Random Observations from Burgundy
Before I post about the various producers I visited – and many wines I tasted – from this famous and historic region, I’ve got a couple of quick stories about my time in Burgundy.
Self-Guided Cellar Tours
In Burgundy, I took four tours of domaine cellars which were “self-guided.” The logistics of such a tour are as follows: the domaine host greets you, hands you a brochure and a tasting glass, then says, “walk down the stairs to start your tour; the tastings are along the way (or at the end).” One of the fancier tours has video kiosks with information in various languages about the domaine and the wine producer along the way, but the rest are decidedly less high-tech, and you have only the brochure (sometimes in French only) and a lot of dimly-lit signs with arrows (sometimes hand-drawn) directing you through the domaine caves.
A couple of things occur to me about these tours:
- I was solo for the portion of the trip in which these tours took place, and the high tourist season had already passed, so in all cases, I was walking by myself through scores of dark cave passages (the best storage environment for wines in bottles is cool, humid, quiet, and dark) which had been created in some cases in the 13th or 14th century. I generally steer away from scary experiences (e.g., horror movies, haunted houses, etc.), and “creeped out” is the probably best, but not the most comprehensive, term to explain my feelings during these tours. I continually had to keep reminding myself “You’re here to learn…Calm down…I’m sure it will be fine” and driving the following thoughts/questions OUT of my head: “I wonder how many people have died down here over the centuries.” “This passage reminds me of a haunted house / preview for a horror movie.” “What was that noise?” “If I get lost, how long will it take for them to come looking for me?” Obviously, things turned out fine (and I’m also happy to report that I haven’t had any residual nightmares from the experiences), but fair warning to the skittish among you who might decide to take a trip to Burgundy one of these days.
- This type of self-guided tour would likely never be allowed in the US, for so many reasons: liability concerns, the possibility of all sorts of shenanigans (for example, destruction, tampering) happening with the thousands of bottles and casks stored along the route within a working cellar, governmental regulatory bodies such as OSHA probably have dozens of safety and health rules which wouldn’t allow it, etc. In two of the tours, guides at the end poured for the tasting, but in the other two, guests pour their own – with ample opportunity to “overserve” yourself if so inclined. There’s a part of me that’s reassured by the structure in the US which would put the kibosh on it, but there’s also a part of me that’s a little saddened by it also. Because once I got beyond being “creeped out,” I was so thankful that I had the opportunity to take my time in touring the cellars and appreciate the hundreds of years of history behind the great wines of France that a tour of these caves represent.
Will the Real Beef Bourguignon Please Step Forward?
When in a region that’s famous for a particular cuisine or dish, I try to order in that genre quite a bit, so I ordered (and also observed the plates of diners in close proximity to me – tables in bistros and brasseries are VERY close together!) Beef Bourguignon when in Burgundy. The interpretation of the dish varies, however, and I have a theory (not surprising) that the quality of the dish appears to be inversely proportional to the distance from a major tourist attraction. Three examples:
- Sad and disappointing: a very large bowl of egg noodles with two sorry chunks of beef, 3 small potatoes, 6 slices of carrot and about 2 tablespoons of gravy spooned on top. Served with knife and fork.
- Nouveau cuisine: a stylish ramekin of beef and gravy fresh from under the broiler, with 3 medium potatoes artfully stacked beside the ramekin with a garnish of parsley and chives. (No carrots or mushrooms in sight.) Served with knife and fork.
- Pure delight: a half-quart oval Corningware bowl of huge (and small) chunks of beef, carrot, mushroom, onion and potato swimming in a broth of beef and reduced wine deliciousness. Served with knife, fork, spoon, and a large basket of bread.
The final and most delicious example was from L’Estaminet de Meix, a charming bar and brasserie on the main square in the lovely village of Puligny-Montrachet. In addition to the delightful meal, I also found a tiny bit of home there. It seems that the owner, Xavier, has somewhat of an obsession with Jack Daniels. The walls are adorned with Jack Daniels posters, there are shelves full of Jack Daniels memorabilia, and the water bottles for the table are empty Jack Daniels bottles. There’s even a framed Tennessee Squire deed displayed proudly in the dining room. I was highly amused that this little brasserie in one of the most well-renowned wine villages of Burgundy would be home to such a devotee to a Tennessee whiskey.
Until next time, au revoir!