October 16, 2012

Burgundy – exploring the Côte d’Or, part three

Link to the previous posts:  Part 1 and Part 2

Leaving behind Gevrey-Chambertin and its medieval cellars, the next of the great vineyards to greet me along the route des Grands Crus in Burgundy is the source of the glorious Mazis-Chambertin.  Any fruit still hanging on the vine is now ripe after being initially bypassed during the harvest a few weeks ago.  At one point, peasants were allowed to pick these forgotten grapes for their own use after the harvest was complete; now they are simply left for the birds and/or Canadians who happen to pass by – I can’t resist picking a bunch to sample on the way to Morey St. Denis.  

Nearly 4km of vines separate Gevrey from Morey and I take my time to absorb the beauty of the land, sample the fruit, and snap a few pictures along the way.  In the vineyard of Clos de Bèze is one of the more photographed landmarks in the northern half of the Côte d'Or.  Perhaps the popularity of Domaine Pierre Damoy's vineyard storage shed is best explained by the need for a visual distraction among the continuous span of vines.  At the same location, I meet up with a couple from Australia. We had met the day before in Dijon where they told me the were driving the route southbound in search of blue sky and sandy beaches, eventually stopping at Nice on the Mediterranean Sea - Santenay is far enough for me; I don't do well in the hot sun anyway.  

Chambertin, I understand was General Napoleon’s drink of choice when not in battle; for that, he sabred champagne.  The wall along the roadside in front of this great vineyard is rustic, worn and yet remains a clear marker and indication of its presence in the field.  Articles of clothing are strewn along the roadside: jeans, sweaters and the occasion pair of shoes.  For a moment I think this might be some symbolic French gesture; for decades the people of Toronto would touch Timothy Eaton's toe on the bronze statue in the Eaton Centre for good luck. Does leaving a shirt or socks at the wall of Chambertin bring good fortune? Not at all, in fact a few weeks before, literally swarms of harvesters dressed in multiple layers of clothing combed this land, stripping (no pun intended) the vines of their fruit.  During the day they'd shed a layer or two as the temperature began to climb.  But as they work their way along the rows, they'd forget the clothing they had peeled off earlier. Amazingly, there is no litter in the form of garbage whatsoever, just clothing, and a surprising amount of it.  

Morey St. Denis is a small village and home of the Grand Cru vineyards of Clos des Lambrays, Clos St. Denis, and Clos de Tart - why I snicker at the last is purely the fault of Monte Python's Flying Circus and their tale of Sir Galahad the Pure and the virgins of castle Anthrax... In 1141 the vineyard of Clos de Tart became a beacon of light cared for the Cistercian nuns of Notre Dame de Tart... you get the idea.

In Morey St. Denis

In the centre square of Morey is a good bakery and following the trek from Fixin, a pain au chocolate and bottle of water taste just about perfect as I lean against the limestone wall that encloses Domaine Louis Remy.  I ask about the wines of Morey-St. Denis and taste several examples.  The one that leaves the greatest impression is the 2004 premier cru les Ruchots from Domaine Amiot.  Its colour is still quite deep and consistent with that of Gevrey-Chambertin while the aroma and favour profiles now hint at something slightly more delicate. 

In conversation, I learn that on the hill behind Morey St. Denis is a plot of vines that break from tradition in the Côte de Nuits.  Just below the tree line nearing the top of the steep incline is a plot known as Monts Luisants.  Here Aligoté grows in the surrounding sea of Pinot Noir vineyards.  The wine of this rogue vineyard demonstrates the suppressed potential of the seemingly second-class grape in the region.  AOC law stipulated that Monts Luisants cannot be sold outside of the region, but when in Burgundy, it is certainly worth seeking out for a taste of something slightly off the beaten path.

Monts Luisants top right

Beyond Morey St. Denis is Chambolle-Musigny.  Here one begins to feel the calling of Burgundy.  By no means are the other villages anti-climatic – certainly not, but they do not project the ambiance and visual effect in my opinion.  I've also had my share of wine from Chambolle-Musigny so perhaps familiarity plays a factor in my preference.  Originally, the village was known simply as Chambolle, but like Gevrey 'Chambertin' and Morey 'Saint-Denis', a trend initiated in 1847 allowed some villages to add the name of their greatest vineyard as a suffix and hence the many hyphenated names along the Côte d’Or.  Relative to the other villages, Chambolle-Musigny sits quite high on the hill where construction of the road network required terraced walls.  In some places these stonewalls are over ten feet high.  Baskets of flowers, religious artifacts and symbols adorn the various buildings and walled properties as you climb the gentle incline toward a hairpin turn that sends you eastward in the direction of Vougeot.

