On the Trail

Destination Beaune

Gary Westby

Burgundy is a great place to take a vacation. Cinnamon and I just returned from a week there and we had an unbelievably good time. We both love to cook, so we packed up our knife roll and rented a little one bedroom apartment about a half-mile outside of Beaune’s wall called Les Dominicaines which had a small but complete kitchen. We were very happy to be very near but outside of the city center and we had no problems walking anywhere we wanted to go in Beaune thankfully without having to worry about parking! If doing a lot of cooking isn’t your style, the Burgundy team always stays at the IBIS Styles, also just outside the wall, for a simple, inexpensive but high quality hotel where the internet always works. If you want to stay in luxury, there is no doubt that Le Cep in the city center is the place to go. We stopped in for a drink—it is something that everyone should see! We were determined not to work on this trip, and so we visited as many mustard factories as we did wineries—one each! No visit to Beaune would be complete without booking a tour at mustard great Fallot. This must be booked in advance, and is very much worth it. Taking in the smell where the mustard seeds are ground is worth the price of admission alone, I learned more than I ever thought I would about Dijon production and the tasting was fantastic. We came back with a year’s supply of mustard at giveaway prices!

I read volumes and volumes and tasted broadly and deeply of the wines of Burgundy before my first trip, but I was still surprised by the compact scale of the Côte d’Or when I first saw it. It is absolutely perfect for exploring by bicycle, and the folks at Bourgogne Randonnées rented Cinnamon and I couple of simple Gitane Hybrids with racks and handlebar bags for a day trip. I wish that we had rented them for the week. We could have taken the train to Burgundy and not rented a car! We planned on a twenty-five mile round trip ride from Beaune to Vosne-Romanée, but my over confident navigation had us doing hill repeats up to the top of Savigny les Beaune where we discovered (twice) a very interesting hotel called Le Hameau de Barboron. It was such a gorgeous detour to ride up the narrow road that I am glad fate changed our plans. We did not go inside- but this is a place we need to check out next time! We had our packed lunch at the cross of Corton-Charlemagne, and headed back by way of Aloxe and Chorey-Le Beaune. It was a great half day pleasure ride!

When in Burgundy, one of the most interesting historical sites is the Hospices de Beaune, a charity hospital founded in 1443 that is funded by the auction of barrels from its large, high quality land holdings. We took the self guided tour which comes with an audio hand set, and it was fascinating. Seeing the fantastic roof up close alone was worth the price of admission. Each year, the auction at the Hospices set the stage for the pricing of the vintage, and the boutique has some of their excellent wine for sale. Cooking with the Burgundian ingredients has been a dream for Cinnamon and I, and the quality of the raw materials exceeded our expectations. Much has been written about the Saturday and Wednesday morning markets in Beaune, and even if you don’t plan on so much as cutting up an apple, taking in the scene downtown on market day is a must. On this trip we cooked the best chicken we have ever had- the true Poulet de Bresse, a bird with its own appellation! We paired it with a 2010 Hospices de Beaune Volnay 1er Cru Cuvée Blondeau and alongside great chanterelles and homemade ratatouille. With ingredients on the level that you find in the Beaune Market, it is pretty easy to cook at your best!

We did so much cooking that we only ended up going out three times on this trip. Each of the restaurants that we visited are highly recommendable. On our first night we visited the storied Ma Cuisine, and our first sip of 2012 Domaine Vincent Dauvissat Chablis transformed us from travel weary wrecks into very happy Burgundy vacationers. The wine list here is enormous and very fairly priced. Don’t go in without a plan! We had decided ahead that we would get a great producers village Chablis and follow it up with a great Volnay, and sticking to the plan landed us with two incredible wines. I had the duck and Cinnamon the sublime pigeon roti, and they both went outrageously well with a very fairly priced bottle of 2010 Domaine Henri Boillot Volnay 1er Cru "Les Fremiets". If you want to get in to this hotspot, make sure to book your reservation just after you buy your plane tickets—it is always full.

We took a short drive down to Puligny-Montrachet for lunch at La Table, Olivier Leflaive’s very nice bistro, where the menu is fixed and you can choose between a nine and seven wine experience, almost all whites. It turned out to be an incredibly educational experience, up there with the best that I have done as a professional (and we only called about an hour ahead for our reservation!). The concept is simple: high quality food served with flights of wine. We had the nine wine run and were very impressed. The sommelier comes for each course with three wines and explains the names of the vineyards and the unique soil and micro-climate conditions that make each site special. We were bought both the 2011 Olivier Leflaive Puligny Montrachet “Enseignères” and the 2010 Olivier Leflaive Volnay 1er Cru Santenots to go! The Enseignères site is a five minute walk from the restaurant and sits just below Bienvenues-Bâtard-Montrachet Grand Cru, and we took a stroll up to see it. It is amazing to see how much difference a few meters makes in Burgundy, especially just after tasting the wine!

After giving our Gite’s kitchen a deep clean, we ate out at La Lune on our last night. This tiny restaurant is the hottest spot in Beaune and if you want to go make sure to make a reservation as early as possible. The cuisine here is Japanese/French and presented in a tapas style format. The ingredients are the stars and the big plate of grilled vegetables that we started with stole the show. Veteran travelers to the wine regions of France know how nice it is to get some vegetables and when they taste like they could be from Chez Panisse it is almost too good to be true! The wine list is very good with plenty of ready to drink, well-priced options. We decided to go with a bottle of Tarlant "Zero" Extra Brut Champagne.

We had a fantastic time in Beaune, and can’t recommend going for a visit highly enough. My biggest souvenir is in my stomach and it will be water and salad for a while for me now!

–Gary Westby