By Quentin Sadler
Just a glance at a map of Burgundy is enough to make me salivate. It reads so like a roll call of famous wines that travelling through the region always makes me feel I am in a vast interactive wine list.
Chablis & the North
Twenty villages are entitled to make Chablis, but most of them are very small and quiet, with the only life being found in Chablis itself. This is a compact little town with the River Serein running through it and there is much to delight the wine traveller. You are hard put to avoid wine here, like so many places in Burgundy it is clearly a one industry town.
Start with a drink in the Chablis Bar, right opposite the tourist office in the town centre, it is a lovely place to sit and watch the vignerons chug past in their mud splattered tractors – for all Chablis’s high prices the grape growers remain farmers at heart.
As you amble around you will find charming traiteur, patisserie and charcuterie shops. There are also lots of wine shops too, or caveau, some of them owned by famous growers that let you taste the wines before you buy. Defaix’s caveau is right next to their atmospheric bar-restaurant Cuisine aux Vins which serves local specialities in a medieval cellar. The most beautiful though is the tasting room at Château Long-Depaquit, set in a tranquil courtyard with a classic château on one side and old stone buildings all around. La Chablisienne co-op is also worth visiting for the range and quality of the wines. Do visit Signé Chablis too, it’s a stunning little wine shop and bar that serves tasting flights, wines by the glass and delicious light bites too.
For more substantial meals I would recommend Au Fil Du Zinc the restaurant in Domaine Laroche’s Hôtel Du Vieux Moulin as well as L’Hostellerie des Clos and their less formal Bistrot des Grands Crus.
Auxerre, the local capital, is an appealing little city with its unspoilt mediaeval centre and the River Yonne flowing through it. Strolling around the cobbled Vielle Ville is a lovely way to spend an afternoon – helpfully the local tourist office sells a walking guide and map.
Everywhere you look the views are gorgeous and the architecture uplifting. The Cathedrale St-Etienne and the Abbaye de Saint-Germain, with its 9th century wall frescoes, are merely the highlights. We wine lovers of course need hedonistic pleasures too and you will be spoilt for choice from bars and bistrots along the riverfront to fine restaurants like La Pause Gourmande.
It makes a lot of sense to base yourself in Burgundy’s wine capital, Beaune, as most of the communes of the Côte d’Or are very quiet indeed. However, even if you are not staying in them it is always worth stopping off in some of the other villages of the region.
Gevrey-Chambertin’s wines are so famous that there is real romance in just wandering through the village. There is much to enjoy too, just outside town Fromagerie Gaugry is a great cheese shop which offers tastings and tours of their factory. Philippe Leclerc’s fabulous caveau – just over the road from the tourist office – is a marvel, while a few yards away Chez Guy is a superb restaurant and bar with a lovely terrace where you can soak up the local atmosphere.
A few kilometres to the south you will find yourself passing the Château du Clos de Vougeot and it really is worth seeing, so make sure you spend some time there.
Then you come to Nuits-Saint-Georges which is a joy to visit and not just because of the fame of its wines. There are some other delights too and the best way to find them is to ask at the tourist office in the town centre. Le Cassissium is a museum that tells you all about how Crème de Cassis is made and lets you try lots of samples. L’Or des Valois is a truffle farm where you can watch truffle hunting before trying – and buying – all sorts of truffle flavoured treats. As you might imagine, there are several places to eat in the centre of town; La Cabotte, Au Caveau Nuiton and the less formal Café du Centre Brasserie all offer excellent cooking.
Back on the road south you come to Comblanchien, which has no appellation of its own, but instead sell its wines as Côtes de Nuits-Villages. It is also the source for the local stone, Pierre de Comblanchien, and boasts a quite decent hotel restaurant in Le Centre Hotel, while the impressive Château de Comblanchien that you see from the road has gîtes and cottages to let. L’Auberge du Guidon is a wonderful, great value Les Routiers restaurant on the RN 74 heading south.
It’s easy to ignore the Haute-Côtes, but I would urge you not to. This land above the Côtes d’Or sits at between 380-600 metres and is a quieter world of gently rolling hills, hamlets, little country roads and thick forest. Some of the villages here are a delight and Échevronne in particular is quite lovely with its 12th century church and impressive Château de Changey. It’s only 10 minutes or so from Beaune, but it’s another side to Burgundy and good walking country.
Beaune is beautiful, bustling, steeped in history and makes a perfect base from which to explore the region. When you arrive head straight for the Hospices de Beaune/Hôtel-Dieu de Beaune. Once an alms house, it is now a museum and site of the famous annual charity wine auction. The steeply gabled, multi-coloured roof is one of the city’s great sights and is best appreciated from the inner courtyard.
Many of Beaune’s streets have been pedestrianised, which makes it a delight to walk around. It still feels like a walled city with the ring road following the line of the old walls, parts of which are still visible. It’s a rich town full of elegant shops including florists, charcutiers, traiteurs, pâtissiers and chocolatiers – try Patisserie Wagner for superb cakes and macaroons.
Make sure you visit Fromagerie Hess as they make superb local cheeses including L’Ami du Chambertin, Cîteaux, Bouton de Culotte and Epoisses. I also love the Athenaeum de la Vigne et du Vin which is full of books about gastronomy, but also sells wine and offers wine tastings. Do visit La Moutarderie Fallot too, they make fine Burgundy mustard and offer a wonderful interactive tour showing how it is made.
The number of wine shops in Beaune is bewildering and some producers have a caveau too. I would particularly recommend Joseph Drouhin who offer a memorable tour and tasting in their ancient cellars near the Place de la Halle. If you want to buy wine to bring home, or enjoy a bottle of something with some fine cheeses and charcuterie, Les Vins de Maurice is a lovely wine shop and wine bar.
Whiling away your time in Beaune is all very well, but the serious business of the day is where to go for lunch, dinner, or both. You will be hard put to choose as there are restaurants, brasseries and bistrots everywhere. Part of the fun is checking out all the eateries you see, but here are some of my favourites.
La Maison du Colombier is a relaxed place that serves terrific wine and stylish Burgundian tapas, while the casual, Les Caves Madeleine is so laid back you order from blackboards and choose your wine from bottles that line the shelves. The emphasis is on local, organic produce and it shows in the delicious, simple cooking. The room is dominated by a huge table meant for sharing, so you will have to specify if you want some privacy.
When staying in an old city like Beaune I sometimes grow tired of cramped buildings and low doorways, luckily Le Cheval Noir is a comfortable and spacious restaurant that offers creative cooking and a superb wine list.
Whether you have found your own places or tried one of my recommendations, you have one last treat in store. The market – on Saturdays and Wednesdays around Place de la Halle – must not be missed as the wonderful array of produce is simply irresistible.
Quentin Sadler is a wine writer, wine consultant, wine educator and friend of 3D Wine