Editor’s Note: While Carl is busy trying to get the wine bar up and running, we’ve asked Tom Welsh, the new manager of the 530 Wine Bar, to fill in for him. He has graciously filled in for the last three weeks. Thank you, Tom!
By Tom Welsh
Here is the third, and for now, final installment of my blogs on my week in France last month.
The three days in Bordeaux went too fast, but there were still four days in France ahead. Getting to Burgundy from Bordeaux by train “obliged” me to pass through Paris, so I spent a day there to rest up between wine tasting and touring.
I spent a pleasant 24 hours in Paris with a couple of nice meals and the discovery of a small chain of craft beer pubs, which I had not encountered on previous visits there. Normally French beer is not terribly varied, with most being either German style lagers from Alsace or Belgian style blonde beers from northern France. It was refreshing to see IPAs, porters, stouts and other international (I know, those are all British…) beer types being produced on a small scale in Paris.
I arrived in the charming town of Beaune, in the heart of the Burgundy wine region the following afternoon. Beaune is a town of only 20,000 residents but as the center of the Burgundy wine trade and tourism, it has a great selection of top-quality restaurants, including two with Michelin stars. And of course, there are many normal cafes, tasting rooms and typical bistro/brasserie type restaurants to choose from.
I have written here before about Burgundy (read his blog here) but every visit reveals more about this very small but very complex wine region. Burgundy is made up of five principal areas. From north to south they are Chablis (the only non-contiguous of the five), Côte de Nuits, Côte de Beaune, Côte Chalonnaise and Mâconnais. The 40 villages of Côte de Nuits and Côte de Beaune together is often referred to as the Côte d’Or (golden slope).
I toured vineyards in the Côte du Beaune and Côte de Nuits areas during the visit. The former had more dramatic countryside with steeper hills and more picturesque villages and valleys, while the Côte de Nuits was flatter with more gentler sloping hills. I tasted wines in the Côte du Beaune at a winery in Auxey-Duresses and in Meursault in the Côte d’Or and in the Côte de Nuits, in Nuits-St-Georges. One of the highlights for a wine geek like me, was seeing the Romanée Conti vineyard, which is wholly owned by Domaine Romanée Conti. This vineyard produces the world’s single most expensive bottle of wine. The lowest U.S. price for the most recent vintage, 2018, is $23,250 a bottle. It goes up as high as $32,000. Yes, that’s before sales tax.
The contiguous part of Burgundy is only about 75 miles long and a couple miles wide but there are 330 communes/ villages containing hundreds of distinct, named vineyards from which many different individual wines are produced. Most of these vineyard demarcations have been in place since the Middle Ages when the Cistercian monks began to compare and classify the differences in the wines from village to village and hillside to hillside. Burgundy accounts for only 4% of French wine production, yet the unique terroir and individual farming practices in this small area make Burgundy possibly the most interesting wine region of the world, producing some of the world’s most distinct and elegant wines.
One of the most interesting things about Burgundy vineyards is that most, unlike the Romanée Conti vineyard and some others, have multiple owners. Many people own just a few rows of vines in several different vineyards in several different appellations across the region. Clos Vougeot, albeit the largest of the Grand Cru vineyards, has 82 individual owners. They make a unique wine from each of their small part of each vineyard. This results in over 17,000 distinct Burgundy wines made every year. If you tasted 10 wines a day, it would take over 4 ½ years to taste every wine from a single vintage! No one can say they have tried every Burgundy wine.
I have said before that if I had to choose one wine to drink forever, it would be Burgundy (reds and whites). Champagne would be a close second, both due to the complexity and variety of different styles produced in such a small area. Gladly none of us will have to make that decision, but if you are unfamiliar with Burgundy wines, please explore. You don’t have to spend $23,000 for a bottle. There are plenty of good and interesting wines for $25 to $50 a bottle. As confusing as the labels may seem, take comfort in knowing that with very few exceptions, every red Burgundy wine is made from Pinot Noir and every white Burgundy is made from Chardonnay. Soil, micro-climates, farming decisions and winemaking techniques combine to create a wide range of styles to keep you curious for a lifetime.
Cheers to Burgundy!