France bicycle trip 1996


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Chateau at Corton (near Beaune) ©TPH96 (jpg 2.44kb)


Sunday, 8 September 11:00 pm

We walked around the small walled old city of Beaune before dinner. It is really beautiful but very touristy. We remarked on the ugliness of the clothes in the shop windows. (seemingly aimed at middle-aged conservative and oh so practical German ladies who don't like to wear bright colours or anything too form fitting) But the buildings themselves and the cobblestone streets are a remarkable contrast in their beauty and tasteful design. [...]

Monday, 9 September -A's birthday! 7:45 am 13C
From the window (of our hotel room) I can see a stone house with tile roof, a slate roof further over, poplar trees and beautiful slate grey clouds that were tinged with violet and rose a few minutes ago. There are bluish hills in the distance.

8:10 am T and I are standing on the fire escape. Cold! But even better view. I can now see that the hills in the distance are covered with squares of long lines of grape vines and to our immediate right was my brother-in-law, P's happy face looking out of his window with his gold tooth glinting in the sun. [...]

3:20 pm We made our way through the cool sunny fall-like day (17C) to the Hotel-Dieu. There we went through the rather unremarkable front door to see the most amazing courtyard. (The outer wall was specifically designed to be unassuming so thieves wouldn't think to go in. The sun hitting the yellow tiles on the roof was spectacular. There was a lovely wrought-iron well on one side of the courtyard and angels carved in wood over every window, door and under every archway. Gargoyles on the eaves. Breathtaking. Inside, there were riches after riches. I particularly liked the faces of the people carved just below the ceiling in the Hall of the Poor. There were dragons holding the beams for the ceiling there and a large figure of Christ carved from one piece of oak over one of the doors. Polished wood everywhere. There was also the most beautiful chalice encrusted with emeralds and enamelled portraits of Mary and Jesus. (I tried to get a postcard of it but it wasn't as ornate as some of the other chalices depicted in postcards.) It was a remarkable and moving place. Some of the surgical instruments gave us pause. [...] There was also a spectacular straw model of the cathedral that was complete inside as well as out. You can look through the open doors to see the altar, etc. inside! [...]

We came back to the hotel to rest a little before get on our bikes to go to the Louis Jadot winerey. There we met with P's colleague, Frederick Burrier. He took us through the bottling area where we saw hundreds of bottles being suctionied onto a converor belt to have the red plastic put over the cork. The room had that wonderful smell of wine and stone. There were cases everywhere with shipping labels to various places. One said Malaysia. Frederick disappeared into the office and came out carrying a long metal rod, a basket of glasses and a glass thief - long spigot to pull the wine out of casks. We went down into the cellar for tasting. Amazing!! We tasted two village wines and then the rest were premier or grand crus all from 1995 barrels....

Tues, 10 Sept 7:20 am 13C
Not one cloud. There is a pink haze and T wants to go down for coffee so off we go into the chilly morning air. [...]

12:50 pm We strolled out to the cafe just outside the walls of old Beaune. There were 3 men drinking beer (!!) and playing electronic darts. A woman came in with her german shepherd. At one point, she was buying lottery tickets and the dog was standing on its hind legs with its front paws resting on the lottery table looking at the array of tickets. We stood at the bar drinking strong, but cardboardy coffee. The radio was playing news and French covers of American Rock & Roll.

Last night, we had a fabulous dinner at Piqu'Boeuf Grill. There was an open grilling fire blazing in the center of the room. I had Salade Verte, grilled Duck breast with green peppercorn suace, baked potato, grilled tomato, mushrooms, lots of bread, and of course, magnificent wine from the Jadot cellars.

Jadot (where they make, bottle and sell wine)

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(NRH said he was jealous after reading my overview of our trip. I had told him to ask me about the Jadot wine tasting if he really wanted to be jealous. He replied that wine didn't really interest him and all he cared about was whether it was red or white and he preferred it to be white. I sent the following to him.)

Under the streets of the city are thousands of wine cellars with bottles supplying all the fancy restaurants and wealthy people of the world. We went into the barrel room of a famous winery (Jadot) there and tasted wine out of the barrel. Frederick Burrier , P's colleague and our guide (Frederick sells wine to P's store from Jadot), had a basket full of glasses for us and a long glass tube, a big chisel and a wooden mallet. He pried off the corks of each barrel with the chisel and then dipped the tube into the barrel and used it like a straw to get the wine into the tube. We tasted things you and I have never heard of because we aren't the idle rich. They were premiers crus and grands crus. (We usually drink Village wines.) After the tasting, we went and dined in a restaurant that had an open fire for grilling.

The differences were remarkable between the barrels. We tasted 8 different whites, all the same kind of grape, all the same year, all the same general area, all prepared in the same way and they were remarkably different (8 different reds followed the same formula).

Frederick said it was mostly due to difference in soil. The vineyards are on steep stony hills and apparently the more stones, the better the wine. The vineyards in that area are all chopped up because it was decreed (in the revolution?) that one person couldn't own a whole vineyard. So one person now might own one row of grapes that has been handed down to him from generation after generation.

One barrel we tasted came from an owner who has enough grapes to make only 3 barrels per year. (I wish I knew how many barrels a regular vineyard makes. It's dozens for sure.) The next barrel was from an owner two or three rows over and even you would have been amazed at the difference in taste and you would have sworn that someone snuck some Christmas cake into the barrel.

But it was really the process of the whole thing that was so amazing. Frederick's glass tube that he used like a straw to get the wine out of the barrel, his remarkable big hook of a nose thrust into the glass to get the full essence from the wine, his wireframed glasses glinting as he spoke so reverently and/or amusingly about the wines, the giant chisel to pry out the corks, the big wooden mallet to hammer them back into the barrels, the swish of the wine going into the glasses, spitting a long perfect stream (not me, I dribbled on my chin) into the gravel under the barrels, the cold stony old church smell of the cellar mixed with the heady aroma from the wine, coming out of the chilly basement into the brilliant sunshine seeing those gold tile rooftops in the distance with the memory of the last lingering taste of something amazing and secret to anyone but the idle rich.


1995 Barrels:
(sorry if there are still spelling errors)

Pernand Vergelesses village wine
Meursault "les Perrières" village wine
Puligny-Montrachet "les Demoiselles" premier cru
Corton Charlemagne grand cru
le Montrachet grand cru
Batard Montrachet grand cru

1993 Bottle:
Puligny Montrachet "les Pucelles" premier cru


1995 Barrels:
(by the time we got to the second red, I was entirely overwhelmed.)

Clos Des Ursules (Beaune) premier cru
Clos de Beze grand cru
Bonnes Mares grand cru
le Musigny grand cru
Eschezeau (1995 acquisition of Jadot) grand cru
Santenay "Clos des Malts" premier cru
Gevrey-Chambertin "Clos St.Jacques" premier cru

1992 Bottle:
le Musigny grand cru

Frederick gave us the opened bottles to take to our restaurant that evening.

One of the other thrills was that we had just ridden, in brilliant sunshine, by many of the vineyards that day or the day before. (Cote d'Or and Corton Charlemagne) Each of the grand cru vineyards had big stone archways with the name embossed at the top of the arch, with wrought iron or wooden gates leading to the sometimes tiny section of vast vineyard on the slope.

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© ejm 1996-99
Toronto Ontario Canada

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