In honor of Throwback Thursday, we thought we would share one of our adventures while traveling through Dijon, France in 2007. We had been living in Costa Rica at this time and spent the month of October traveling through Annecy, Dijon, Grenoble and Paris. While the trip was full of tons of amazing memories, this was an absolute standout.
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While wandering around Dijon’s Southern edge on Wednesday evening, a sign on one of the buildings caught our attention. It read: “Grand Vins de Bourgogne” (literally, “Big Wines of Burgundy”). Under the sign was an arrow directing us to the entrance.
Curious, we followed the arrow. It led us to a steel gate half a block off Rue de Tivoli. The gate was unfortunately closed, as was the establishment. The sign on the gate stated the operating hours: 9:00 to 12:00 and 1:30 to 6:00. We were a bit late as it was now 6:20.
Still unsure what this establishment was, we decided to come back the following morning. Obviously, it was wine related, so of course we were interested. We’d booked a wine tour in nearby Marsonnay-La Cote for the following afternoon, so we thought we’d make this our “day of wine” in Burgundy. Well, maybe our “day of even more wine than usual” in Burgundy.
Unfortunately, this day got off to a rather late start. We had breakfast at 10:00, and didn’t get back to the gate until close to 11:30. It was closed once again. We rang the bell, and got no reply.
Disappointed, we decided to call it a bust and pulled out the map to orient ourselves back to the bus station for what would now be our only wine event of the day. Once we’d figured out which way to go, Sharyn turned around for a final look at the gate. This time, it was open.
So, we raced back and finally got behind the elusive gate. It was then that we met , proprietor of Edouard Loiseau Cellars (named after his father). Practically everyone with whom we’ve interacted in France has been very gregarious and forthcoming. But Bernard was in a class all his own.
First, he informed us what this establishment was: A wine cellar. They buy wines from various vineyards in the region and they age and sell them.
Then, he graciously offered us a tour of his cellar, and of course we eagerly accepted. We were expecting a quick walk through followed by a hard pitch to buy a case of wine, a bottle opener, and a commemorative refrigerator magnet. He seemed nice enough, but we are, after all, jaded New Yorkers at heart.
What we actually got was roughly a 40 minute tour of the cellar, a fascinating discussion of the wine business both here and abroad, and a taste of 7 of the family’s wines followed by a Kir (a local drink made of white wine and Cassis, a blackberry liquor). Plus we walked away with a cute little corkscrew.
The cellar itself is very impressive. It comprises three separate chambers lined with huge wood and metal casks. It dates back to 1835 and is actually the endpoint of a secret tunnel from the Duke’s castle! It was Bernard’s grandfather, Charles Loiseau, who first converted this place into a wine cellar in 1898. And the Loiseau family has been using it to age some of the areas finest wines ever since.
When we got downstairs, Bernard handed each of us a glass, pulled out a large pipette and a Tastevin, and led us to the cask containing our first tasting. It was a large Oak barrel, containing a 2006 Bourgogne-Chardonnay. After uncorking it’s top, Bernard drew out a generous amount in his pipette, catching the drippings in his tastevin. He squeezed out a few ounces for each of us, and we drank.
We’re not normally white wine drinkers, and especially avoid what we consider the sweeter whites, including Chardonnay. However, in France, Chardonnays are not nearly as sweet as those produced in California. We were therefore pleasantly surprised to find this a light, dry, delicious wine.
After the Chardonnay came the Chassagne-Montrachet 2006, another white. It was a bit more complex than the Chardonnay with more wood in the flavor. Yet again, we were surprised at how much we could enjoy a white wine. We’ll have to look into these more in the future.
As a segue from the whites to the reds, we tasted a Moulin A Vent 2006 from the nearby Beaujolais region (the whole region thing gets extremely complicated, especially here in Burgundy). Beaujolais tends to produce young, very light reds, and this was no exception. Like the whites we tasted, it had some unexpected subtleties, in this case some fruit overtones. Yet another delicious surprise.
By this point, we’d had three glasses of wine each and were starting to feel it. And it was time to hit the serious stuff: the Pinot Noir for which this region is best known.
