Posted by: vlibrizzi | April 19, 2009

Biking through Burgundy

We spent this past weekend in Burgundy!

dsc_0185I had to add the exclamation point because going to Burgundy, biking through the  vineyards, sampling wines, and enjoying the scenery has been something I’ve wanted to do for a very long time. In fact, C. and I had hyped it up so much to ourselves that we were sure that when we actually went to Burgundy, it could never meet our expectations.

But, as with so many things we’ve seen in France, the famous wine region was all that we expected and more.

We left Fontainebleau after C.’s classes ended on Friday and began the two hour drive through wide open fields south to Burgundy (or, Burgogne in French). Once we arrived, we checked into our hotel, and then we walked around the cute (no, not only cute,…charming!) town of Beaune. We had dinner at a lovely Burgundian bistro recommended to us by our handy Michelin guide called La Ciboulette. We cracked open our first bottle of Burgundy pinot noir, and savored our meal, the highlights of which were, jamon persille (cold ham with parsley filling), fresh asparagus soup, and epoissee (the famous Burgundy cheese). 

dsc_0180The next morning, we visited the famous Beaune market. At first, we were hesitant to visit another town’s market, thinking that no market could be better than our own market in Fontainebleau (can you believe we’re starting to get territorial about a place we’ve only lived in for four months?), but, in fact, we did visit the market…and it was wonderful—stalls of huge, fresh fruit and vegetables, chicken roasting on the side of a truck, men mixing tapenades, and more cheese than the eye could see. It was overwhelming…and very difficult to resist buying everything in sight. But, we resisted, and only bought enough for us to take on a picnic lunch: strawberries, cheese, a baguette, and sliced smoked sausage. 

dsc_0217Once we left the market, we picked up two bikes at a bike shop in Beaune called Burgogne Randonees, and asked the very friendly bike shop owner, Florent, for what he thought would be the best biking route. He drew a map for us (no photocopies here!) and told us which towns to visit and which vineyards to stop at for free degustations (wine tastings). And then, we were off to bike through the beautiful Burgundy countryside (see photo to the left).

dsc_0202We biked all afternoon and visited three different wine growers. First, we visited a lovely chateau (L’Ange Gardien) where we tasted about eight wines and discussed wine for about an hour with the owner, Pierre. He was so helpful and informative…and even let us have a picnic on the chateau grounds while we sipped our glasses of his housemade kir royale (you can see me eating our picnic lunch in the photo to the left).

Later, after lunch (and a bit of wine buzz) we moved onto the next town on our bike tour: Aloxe-Corton. We climbed up a small hill and visited a great little tasting room called Domaine Vaurick—and of course, bought a bottle of wine to put in our bike basket.

Then, we climbed another small hill to the next wine town, Pernand Vergelesses, just as it started to rain. To escape the rain, we went into the first tasting room we saw and we, literally, stumbed upon a serious wine event, and had no idea what we were in for!

dsc_0214Domaine Rapet, a famous Burgundy vineyard, had opened it’s doors (or it’s warehouse and its wine cave’s doors) for the first time to the public so that people could taste some of their most presegious wines (notice C. tasting/smelling their wine in the photo to the left). Now, for a bit of background, when visiting wineries, the employees usually let you taste the more recent, less expensive wines. You only get to taste the best wines if you buy them. But, not at Domaine Rapet this past Saturday. We tasted Aligote from 2006, Corton-Charlemagne (white wine) from 2003, 1996, and 1983, Pernand–Vergelesses 1er cru Clos du Village from 2007….8 different vintages…and that was only the white wines!

dsc_0215Then, we went to another location, a dark wine cellar with mold growing on the walls, ceilings, and bottles (what growers call Angel hair because it is so precious to wines to have the mold grow on the bottles). You can see me posing with my glass and the friendly French employee in the photo to the left. In the cellar we tasted Corton or Aloxe Corton wines from 2006 all the way to 1959. In total, we tasted 22 different red wines from Corton…at least four from every decade since the 1960s! 

We got so caught up in the tasting that we had to hurry back into Beaune to return our bikes by 7 pm. Then, we returned to our hotel, stumbled out of our bedroom (remember, we had tasted around 40 different wines that day) , and summoned all our strength to have a dinner…knowing that going to bed on an empty stomach with all that wine in our bellies would be a recipe for disaster in the morning (although the Burgundians say that their wine doesn’t ever give one a hangover). 

We ate at a restaurant in Ladoix called Les Terraces de Corton. Determined to have true Burgundian food again, we ordered the escargots and the Beef Burgogne, and of course, had some more nice Burgundy wine with the meal. They say no meal is complete in Burgundy without a bottle of wine. 

Then, we woke up this morning….without hangovers! The Burgundians were right! 

dsc_0235We visited the Hotel Dieu, a medieval charity hospital that is now a museum, in Beaune, and marveled at the beautiful and colorful tile roof (later, many important Burgundy buildings would imitate this style). The Hotel Dieu was actually a hospice, built in the aftermath of the black plague, meant to give the poor people of the area dignified care (though very few who came here would survive).  The inside, though, is more like a church or castle than a hospital, which makes some sense since care was provided by nuns.  The pauper’s ward, where the sick would stay, is beautifully done.  The medical practices of the time, however, seem a bit strange in retrospect:  when we visited the “pharmacy” that held the medicines of the hospital, it was strange to see jars of “wood lice powder” and “vomit nuts powder” on the shelves.  🙂

dsc_0271We also loved seeing the beautiful chapel where once hung the famous van der Weyden Last Judgement altarpiece (in the photo to the left). In particular, I really liked seeing the phrase “Seulle *” written everywhere in the building (from the floor tiles to the iron candle holders). The chancellor of Burgundy who paid for the Hotel Dieu to be built in 1443, Nicolas Rolin, had this phrase written throught the building as a way to celebrate his love for his wife dsc_0251(Seulle means “only one” in French, and the star symoblizes that his wife is the only star in his cosmos). When I read about the meaning of the “Seulle *” in my guidebook, I nearly melted. I turned to C. to tell him about the meaning of the word and he responded, “I wish the guy would take it easy on the P.D.A.’s!”  He’s so romantic! 🙂

After we left the Hotel Dieu, we walked on the ramparts (solid stone walls) surrounding the town, and had a quick lunch at a lovely outdoor cafe. 

dsc_0281Then, we hopped in our car and began our second tour of the Burgundy wine country, but this time, since we were driving, we only stopped at two vineyards. First, we visited the Chateau de Pommard and had our guide take a photo of us (to the left) in their wine cellar which was enormous! Then, we drove to Puligny Montrachet and sat down at a small, modern wine bar called Caveau de Montrachet to taste what Rick Steves (our friendly American tourguide whose book we never leave home without!) says is the world’s best white wines. And, we agreed! 

dsc_02901Finally, as we began our ride back to Fontainebleau we stopped to take photos of the beautiful La Rochepot Chateau, and of the brillant yellow colza that was blooming all over the countryside (see photo to the left). We had no idea, but the yellow colza only blooms in Burgundy during the month of April every year. What luck! 

dsc_0294But, come to think of it, this weekend was just one of luck. From finding such a charming town to stay in (Beaune), to visiting amazing vineyards (and getting to taste really old vintages), to driving and riding through the countryside (with only a short bit of bad weather to slow us down)—-being able to visit Burgundy made us just feel very lucky.

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