[Don’t miss Grégoire’s fantastic photo series of Chambolle-Musigny vineyards. A lot of the area we covered on this trip is well documented in his photo series.]
We headed back down the hill, but around to the other side of the ridge. This is the Haute Cotes region, which produces a lighter wine – it’s much more remote, and the landscape reminds me of some of the back valleys of Sonoma. We were looking for an auberge restaurant that Gregoire knew in one of the villages – but turns out it was closed Monday and Tuesday. We headed on through the region, and came back out further south, towards Beaune – the next big town that marks the beginning of the Cotes de Beaune region (the entire “departement” – read state – is the Cotes d’Or, and the northern part where we were is called the Cotes de Nuits, and represents only a fraction of the area of Burgundy wines).
We parked downtown, near the Hospice of Beaune, which has a fundraiser every year selling it’s wines at elevated prices to support what is now one of the most well-equipped hospitals in France. We popped into a little bakery to get some simple sandwiches, and Gregoire went around the corner to pick up a bottle of wine. We were very much in the tourist district, so they had wine stores every three doors. He came back with a half-bottle of Cotes de Beaune (the most general regional appellation there above “Burgundy”) from 1995.
We jumped back in the car, and up to Aloxe-Corton, a small town to the north of Beaune (not quite back into the Cotes de Nuits region). This is where Gregoire did his first wine internships, and he has fond memories of the place. There are two main hills here – both large mounds rising from this side of the valley, a kilometre or so from the west ridge. One has vines on all sides, and a forest on the top, giving it the look of… a Beatles haircut?
The other is the same, except the Beatles haircut has a rectangle cut out of it for statues of a virgin or saint. We drove up to the top of the latter, and had our sandwiches and half-bottle overlooking the virgin and that part of the valley. The Cotes de Beaune was still pretty lively for a 12 year old wine, spicy like a pinot noir should be, yet very light. Gregoire said it was a great deal at the price (less than 10 Euros), and I believed him.
We headed back through the vines, again passing the crazy Clos Vougeot with its centuries old walls, and divvied up blocks of grapes, some of which fetch the highest prices in the world (OK, Screaming Eagle notwithstanding). We drove right by the wall of Romanee-Conti, and their jackass but polite bilingual sign encouraging people to stay out of their vineyard (Gregoire said that at the prices the wine goes for, a single grape comes to something like 20 Euros). Finally back to Chambolle-Musigny, to catch up with his friend Veronique, widow of and inheritor of the Roumier wines.
The Roumier cave was nice and cool after a long day of driving in the heat. It’s not an old brick style cellar, but more of an enlarged garage – in fact, where she keeps her barrels looks only just a little bigger than two 2-car garages. It’s very mellow – not a formal tasting, since she knows Gregoire so well (she leaves us alone several times to answer calls etc) – although she does have 5 bottles for us to try – since she’s basically open to anyone who comes, and it’s a weekend. The Roumier wines come in several different versions – an Hautes Cotes (the lighter wine from the backside of the valley), a Chambolle village appellation, a Premier Cru appelation, and then a Bonnes Mares Grand Cru and a Clos Vogeut Grand Cru. I didn’t know that a) we had looked down on some of her Bonnes Mares Grand Cru earlier that day on the slope visit, and b) that she had some property in Clos Vougeot. I was going to taste a Premier Cru and two Grand Crus. Holy crap.
And holy crap. The village appellation was already amazing. The Premier was a little tight – it needed some time to get over bottle shock, apparently. The Grands Crus were…. well, out of this world. They were also very, very distinctly pinot noirs, much more like the big pinots you get in the US than I expected. Maybe not quite as much burning alcohol, but still huge mothers with lots of spice. And they had been opened since the day before….
Everything we had tasted that day was in little glasses – what I think of as sherry copas – that are the standard tasting glass of the French Oenological Society. Nonetheless, these wines were intense. Speaking of glasses, Gregoire had to pop out for a second to return the glasses we had borrowed from the cave down the street to drink our aligoté earlier, so I took some time to ask Veronique some questions. It turns out all the barrels we could see in the room (about 50-100 medium to small barrels – most smaller than even the simple US pickle barrels) was her total harvest for 2006 (almost all of 2005 was already in bottles). I asked her what her production was – she said 15 thousand. Cases? No, bottles. Holy crap – that’s 1250 cases. Freakin’ Kaz in Sonoma – a tiny winery – makes 4000 cases….
We made our orders, and she grabbed bottles out of large steal holding bins, and then ran them through the capping and label machines (all bottles are uncapped and unlabeled while in storage). As we were paying, Veronique asked us if we wanted to take any of the open bottles with us – they had already been open a day, and she was going to chuck them that night. We demurred for about 15 seconds, then Gregoire said he’d take the Chambolle village appellation (which was excellent). Since she had heard me say I definitely wanted to try a Clos Vougeot while we were at the tasting, she offered that to us to – I think we demurred the bare minimum 7.8 seconds to be polite, then said oh hell, we’d lighten her load. We put our 6-bottle cases (the standard in Burgundy) in the car, thanked Veronique, and headed back home.
(And needless to say, I sipped on the Clos Vougeot as I wrote my first draft of these notes…..)
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