The New York Times ran an article a few weeks ago about traveling to Beaune in Burgundy, France. I read this article with some amusement because this summer I also spent a few days in Beaune, also ate a ton of delicious food, also walked through the vineyards, and also toured Joseph Drouhin…but at a fraction of the price. This encouraged me to write up my own experiences. Enjoy!
The word’s “Burgundy” and “Budget” together in the same sentence have become an oxymoron. Over the past decade or so, Burgundy has arguably surpassed Bordeaux as the source of the most desired fine wines. Burgundy wines, with the exception of entry-level Bourgognes, are for the most part unaffordable to the vast majority of the wine drinking public. Is it even possible to visit Burgundy and sample the wines without going broke?
Of course, a ‘budget’ in Burgundy is still not going to be cheap. However, this past summer my brother and I spent a weekend in Beaune at the center of the Cote d’Or. All together, accommodation visits to two winery cellars, and food came out to 300 Euros total for the two of us. Given what we were able to do with that money, it was a bargain.
We met on a Friday afternoon at the train station in Beaune, him coming from Paris and me from nearby Dijon. In that 20 minute ride, I followed along on Google maps as we passed through some of the most famous names in wine: Gevrey-Chambertin, Chambolle-Musigny, Vosnee-Romanee, Nuits-Saint-Georges, and Corton. Unable to afford many of the fancy, historic hotels in town, we instead decided to stay at Premire Classe Beaune, a chain hotel about a mile outside the historic center of town. Not very glamourous, but only 55 Euros/night for a room with a private bathroom and air conditioning…much appreciated during the weekends 40° C heatwave. For an extra 5 Euros/person, a breakfast buffet was also offered.
No weekend in Beaune is complete without enjoying a delicious, multi-course meal over a bottle of local wine, which is exactly what we proceeded to do. After spending about 10 minutes online, I settled on Le Comptoir des Tontons, a small bistro known for creative recipes made using local, organic ingredients and an interesting wine list. It did not disappoint; the wine list was filled with wines from every corner of Burgundy (along with Champagne & the Rhone). Through my brother’s translation skills, I managed to ask the owner (and waiter) what wines he would recommend and eventually settled on a Julien Altaber Sextant Maranges 2013. I did some research, and Julien is a very new small producer mostly working south of Beaune in St. Aubin and the relatively obscure village of Maranges, farming organically. He also makes an Aligote (the ‘other’ white grape in Burgundy). Despite having only 11.5% alcohol, this Pinot didn’t taste weak or watery at all, but was an elegant accompaniment to the meal. I was secretly relieved by the end of the meal that it was only 11.5% because my brother only had one glass and I, well, drank the rest of the bottle!
The food was also delicious and lovely. To save money, we ordered one of the 4-course menu (starter, main, cheese, and dessert) and split it between the two of us. First we ate a delicate steamed white asparagus with a egg, served in a light broth with hints of mint. Our main course was a super tender beef served with potatoes. After a plate of local cheeses, dessert was a mint sorbet served with fresh red berries. The photos below do a much better job than my descriptions. In total, the meal and the bottle of wine was 86 Euros.
The next morning, we returned to town to explore the picturesque, partially walled city of Beaune. We walked around squares, restaurants, wine shops, and the picturesque Hospice de Beaune, still the site of the famous wine auction every November. Before Dijon, Beaune was the capital of Burgundy, as well as the site of many famous (and fabulously wealthy) religious orders…most of whom made wine. I disappeared for an hour or two to do a self-guided tour at Patriarche for about 14 Euros, leaving my less wine-enthused traveling partner to continue wandering. Their cellars, originally the cellars of a convent, were quite impressive, and I tasted a wide range of mostly red Burgundy wines available for tasting throughout the cellar. It was kind of touristy, but fun.