We tasted four of these, all produced in 2005. None of these were anywhere near their peak, requiring another 10-15 years of additional aging for maximum flavor. Some will even go through a second fermentation before bottling. Nonetheless, each was more complex, well structured and delicious than the last. One can only imagine how incredible they will be in 15 years.
The first two Pinots we tried were of the “Village” classification. This means that all their grapes can be traced to a particular village, but may come from a variety of vineyards within that village. When buying this type of wine, you’re trusting the producer to choose the best grapes from the village in question, and give them the proper treatment. 36% of the wines produced in Burgundy carry the “Village” classification.
The ones we tasted were the Chambolle-Musigny and the Gevrey-Chambertin. Both were delicious despite their youth.
Next up, a Nuits-Roncieres Premiere Cru 2005. The “Premier Cru” classification assures the buyer that all the grapes in the wine originated in the vineyard bearing it’s name. In this case, it’s the Nuits-Roncieres vinyard in the village of Nuits-Saint-Georges. Only 12% of wines produced in Burgundy bear the “Premier Cru” classification.
And, to cap off the Pinots, we tried a Corton-Marechaudes Grand Cru 2004. Like “Premier Cru”, the “Grand Cru” classification guarantees the exact origin of all the grapes in the wine. However, “Grand Cru” is only given to a select few vineyards having the best soil and micro-climates. A mere 2% of the wines produced in Burgundy come from these estates.
“Grand Cru” by no means indicates the quality of the wines produced. It is entirely possible to produce terrible wine on Grand Cru vineyards. The designation only means that the estate is capable of producing grapes of the very highest quality.
Just to give you an idea of how complicated Burgundy wine classification can get, here’s a quick (or as quick as these things get) rundown of the Grand Cru we tried: All the grapes came from the famous Corton vineyard in the village of Aloxe-Corton in the Cotes de Beunes sub-region of Burgundy. This is actually a very large vineyard, with 22 individually named subdivisions. The subdivision that yielded this particular wine is named “Marechaudes”. So, the full appelation “Corton-Marechaude,” to those crazy enough to actually understand the region’s wine, this means: “The Marechaude subdivision of the Corton vineyard in the town of Aloxe-Corton, in the subregion Cotes de Beune in the Burgundy region.”
If, like me, the above borders on gibberish to you, then we may both take comfort in the knowledge that people actually earn a living just by understanding what all of this means.
In any case, this wine we tasted, despite being at least 3 years shy of maturity, showed it’s potential admirably. Even aged just two years, it had real character and structure and was delicious as is. By the time it is mature, it will be all but unobtainable, having been bought up and aged by a variety of connoiseurs.
Now that we were done with the Pinots (and rather tipsy), Bernard offered us a taste of the cellar’s only Bordeaux wine, the Lalande de Pomerol Clos l’Hermitage 2005. The Bordeaux region has a completely different classification system than Burgundy, and I have not familiarized myself with it (I’ll leave that for when we actually go there). And I’d love to tell you how it tasted, but I was pretty hammered by the time I finished it, and I really don’t remember.
And there, our cellar tour ended, without a trace of a heavy pitch, or even a light one for that matter. Bernard had let the wine speak for itself, and it spoke very loudly. He took us back upstairs and into his office, where he made us each a Kir. Like everything else we’d tasted, it was quite delicious. And, like everything else we’d tasted, it contributed further to our annebriation.
It was now about 12:30, and we still had to get to Marsannay-La Cote. As such, we couldn’t buy any wine that day. So we promised to return the next day to make our purchase.
Bernard was actually nice enough to drive us to the bus stop, where we had some sandwiches to help alleviate our buzz, and boarded the bus to our ill fated wine tour.
Deciding what to buy from Bernard was torturous. We really wanted to pick up a couple of Pinots to age. However, after a long discussion, we realized just how difficult it would be to lug these bottles half way around Europe and back to Costa Rica. Also, our wine fridge is in storage, and we’d have to get that to Costa Rica as well in order to properly age this wine.
As such, we purchased only a bottle of the delicious Chardonnay we’d tasted the previous day, and Bernard made us a gift of another. This man’s generosity knows no bounds. We even briefly discussed the possibility of working in one of his vineyards during next year’s September harvest.