Where to start on the virtues of Burgundy? The wine? The most delicious and stinky cheeses? (I’m looking at you, epoisse!) Bustling markets filling cobblestone streets or the way sunbeams light up the vineyards during golden hour each evening? After Paris we were excited to return to Beaune, a quaint town in the heart of Burgundian wine country for a weekend of degustation and exploration with friends. David and I have always enjoyed wines from Burgundy (white burgundies are David’s favorite!) and with over 100 appellations we had much more to explore.
Burgundy is a unique region for wine making, even for France. The first settlement of Beaune dates back to the Roman era in the 1st Century AD, and by the 13th century it was already a prosperous wine growing region. UNESCO has designated it a world heritage site, and it’s considered the most terroir focused of all of France’s winemaking regions, with a system of classification that ranges from Grand Cru to small regional appellations. Many of these classifications date back to medieval times when monks had a hand in developing Burgundy as a wine region. Since a few of the main factors are controlled for (they mostly grow pinot noir and chardonnay grapes and blending is strongly discouraged) the wines are identified by their region, maker, and quality of the terroir. In contrast to the wine tasting culture expected in places like Napa Valley, tastings at wineries are less common in Burgundy as the wineries prioritize distribution to restaurants and wine cellars first.
Today, Beaune feels like the setting for a filming of Beauty and the Beast, but I appreciate that it doesn’t try too hard to impress tourists. The historic town center lies within well preserved ramparts, and the cobblestone streets and stone buildings house a small community of 20,000 residents, a famous hospital (the Hospices de Beaune), and countless wineries and production facilities. There are only a handful of hotels in Beaune and we chose to stay at Le Cep (French for “the vine”), a small family run hotel in the center of town, just steps from the central market, Hospices de Beaune and my favorite restaurant: Le Dilettante. Formerly, the hotel’s central building was an antique store & guest house, where the owner welcomed potential buyers from around the world to sleep in rooms furnished with antiques that were available for purchase. The property has since expanded to include a few neighboring buildings, which have allowed them to add a spa, extensive wine cellar and more uniquely appointed rooms.
It only takes two hours to walk every street and alleyway in Beaune, so on our first morning we explored on foot to find the best spots. We earmarked a few antique stores (Quatre Faubourg Antiques is amazing and so well organized!) and specialty groceries (The Cook’s Atelier, Fromagerie Alain Hess) to return to later for picnic supplies and the ingredients to cook a meal together with our friends in their apartment. Visiting The Cook’s Atelier, a beautiful wine shop and carefully curated cooking supply store, gave me the first pangs of homesickness and made me wish for a kitchen of my own again! This is probably why cooking dinner at Paige and Jamie’s apartment was the highlight of our time in Beaune.
As I mentioned before, tastings aren’t as common in Burgundy but there are still many wineries that offer “degustations” where you can sample the wines before buying. Most wineries don’t advertise this online, so the best way to discover these tastings is by driving through the many adorable towns looking for signs (Pommard, Volnay (which also has very nice walking trails through the hills), Meursault and Nuits-Saint-Georges are all wonderful). Two tastings that I’d recommend: Château de Pommard, which we visited for the first time in 2014 and had a wonderful experience, as they consider themselves ambassadors of Burgundian wines in a region and industry that typically feels closed to visitors, and a tasting at Cellier de la Cabiote so you can meet the owner Emmanuel, a quintessential Burgundian wine enthusiast proud to be from what is clearly the best wine region in the world ;), and happy to educate his listeners on the proper cultivation of grapes, production of wine, and tasting methodology. My favorite wine from our visit was a 2012 Domaine Lecheneaut Vosne-Romanee that we had at Auprès du Clocher in Pommard on our last night. The dinner there was delicious even if the server did try to shame me into ordering more when I only ordered two courses instead of four!
Until next time, Burgundy!
All photos by David and Stacie Flinner for stacieflinner.com