Lunch was a delight, because Saturday was market day. The square outside the Hospice de Beaune was filled with local merchants selling delicious and fresh fruits, veggies, bread, fromage, dried meats, terrines, foie gras, and other goodies. It was exactly the sort of thing one would expect to find in rural France. For a little under 6 Euros, my brother and I bought (and split) a baguette, a large chunk of cheese, and two pears. We ate them in the square in the center of Beaune, right outside the Collégiale Basilique Notre Dame and across the street from Maison Joseph Drouhin.
Our (or at least my) raison d’etre for being in Beaune this weekend was a tour and tasting at Joseph Drouhin, conveniently located in the center of the city right next to the church. This wasn’t a coincidence; as it turns out, Drouhin’s cellars in Beaune were originally where the Catholic Church in Beaune made and stored their wines back beginning in the 13th century, and were expanded with the addition of the Dukes of Burgundy’s former cellar space. The history and details of the winemaking process, both historically during the time of those monks and into the present, was incredibly fun and rewarding, but the best part of the tour was the tasting: 6 of Joseph Drouhin’s wines, three red and three white.
I was particularly impressed by the whites. Previously, I was not the greatest fan of Chardonnay, having drunk far too many cheap and uninspiring versions. However, the three Chardonnays–a 2012 Premier Cru Chablis, 2009 Chassange Montrachet, and 2011 Puligny Montrachet Folatieres (also a 1er Cru)—pleasantly surprised me.
They were all delicious, aromatic, and well-balanced, but what impressed me the most were the differences–the Chablis steely and citrusy, the Chassange Montrachet honeyed and layered, and the Puligny Montrachet (my favorite of the three) a lovely combination of both citrus and honey while remaining dry with just the right level of acidity.
I certainly missed many of the nuances, but even so it seemed quite remarkable to me that the same grape (Chardonnay) could produce such diversity. I suppose it must be the magic of terror. My excitement deflated a bit when, after we left, my brother told me afterward that he thought “all the whites tasted the same.” Regardless, I left with much more respect for what Chardonnay can be.
The Red were also impressive and delicious: a 2012 Cote d’Beaune Villages, a 2012 Premier Cru Chambolle-Musigny, and a special surprise in the 2008 Corton-Clos du Roi Grand Cru. Apparently an importer had been in earlier that day with a special guest but had to leave to catch a flight to Brazil, thus leaving the rest of the bottle for us to taste. Both the Chambolle Musigny and the Corton were wonderful, somehow managing to be both rich and delicate, structured and elegant. I may have poured myself another small taste of the Corton on the way out…it’s not like I get a chance to drink red Burgundy like that every day!
I ended up buying a bottle of the Chablis we tasted on the way out. It went very well with oysters a few weeks later on the beach! The total for two of us plus the wine was about 90 Euros. Although a bit pricey, it was a fantastic opportunity to try a few wines from one the the best producers in Burgundy. As I told my younger brother, how many 19 year olds can say they’ve tasted Grand Cru Burgundy?
Late that afternoon, after seeing my traveling companion back on the train to Paris, I spent the rest of the daylight wandering about in the vineyards outside of Beaune. This may or may not have involved somewhat sketchily wandering around other people’s backyards in order to reach the fields of Chardonnay. Fortunately, for less adventurous folk, there are walking and biking trails that do a nice job of laying out the geography and terroir of the surrounding countryside. However, nothing beats standing barefoot in a Burgundy vineyard as the sun sets over the hills of the Cote d’Or. When I took the train out the next morning to head to Macon, and then Taize, I promised that someday, I’d come back.
- Hotel: 55/night *2 = 110 Euros
- Food: 88 (fancy dinner) +10 (breakfast buffet)+ 6 (lunch) + 6 (late afternoon snack)= 110
- Winetasting: 70 (Joseph Drouhin) + 14 (Patriarche) = 84
- Total: 304 Euros
**Extras: Wine bottle purchase: 20**
So not counting the extra wine, it turned out to be 152 Euros per person. Not bad, considering rooms at the hotel advertised in the NY Times begin at 200 Euros a night.