wine is a reflection of the culture of its origins, and to see the French be proud of their wines so much was just amazing.
Next stop on our French #throwback: Champagne. 😉
What’s your favourite French wine region? Santé!