I'll Have the Smell of Cheap Boots in My Nose for Two Hours
There's much to know about wines from this area around Dijon; archeologists have found evidence of wine making back to the first century B.C. and some believe that the Celts were making wine before that. Cistercian monks were the ones to put winemaking in Burgundy on the map. In the middle ages, wealthy people wanting to bypass Purgatory and slide on into heaven, gave money and land to the church. They left the difficult sloping lands that weren't easy to farm.
God actually got the last laugh. The monks soon learned that the best wine is produced from vines grown on the gravely, cracked, limestone slopes of the hills. The realization that certain fields yield grapes with particular characteristics and led to the notion of terroir. In Burgundy, more than anywhere else, the soil, the drainage, the climate and the aspect of the sun influence a wine's quality. That's partly because wines in this region are made from two grapes: Pinot Noir for red wines and Chardonnay for white. There's not a lot of room for winemaker tinkering when you have only one grape to work with.
The monks built a wall or a clos around the best fields and designated them 'Wine of the Pope.' The next best wine was called 'Wine of the King,' and the rest was 'Wine of the monks.' In Burgundy today there are 1200 fields, some broken into ownership of one or two rows per farmer, and every one produces wine of a different terroir. The famous and extraordinarily expensive Romanée-Conti is grown on a small field, producing only 4,500 to 6,000 bottles a year. Seventy-five percent of that wine is exported to Las Vegas!
Burgundy produces only 3% of French wine, but 25% of the top, or A.O.C. bottles, come from here. By contrast, Bordeaux produces 25% of the wine, but accounts for only 20% of wines that earn an A.O.C designation.Our first stop today was in the village of Gevrey Chambertin at the Domaine of Jean-Phillipe Marchand. We tasted two whites in the cellar and four reds up in the delightful gift shop. Then off to lunch at Château de Gilly near Clos Vougeot where the monks delivered their wines to the Abbots. Lunch was amazing-the food and service were excellent and the 14th century cellars with limestone vaulted ceilings are beautiful. Limestone from Burgundy is used not only for buildings all over the region and Paris, it can be found in the White House and the base of the Statue of Liberty. We drove through the fields and walked up to the Château du Clos de Vougeot where in 1934, the Confrérie des Chevaliers du Tastevin, or Botherhood of Wine-tasting Cups, was formed to enjoy and promote Burgundy's wine. They hold 15 dinners a year with 600 celebrities, politicians, journalists and anyone who can help spread the word about local wines. In the gift shop we played with a 'smells of Burgundy wines' kit. Liz found one that was supposed to be animal scents, and when Nicolas sniffed it he grimaced and said he'd have the smell of cheap boots in his nose for two hours.
There's nothing like stinky cheese to get leather smells out of the nose. Nicolas took us next to Fromagerie Gaugry to taste the fabulous Burgundian speciality, Époisses cheese. To be protected by the Époisses A.O.P, milk must come from three breeds of cows all from a specific area. The cheese is washed with the grappa of Burgundy or Marc de Borgnone or white wine and aged 2 years, 8 years or twelve years for the different versions. We tasted Soumaintrain, Plaisir au Chablis, L'ami du Chambertin, L'epoisses A.O.P, and Cendre de Vergy.
Dinner--though we really didn't think we needed another bite today, was at Le Chevrueil, a block from our house. We had wonderful escargot ravioli, duck breast with cherry sauce, and crème brûlée. Local wines, a white from Meursault went wonderfully with the escargot and a nicely balanced red from Blagny complemented the duck and cheese.