On the Trail

The Route des Grands Crus

David Driscoll

We're living in a new age of wine appreciation. Gone are the days when Burgundy was a sleepy little farming region, populated purely by simple, country folk who humbly tended to their vines just to make an honest living. Here instead are wine lists like the one pictured above; a snapshot of our dinner in Beaune last night. Those prices on the right are in Euros and represent the per bottle cost of each selection. This bewildering sight is where Burgundy has arrived to over the last few decades; often times a cult status that sets the bar for outrageous when it comes to pricing. Needless to say we didn't opt for any of the bottles on this page. I did, however, throw down three hundred bucks for a bottle of 2010 premier cru Vosne Romanée from Meo-Camuzet. You work hard, you play hard, right? Playing hard in Burgundy these days requires a serious cash flow, unfortunately, which is why we got back on the more reasonable and straighter narrow this morning.

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This morning's appointments began at Domaine d'Eugénie, a small producer in Vosne Romanée with a number of top level vineyard holdings, including the tiny "Clos Eugenie" located inside the walls of the property. See that brown area on the hill in the background, beyond the wall in the distance? That's "La Tache" vineyard. Go back up to the above menu and have a look at what those bottles will run you. Eugénie is just down the slope from that holy piece of Burgundian land, which represents a quality more our speed as Burgundy drinkers. We like good stuff, but we typically look for the bottle that's almost as good for a fraction of the price. 

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While a bottle of DRC La Tache will run you thousands of dollars, a bottle of Eugénie grand cru "Grand Echezeux" will run you a little less than three hundred bucks. With only a few barrels made each year of the vineyard expression, it's a rare breed of luxury. Shopping for grand cru Burgundy isn't all that different from rummaging through Scotland in search of rare whisky barrels. The wine goes into the cask the same way the Scotch does, and in the end there are only a few of each type in the cellar. We tasted the 2015 "Grand Echezeux" at Eugénie that was simply incredible with loads of exotic spice, aromatic fruits, and pretty palate of freshly-cut violets and deep, dark, concentrated berries. 

While prices have gone through the roof over the last few decades and a class of nouveau riche has penetrated the market, some things haven't progressed as quickly in the region. We were still treated to old school wines and old school meals here and there thanks to Clyde's old relationships in the area. How about a lovely loaf of pâté en crôute for an appetizer? 

Driving down the illustrious Route des Grands Crus is a total game changer because it's like having a two-dimensional, color-coded map manifested for you with real life colors and topography. I've looked at the map of the Côte d'Or in our tasting bar for almost ten years at this point, but cruising along the main road and being able to see each plot in its true form is an altering experience. It's the difference between book smarts and street smarts in Burgundy. Basically, until you've ridden down this street and seen the plots first hand, I don't think you can really grasp what's going on here. Photos and vineyard maps don't begin to do it justice. 

Not only do you get a sense of the layout driving down the Route, you also get a sense of the modern Burgundy existence. Tractors routinely block the way for drivers, while vineyard managers are out trimming the excess wood and burning the leftovers. The smell of smoke was constantly in the air, reminding us at each stop just what it takes to maintain and lead the Burgundy lifestyle. We tasted a lot of great wines today, and an equal number of terrible ones. It really is a crap shoot at times unless you know exactly where to look. Ultimately, they all use the same names.

-David Driscoll