The Côte d’Or does indeed have a precious beauty and its worth in the wine world is immense. The east-facing escarpment stretches north to south for approximately fifty miles, with its clay and soft-limestone middle slopes divided into several vineyards, which produce some of the world’s best and most famous Chardonnay and Pinot Noir wines.
The determining of terroir (a particularly Burgundian concept of character formed by vineyard position, soil, climate and a certain je-ne-sais-quoi), has developed over centuries. It is thanks to the diligence and patience of both Benedictine and Cistercian monks, who in the Middle Ages owned much of this area, that records were kept grading the quality of the wines made from grapes grown in discrete plots. Some vineyards produced better wines from the same varietal and a grading system emerged which remains to this day.
But after the French revolution, plots were split up and passed from the church and nobility to several owners, only to fragment even further as the Napoleonic law of equal inheritance among children became the norm. Thus, in order to comprehend Burgundy, it is important not just to understand the quality of the vineyard or plot, but also the merits of the various producers who are working there.
The tour is based throughout in a comfortable hotel in the pretty, historical town of Beaune which lies in the Côte de Beaune and just south of the Côte de Nuits. The return journey to Lyon is broken by a visit to a château in the village Mercurey, part of the Côte Chalonnaise, one of the more dynamic regions south of the Côte d’Or.
Lyon. Fly at c. 2.00pm (British Airways) from London Heathrow to Lyon. Drive to the centre of the Côte d’Or and the charming walled town of Beaune where the tour is based. Arrive in time for dinner.
Meursault, Beaune. An introductory lecture at the hotel is followed by a short coach journey to the Château de Meursault. A footpath leads through the attractive estate past its vines to the 18th-century château and cellars where there is a tour and tasting. Maison Jaffelin is tucked into a courtyard off one of the narrow cobbled streets in the centre of Beaune. Trading merchants since the early 19th century, wine is still made in the ancient cellars which once served the adjacent church. Tour and wine tasting.
Puligny-Montrachet. Travel south through the Côte de Beaune to the deceptively tranquil, stone-built village of Puligny-Montrachet. The day begins with an extensive personal tour through the vineyards, followed by a tour of the large, modern cellars on the outskirts of the village in the company of Olivier Leflaive, eponymous father of the family-run business. The visit ends over a fine lunch accompanied by six white wines at their sturdy Maison in the village centre. The coach returns to Beaune mid-afternooon.
Clos de Vougeot, Nuits-St-Georges. A free morning and independent lunch is followed by an afternoon of contrasts starting at the museum of the Clos de Vougeot where monks once tended the vineyards and made wines using the giant presses on display. Boisset is one of the region’s largest producers and merchants. The ultra-modern installations on the site of a former Ursuline convent blend in cleverly with the Nuits-St-Georges scenery. A tasting follows the visit before returning to Beaune.
Aloxe Corton, Gevrey Chambertin. Leave Beaune to travel north. Aloxe Corton is the northernmost appellation in the Côte de Beaune and the largest Grand Cru in Burgundy. Domaine Senard has been in the family for five generations and now controls expansive views and almost nine hectares of organically-grown vines. Biodynamic Domaine Trapet in the Côte de Nuits work 12 hectares at Gevrey Chambertin including two hectares in Chambertin. Here we visit the cellars, vines and have a simple lunch accompanied by the domaine’s sophisticated wines. Return to Beaune for a final dinner.
Mercurey. A leisurely departure to head south beyond the Côte d’Or to the Côte Chalonnaise and the Premier Cru wines of the 18th-century Château Chamirey. After a tasting lunch here, drive to Lyon and fly to London Heathrow arriving at c. 7.45pm.
The tour is dependent on the kindness of many individuals and organisations, some of whom are reluctant to make arrangements far in advance, so the order of visits outlined above may change and there may be substitutions for some of the wineries mentioned.
Price, per person
Two sharing: £2,970 or £2,800 without flights. Single occupancy: £3,390 or £3,220 without flights.
Flights (Euro Traveller) with British Airways (aircraft: Airbus A320); travel by private coach throughout; hotel accommodation; breakfasts, 3 lunches and 3 dinners with wine, water, coffee; all admissions and tastings; all tips; all taxes; the services of the lecturer and local guides where required.
Le Cèdre Beaune, Beaune: elegant, classic, sedate 5-star. Rooms are varied in style. Single rooms are double for sole use.
There is quite a lot of walking and standing in possibly muddy vineyards and cool, damp cellars as well as on cobbled streets and courtyards. Average number of wines tasted per day: 7. Average distance by coach per day: 52 miles.
Between 10 and 18 participants.
Before booking, please refer to the FCO website to ensure you are happy with the travel advice for the destination(s) you are visiting: www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.