Before this month, Burgundy was just a shelf on the wall of PlumpJack Wine & Spirits. Well, not just a shelf-- it was also frequently the landing point for my wandering eyes, and, consequently, the reason behind the dropping number in my bank account. Burgundy always felt a bit like a mythical place to me. The names of its producers sounded like faraway gods, its villages like little neighborhoods in heaven. I had to see it to believe it.
As it turns out, Burgundy is indeed a real place. I flew over and began my tedious verification process. We kicked off our trip in Chablis, the northernmost part of Burgundy just below Paris. Chablis is distinct from the rest of Burgundy both in terms of geography and personality. Chablis is a 100% white wine appellation, but the Chardonnay of Chablis can differ significantly from some of the richer styles found further down south. Chablis can get quite cold, and the lack of sun results in less ripe grapes that maintain racy acidity. The vineyards in Chablis sit atop what was once an old sea floor, and the soil still contains fossils of oyster shells and marine life. This gives Chablis wines a fresh, saline, and almost gritty quality that pairs perfectly with seafood. We enjoyed delicious tastings at Regnard, La Meuliere, and Domaine Colbois. We stocked up and hit the road again.
Before entering the throws of the Cote d’Or, we stopped off in a charming, quiet little town called Vezelay. We arrived the night before the Saint-Vincent Tournant, a festival that celebrates the feast day of Saint-Vincent, patron saint of wine. By the morning, the quaint streets had been transformed into a bustling party with over 30,000 people, the biggest crowd the town had ever seen. Winemakers and wine lovers came from all over Burgundy to give thanks to the patron saint and to ask for protection for the harvest to come. Each Burgundy village brought its own statue of Saint-Vincent, proudly hoisted on their shoulders and paraded around town. The hundreds of Saint-Vincents were paraded down to the vineyards at sunrise, through the streets of Vezelay, and then up the hill to the famous Romanesque basilica of Mary Magdalene.
After mass at the basilica, it was about time for some wine. 10 tasting tents were set up around the town, featuring wines from small Vezelay producers. Part of the fun of the Saint-Vincent Tournante is experiencing the variety of wine produced in Burgundy. The travelling nature of the festival allows each of Burgundy’s wine regions to have their moment in the spotlight. Vezelay is not the most famous Burgundy wine region-- certainly not in the U.S.-- but the festival showcased just how delicious Vezelay wines can be, and at excellent value. Nothing captures Burgundy’s fervor for winemaking quite like the Saint-Vincent Tournant. Their passion was contagious and I would’ve been game for day two of the festival the following day, but it was time to explore the rest of Burgundy.
Next we went down to the Cote d’Or-- the real kahuna for Burgundy freaks. We drove through the Cote de Nuits, stopping for the obligatory Domaine Romanee-Conti fangirl pic. I genuinely considered taking a bite of the legendary soil, but the fresh rainfall made the normally very appetizing dirt into mud. Or at least that was my excuse. In the meantime, it was time to taste some more wine.
We drove further down the Cote d’Or to our bnb in the Cote de Beaune. We hit a ton of wineries in the Cote de Beaune, tasting everything from the chewy and robust Pinots from furthest North in Aloxe-Corton to the rich and creamy Chardonnays of Meursault down South.
In Aloxe-Corton, we tasted at a winery called Corton C. The tasting room is a spectacular castle overlooking the prestigious Aloxe-Corton appellation. Aloxe-Corton is a small village that marks the transition from the Cote de Nuits to the Cote de Beaune. Aloxe-Corton boasts the most Grand Cru acreage of all the regions in Burgundy. It is home to the only Grand Cru reds in the Cote de Beaune, rustic Pinot Noirs that require a bit of patience-- most prefer 3-5 years in the cellar before opening. Vineyards are teeny with low yields, making their wines both very concentrated and also worth a pretty penny. We were very lucky to taste their riches.
In Meursault, we tasted at Caveau de Meursault, a tasting room featuring the wines of Moillard-Grivot. They completely spoiled us there, tasting us on a wide array of wines and telling us all the deliciously nerdy details to pair alongside them. My absolute favorites were the incredible Chardonnays of Meursault. Meursault is what most California Chardonnay dreams of being-- they’re typically rich and creamy, slightly honeyed, a bit nutty and aged in oak. But they’ve got the acidity and minerality to keep everything in balance. The name Meursault is thought to come from the Latin “muris saltus,” or “rat’s leap.” Locals say this is because it takes merely a rat’s leap to distinguish Meursault’s 155 acres from the Chardonnay of neighboring villages. It really is something special.
Lastly, we went even further down South all the way to Beaujolais-- still technically within the geographical boundaries of Burgundy, but with a wine tradition entirely their own. Beaujolais produces wine made almost exclusively from Gamay— a playful, approachable, and jolly grape, much like the people from Beaujolais themselves. The Beaujolais no pretense approach was a welcomed shift from the occasional snobbery that can infiltrate Burgundy wine culture. In Beaujolais, it became a lot less tasting-- more drinking.
That’s not to say Beaujolais wines can’t be serious. While we certainly enjoyed our share of young and vibrant Gamay glou glou, we also tasted some incredibly complex, ageworthy Beaujolais. One prime example were the wines of Chateau Thivin in the Cote de Brouilly. Up on the now dormant volcano of Mont Brouilly, Cote de Brouilly’s vineyards see a bit more sun, garnering ripe and full wines. The soil, a mixture of blue granite and volcanic material deposits, lend Cote de Brouilly wines a characteristic flinty note. Due to both the soil and the mountainous slopes, the vines are extremely well-drained. This lack of water results in reduced yields with smaller berries and produces wines with greater tannin and body than most Beaujolais would offer.
Domaine de Marrans is another excellent producer showcasing the range and depth of Beaujolais wines. We carry Domaine de Marran’s Morgon at our PlumpJack location on Fillmore-- I’m a big fan and I recommend it frequently to customers. I was very excited to visit the winery in person, and became even more excited when I found out that the domaine also had a bnb where we could stay the night. Staying at the winery was a great idea-- just walk down the stairs and you’re wine tasting in the cellar! Domaine de Marrans is run by Mathieu Melinand, who took over the family domaine in 2008. Mathieu is committed to sustainable farming and minimal intervention winemaking, letting his beautiful terroir shine through. Domaine de Marrans has parcels all over Beaujolais, but my favorite had to be Mathieu’s old vine Fleurie-- concentrated and complex, proving just how powerful Beaujolais wines can be.
And with that, our Burgundy adventure came to a close. I can now confidently say that Burgundy is a real place, unless that was all just a very, very good dream. Now I’m back to staring longingly at the Burgundy shelf, but this time the producers and villagers aren’t just words anymore-- they’re people, places, and memories.