Thursday, September 25, 2014

A visit to Maison Joseph Drouhin

Bonjours from Beaune!
Photo by Meg McKenzie
I found out about Drouhin wines when I was wending my way through Oregon's Willamette Valley last year. So it was with eagerness that I descended upon the stately Maison Drouhin smack-dab in the middle of the lovely medieval town of Beaune.

According to those in the know, the greatest Pinot Noir in the world comes from Burgundy, the part of France of which Beaune is a part. But the Chardonnay grapes do equally well here, too. I hoped to taste excellent samples of both, as well as get a memorable experience for the 35 euros I shelled out for my 10:30 a.m. tasting.

The original press room at Joseph Drouhin
Photo by Meg McKenzie
Now, morning is not my favorite time to start sipping vintages, so I was pleased when our charming and attentive tasting guide, Raphael Febvret, proposed that we first do a walkthrough of the ancient caves that go not only under the maison but the nearby Notre-Dame church, as well. We were a small group -- I was joined only by a young, affluent couple from New York City who could not have been nicer. So our tour took on the cachet of an exclusive experience.

First, we walked across the plaza to a hidden door that led down to the ancient wine press room. It was modernized with photographs and displays showing how a few years ago, Drouhin and some high-rolling wine connoisseurs actually used the press to make a few precious bottles.

Then, we started going through the tunnels. Normally, I am not thrilled with a) being underground b) being in dark, enclosed spaces. But it was such an interesting tour with such a lot of history -- ancient centurion ramparts, Catholic bishops, Dukes of Burgundy, up to the present day -- that I didn't really have time to get nervous. Raphael paced our walk just right, stopping to show us dusty bottles of rare vintages and original Roman walls.

Raphael Febvret lines up bottles for our tasting.
Photo by Meg McKenzie
All that walking was a wonderful prelude to the tasting event itself, and voila -- suddenly we turned a corner and we had miraculously come back to the Maison. While we took a short break, Raphael got the bottles ready for our tasting, and I got to chat with the young couple, who had just come from Art Basel in Switzerland, where the train strike that nearly derailed me in Metzville, France (I had to rebook my ticket through Paris to get to Dijon), saw them renting a car and driving to Burgundy instead. So the poor (rich) guy, as the designated driver, had to spit out all his delicious wine into the bucket. I clued them in on Dijon -- take a pass -- and Nuits St. Georges -- by all means go -- and to thank me, they slipped me their Art Basel VIP ticket once they found out I was heading through there the next day. How sweet was that?

A tuille and some fromage and wine at Le Jardin Des
Remparts, where I lunched al fresco. Divine!
Photo by Meg McKenzie
But, to the wine: We went from the Clos de Mouches label through the Drouhin-Vaudon Chablis Premier Cru and Pouilly Vinzelles to the Vosne-Romanee and Puligny-Montrachet Folatieres Premier Cru, I got a real sense of progression, and Raphael was not shy with the pour. But the true hallmark of my time at Drouhin turned out to be the camaraderie of my new amies and the sense of Burgundian history brought to life by the Maison's gracious hospitality and amazing cellars.

Postscript: Afterward, I sprung for an extravagant lunch at the nearby Le Jardin Des Remparts restaurant, which I enjoyed with an exceptional glass of Pinot Noir Entrecoeur Bohrmann 2009.

The old walls, or ramparts, that
give Beaune its magic.
Photo by Meg McKenzie
☻☻☻. Some people say the French are snooty; I say they are elegant and discerning. So put on your best behavior, and approach the Drouhin experience accordingly. The bottles uncorked here are of varying quality and price levels. The icing on the cake is the tour of the caves. Formidable!

P.P.S. They have many different tours available, including wine dinners and vineyard visits. Email or go to their website to book a tour.

My ratings go from one grape (poor) to five grapes (excellent) and are based on accessibility, price, ambiance, overall experience and, of course, the wines.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Idaho Wine Girl goes to France!

