19 July 2009
Beaune, Day Four
Today we got priceless dirt on our pants.
The Domaine de la Romanée-Conti (DRC) produces breathtakingly expensive red and white Burgundy from several Grand Cru vineyards, but none more coveted than the wine produced from the Romanée-Conti vineyard itself. The vineyard dates to 1232 AD, and many consider it the best site for Pinot Noir in the world. We looked into procuring a single bottle from our wedding year, but even a young bottle from an average vintage like 2004 commands prices in excess of $4000. In lauded vintages, the price can double. A great vintage that's been cellared to perfection can cost more than a car, and we're not talking Kia. According to the Domaine, it takes three full vines to produce a single bottle of DRC Romanée-Conti, and the vines are over forty years old each. Their value is measurable, but just barely. And unlike most vineyards in Burgundy, which are divided into parcels with many owners, Romanée-Conti is a monopole. The DRC owns the whole thing.
From Vosne Romanée, we drove through several other villages in the Côte-d'Or. We saw a magnificent Romanesque Church in Nuits-Saint-Georges, the fourteenth century Eglise St. Symphorien. Parishioners filed past four hundred year old graves for Sunday services-- an interesting glimpse of France's living history. Maybe it's because there are so many old things here, or maybe it's just a different view of history, but the French don't try to hermetically seal 'old' things the way we do. They use them!
From Nuits-St.-Georges we passed through vineyards in Pommard and Meursault, scattered fields of Charolais cattle in Orches and Evelle, and then we stopped for a break in Puligny-Montrachet. In Puligny-Montrachet (and Chassagne-Montrachet next door) Chardonnay is king. There are dozens of Premier Cru Chardonnay vineyards here, and a handful of Grand Crus. Among the Grand Crus is Le Montrachet, which lies between both villages. Le Montrachet is to Chardonnay as Romanée-Conti is to Pinot Noir. There are more than 20 parcels that are farmed by different producers (like the DRC, which owns part of Le Montrachet) and many of them can command prices well over $1000 per bottle. In a "blockbuster" vintage like '05, DRC Montrachet prices can exceed $5000.
Almost everything is closed on Sundays in France, so when we spotted an open café in Puligny-Montrachet, we decided to stop for lunch. The buzzed, happy French guys in the middle said to tell you 'hi'. This little place had a great lunch menu, which used many local, seasonal ingredients in non-traditional ways.
The chevre-chaud salad combined warm discs of creamy goat cheese with tomato, basil, and pine nuts for something more Mediterranean than Burgundian. The pizza-type thing was Burgundy's answer to flammekuchen-- toasted boulé with époisses, lardons, onions, and a touch of brandy. We debated for a while whether to order a white Burgundy since we were in Puligny-Montrachet, or a red Burgundy to pair with the époisses. We hemmed, we hawed, and then we did what we always do when we're flummoxed: we ordered a Provençal rosé. We shared everything but the wine with this guy, who batted his big brown eyes at us. He had impeccable table manners and didn't try to grab anything until we offered it. It's not obvious in the picture, but he was the size of a St. Bernard!
We're in love with the Côte-d'Or. Unlike Reims, which is littered with international chain stores at eye level, most of the Côte-d'Or still looks and feels purely French. This may be a popular destination among travelers, but it's not the canned, Disneyland experience you'd find in Napa Valley. Beaune welcomes its visitors, but does not dumb itself down for them. This makes it the purest and most authentic wine-centric travel experience we've ever had.