Stunning Chambolle-Musigny

Chambolle-Musigny is where the Côte d'Or begins to change, both is its style of wine and direction of landscape.  A hill in the escarpment juts out rather abruptly projecting the vineyards adjacent to the village on a more northeasterly heading. This change combined with the variation of soil is what dictates the difference in the wine.   By comparison, Chambolle-Musigny is somewhat delicate, feminine some say, and slightly lighter in both body and taste than the fuller Gevrey-Chambertin.  Slightly floral notes with bright red fruits such as raspberry and cherry define these wines; dried cranberry to taste with dusty tannins on the finish – I could drink Chambolle all day.  In fact, some of the best Burgundies that I have tasted are from this beautiful village and the vineyards that grow on the hills beneath it.  Notable are the wines of Domain Alain Hudelot-Noëllat if you ever have the opportunity.

Change of direction at Chambolle

The Grand Cru vineyard of Le Musigny is the source of one of the top Pinot Noir wines in the region, but what make this vineyard unique is that it is also the only vineyard in the Côte de Nuits to produce a Grand Cru white in addition to a red.  All others Grand Cru white vineyards are found in the Côte de Beaune which is further south. 

I have walked nearly 10km by this point in the day not to mention the combined distance of trekking through the occasional vineyard.  Furthermore, I don't claim to be in great shape; average perhaps but certain not the pillar of health that I once was.  Let's just say strong-willed I remain, but my God, do I ever need to sit down!

Watching over Vougeot
Beyond the village of Chambolle-Musigny the route des Grands Crus descends toward what is perhaps the most historically significant area in the region.  Château de Vougeot and its walled vineyard appear beyond the hill and I stop to marvel at the view.  On my left is an ancient stone crucifix. The old cross stands at the edge of the Premier Cru vineyards of les Charmes and les Armoureuses [the lovers].  Les Armoureuses is said to be the most picturesque vineyard in the Côte d'Or and as I overlook the next leg of my journey, I can find no possible way to dispute that claim. I also have no doubt that heavenly bodies watch over the old vines that flourish in the vineyards below. During the time of the Church, the nuns planted this plot and rumour has it that in more recent times, les Armoureuses became the place where a young man could bring his girlfriend after hours… Oh la la!   

On the horizon is Vosne-Romanée and Nuits Saint George beyond; I will stay there tomorrow night, but for now, I have a reservation at the base of the hill in Vougeot.

Vougeot is little more than a main street of average looking buildings and shops. By far, the most significant landmark here is the historic 14th century Château which I will visit in the morning. I understand that what the village lacks is visual appearance it more than makes up for in dinning delight.  Across from the bed and breakfast where I am spending tonight is a modern restaurant with a good reputation for beef bourguignon.  

Entering the restaurant I can't help but notice an open bottle of Grand Cru Corton sitting on the bar as the waiter escorts me to my table.  A glass of Kir soothes my throbbing leg muscles as I peruse the menu, but the bottle of Corton remains the focus of not only my attention but of the couple sitting beside me as well. Strangely, there is no one else in the dinning room and the light behind the bar revels that only one glass was poured from the bottle.  Curiously, I ask.

Our server explains that the bottle was opened for a table at lunch.  The guest in question turned the wine away, suggesting it was flawed.  Hardly surprising I state, the 2009 vintage is by no means ready to drink.   But this bottle had now sat open all afternoon which in theory should be ample time to breath for the dinner hour.  I negotiated with both the waiter and the couple beside me.  We agreed to split the cost down the middle to enjoy the four remaining glasses.  

I am a firm believer that wine will always taste better if it involves a good story and the '09 Grand Cru Corton, les Maréschaudes was delicious alongside beef bourguignon which was cooked to perfection. For dessert, our server brought mousse au chocolate for the three of us and on the house as a gesture of gratitude for salvaging the expense of the bottle.  After dinner I staggered back to my room for a hot shower and a well-needed rest.  Morning comes far too early here in France.

Tomorrow I head to Château Clos de Vougeot, then on to the famous vineyards Vosne-Romanée, and finally to Nuits Saint Georges for dinner in a Michelin Star restaurant.  Join me as the journey continues

~> Read Burgundy Part Four


  1. Yet another enticing leg of the journey. That '09 Corton must have been so good after a long day walking.

  2. Thanks for following the journey Stephen! Lots more to come...


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Tyler is a member of the Wine Writers' Circle of Canada and the Guild of Sommeliers. He writes about and reviews wine both online and via a variety of circulating publications. In 2009 Tyler founded North of 9 Fine Wine, a free public wine education resource where he publishes his Thoughts, Theory, and Recommendations. For additional vinous related information and learning, follow on Twitter @TylerOnWine