Le vin, c'est moi! A bust of the Duke
of Burgundy in Dijon.
Photo by Meg McKenzie
As the train pulled into Dijon, I was deluged with emotion ... and anticipation. Having been living in Asia for the previous six months -- where, let's face it, the wine culture is self-described as "emerging" -- I was like a thirsty camel biding its time in the desert, dreaming of the oasis. Now, I had arrived.

But as I found out, staying in Dijon was a bit of a mistake. Though I found this adorable sushi place called Bento, the city itself is sort of large and underwhelming. Should have gone directly to Beaune, in the heart of Burgundy wine-growing region, an ancient town that lives, breathes and, of course, sells great wine. But I was under the mistaken impression Beaune was in the hinterlands (plus the rail strike going on when I was there).

First glass of vin rouge in France, at a
cute sushi place in Dijon called Bento.
Photo by Meg McKenzie
Looking back, though, I'm glad I stayed in Dijon because I got to take the Authentica wine tour down the Cote D'Or, stopping in quaint villages and getting the lay of the land. (The next day, I snuck back to Beaune and did a tasting at the fancy Joseph Drouhin cellars, the topic for my next post.)

First off, Burgundy 101. The Cote D'Or region (or "domaine") is like a snake going down the sides of gently rippling hillsides in eastern central France. Dijon is to the north, Macon to the south, with a million little towns in between, many of which are world-famous. Heard of Gevry-Chambertin? It's here. Pommard? Ici. Ditto Puligny-Montrachet. And of course Romanee-Conti, a wine so heady it's legendary.

A camera-wielding tourist outside the Chateau
du Corton-Andre, rocking typical Burgundy
roof tiles. Photo by Meg McKenzie
The tour only got as far south as Beaune. If I had a million dollars and all the time in the world, I'd have spent a month tippling -- er, tasting -- all the way down the Cote. But I was heading off to Switzerland in a few days and then on to Austria. So little time, so much wine. Arrrgghhh!

But back to Authentica. I booked my half-day "Charm" tour because the price (85 euros) was right and it dovetailed with my schedule. I'm glad I did. Our driver/tour guide Ivan was ... awesome. His gently accented English was perfect, and he dealt with the numerous personalities in the van with grace and panache. There were couples from Canada, California, Australia and even Malta. Et moi.

Authentica tour guide Ivan
gives us the dirt on vines.
Photo by Meg McKenzie
Ivan was not only nice, he also knew a lot about wine. We stopped off to look at vines in Fixey, Nuits St. Georges and even Clos de Vougeot, a grand onetime monastery that is now leased to the Chevaliers du Tastevin (world-class movers and shakers who appreciate fine wine). We thought we were going to taste wine there, but alas, it was only our restroom stop. Still, quite beautiful.

Our wine tasting, however, was memorable and delightful. And delicious! The winery that Authentica has hooked up with is called the Chateau du Corton-Andre. It's a little hokey, where you go down to the cellar and stand around a dimly lit wine barrel to sip your way through the six wines. But after a few glasses, it started to become pretty nice. We started with the cheaper stuff and worked our way up to the pricier vintages. Ivan explained how the label tells you where the wine was made and what quality it is.

Lined up for tasting at Corton-Andre. From left: Santenay,
Puligny-Montrachet Premier Cru Le Cailleret,
Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru, Monthelie Premier Cru Les
Riottes, Volnay Premier Cru En Chevret, and finally the
Corton Grand Cru. Photo by Meg McKenzie

Although Burgundy is of course known for its red wine, I actually fell in love with the one white wine we tried called Santenay, and got a bottle for about $15 in the gift shop. I then hauled it all the way to Austria, where I finally enjoyed it in a closet-sized room overlooking an alp. But that's a story for another day.

☻☻☻☻☻.Bottom line: Authentica is the real deal, as plenty of Trip Advisor reviewers will confirm. Go. Enjoy! Worth every euro.

Truly delicious wine and a memorable trip down Burgundy lane. Authentica has a variety of tours and are truly pleasant people to deal with.

My ratings go from one grape (poor) to five grapes (excellent) and are based on accessibility, price, ambiance, overall experience and, of course, the wines.