Burgundy Côte d’Or is a place of pilgrimage for wine connoisseurs looking to discover the mysteries of terroir and grands crus, including our writer, John Malathronas.
Dining with millionaires
It’s not very often that I dine with millionaires. I’m sitting at La Table, the restaurant of La Maison d’Olivier Leflaive, a boutique hotel on the main square of Puligny- Montrachet, a village in the middle of the Côte d’Or, Burgundy’s wine route.
Opposite me sits Olivier Leflaive, the owner of several prized vineyards. He’s an effusive, jovial gentilhomme, typical of the local vignerons. Forget the business suits and marketing talk you will find in other regions in France – yes, I’m mostly thinking of Bordeaux. Burgundy vineyard owners are farmers at heart, describing their soils and offering you their latest vintage while keenly awaiting your verdict.
Burgundy produces less than one per cent of the world’s wine production but in terms of quality, it reigns supreme.
The reds are all pinot noir and the whites are all chardonnay, except for a small production of Aligoté, famously used for Kir, that heavenly aperitif of white wine laced with cassis, a blood-red blackcurrant liqueur. Indeed, Nuits-Saint-Georges, a village 32 kilometres north of here, proudly parades the Cassissium, a museum devoted to the stuff.
Yet no chardonnay or pinot noir tastes the same, for the soil variety even within short distances is astonishing: clay soils make for full-bodied, elegant wines; the female yin to the male yang of limestone that breeds acidic wines with more bite.
In most wineries you get the obligatory cellar tour; in Burgundy they drive you to their fields.
Château de Pommard, an 18th-century heritage estate, does exactly that when I arrive next morning, its peacefully pastoral vine-dotted slopes merging into a soothing, green-brown pointillist landscape.
The estate is an unmissable stop as it offers six educational experiences ranging from sommelier essentials to an introduction to viticulture for children.
Beaune is the undisputed Burgundian wine capital and a good base from which to explore the two branches of the Côte d’Or. South towards Chalonsur-Saône extends the Côte de Beaune with the region’s legendary whites – Meursault and Montrachet – while north to Dijon lies the Côte de Nuits with reds worshipped by connoisseurs: Vougeot, Nuits-Saint-Georges, Gevrey- Chambertin. Before I taste them all in the town’s ostentatious Marché-aux- Vins (necessitating an extra suitcase for my purchases), I visit the Wine Museum.
Here, a regional relief map answers the big question in my mind; it’s the southfacing slopes with their long hours of sunshine and good natural drainage that harbour those treasured grands crus; a simple answer to an intricate mystery.
Air France flies from major Australian cities to Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris. Dijon, capital of the Côte-d’Or département and of the Bourgogne-Franche-Comté region, is a four-hour drive from Paris or 1 hour, 40 minutes by TGV train.
This article appeared in volume 28 of Signature Luxury Travel & Style. To subscribe to the latest issue, click here.