Renting a car and driving in France is always a good idea. Although the trains are great here, there is so much more to see with a car. Encountering such small villages, charming people and fantastic artisans and winemakers makes for quite a memorable vacation. Besides, the region of Burgundy is incredibly beautiful. We only had 2 nights and 3 days, so we skipped Dijon and headed straight for the Route des Vins, specifically the Route des Grands Crus. Driving south from Dijon, we stopped first in Nuits-Saints-Georges. We continued through Ladoix, Aloxe-Corton and Pernand-Vergelesses before our first day was over.
Burgundy is full of sleepy little villages but this one was surprisingly so. After a few more stops at closed wineries, we finally found a winner on the edge of town. A gregarious old man opened his cellar tasting room for us and as we followed him down, our noses were assaulted by the moldy, fruity smell of the cave. I've visited many caves in various regions of France and there's nothing better than entering that first cave. It smelled old. It smelled of hundred-year-old, wine soaked oak barrels. The proprietor joked with us, asked where we were from and was genuinely delighted to share his wines. We talked about Zizou. (C'est pas juste!) He told us about the wine region by pointing to his plots on an extensive map. We bought a bottle and floated out of our first tasting feeling a bit lighter and so pleased with the start of our adventure.
Before we made it to our chambre d'hote for that night, we visited 3 more wineries. With each one, I felt I had a better handle on the locations, classifications (bourgogne, villages, premier cru, grand cru) and the various vintages. It was amazing to meet the winemakers. They are so proud, so hard working, so generous and so passionate. These are true family businesses; a few of them commented that they hoped their sons would continue the tradition. One claims to have family that has made wine since 1640. I pity the child who breaks that line!
Tasting a young white wine, straight from the barrel...Continuing south, we stopped in Aloxe-Corton and Ladoix (which along with Pertrand, form a nice triangle around the hills of Aloxe-Corton, where some of the best grand cru grapes are grown) and stayed in the loveliest bed and breakfast in Magny-les-Villers just 10 minutes or so north of Beaune. At just 52 euros per night, including breakfast, La Maison des Abeilles, was a steal.
That night we had the most amazing meal. A recommendation from our chambre d'hote, La Ferme de Rolle, was 30 minutes farther out into the middle of nowhere but was well worth the trip. The scenery was beautiful; rolling hills and lush green fields with the occasional sheep or horse sighting. We didn't even get lost on the twisting one lane roads until finally (quite uncharacteristically, I must say) we saw a sign pointing us to the restaurant. They had a table for 4 ready for us on the terrasse.
We started with an aperitif of white wine with strawberry puree mixed in, which was perfect for a hot night. We all got the 23 euro menu (quite reasonable) with 4 courses. We ended up going for a few pichets de vin rouge which were perfectly adaquate. After all, burgundian wines can be expensive, and having tried great wines throughout the day, our parched palates weren't worthy of spending 30 euro on a bottle with dinner.
Adam and Emily proved themselves the more adventurous couple and both ordered les escargots for their first course. Paul and I ordered another traditional dish from Burgundy called Oeufs en Meurette, or eggs poached in a red wine sauce. The snails were absolutely delicious! They were drowned (I picture a glorious death) in butter, garlic and herbs. The presentation is just too cute and the whole experience was fun. We all thought the texture was a bit like oysters. All in all, very tasty.The verdict is still out on the oeufs en meurette. To me, the idea is an appealing one. The poached eggs are served in a red wine sauce that is almost like the sauce for boeuf bourguignon; rich with wine, onions, bacon and carrots. Crunchy croutons were served beside to soak up the sauce. This is one of those dishes where I like all the ingredients but somehow the flavor was just a little disappointing. I wanted more texture and the egg yolks running into the thin wine sauce didn't really do much for me, although it definitely wasn't bad at all.
We all got the same 10 hour braised ham for our main course. Thick, tender slices were served with 3 different sauces and accompanied by potatoes and a few different vegetable purees. I can safely say that it was some of the best ham I've tasted. I couldn't finish my portion for fear of not making it through the last two courses, but I really wanted to do it.
The cheese course was a treat. I was the only one to choose the fromage blanc over the assorted cheeses. I thought it would be lighter, I guess. It came with a bit of fruit coulis and cream. It was fine, but the real star was this cheese board. Shocking is the only word for it. Paul loves stinky, oozing cheeses and even he was a bit intimidated by these local varieties. One cheese was covered in ash. Paul cut into one of them and it errupted on to the plate leaving the rind-shell behind. Incroyable... Dessert was equally massive in proportion. 3 of us ordered ice cream parfaits. Emily's had berry ice cream, fruit sauce and whipped cream, while mine was vanilla ice cream, rum-soaked cherries, chocolate sauce and whipped cream. Paul's was like mine but with pears, which was great and Adam got the most amazing lemon sorbet drowned in vodka. Once Adam stirred around, it ressembled a vodka slushie. But I don't think he was complaining.
We meandered back to our bed and breakfast the longer way around after dinner but got there nonetheless. It was an unforgettable meal. Stayed tuned for more wine tastings...