Travel report from Champagne – Chablis – Burgundy | testimonial written by a tour guest

A tailor made tour with The Priory

View over the vineyards and a village in Champagne

View over the vineyards and a village in Champagne, copyright BKWine Photography

Five days in Champagne, Chablis and Burgundy, is a wine tour that we call The Three Classics. It is one of the most popular tours on our “public” tour scheduled and it is also a tour that we do frequently as a custom made wine tour for private groups.

The Priory (“Prästgården”) is a small Swedish wine importer that is a long-time customer of ours for bespoke wine tours. We have organised several tours for them on which we have show what “their” producers (and some which are not theirs) can do. Participants on these tours have been the staff of The Priory, their partner, friends, customers…

The latest tour we did for them was a “Three Classics” to Champagne, Chablis and Burgundy. Here below is their own travel report, written by The Priory (Prastgarden), on what they did and how it all went.

Travel report from Champagne – Chablis – Burgundy

Great times

How fast time passes. It feels like just a week ago when the first champagne cork popped open and the wonderful days that followed. But it has been over a month since then and memories fade. Now, what was the name of that wine again? Where was it we had that delicious duck? And so on. Perhaps I can refresh your memory with these notes on the trip and on the wines we tasted. And perhaps it can also inspire you to some new exploration in the world of wine and food. At leas we at Prastgarden hope so. Thank you to all participants for coming with us and for your positive enthusiasm.

The travel story

Here is the story of our five wonderful days in Champagne and Burgundy with some of the strongest memories, lasting impressions and most exciting wines.

Vineyards in Champagne

Vineyards in Champagne, copyright BKWine Photography

The original idea was that the tour would take place during the harvest so that we would experience the most active time in the vineyards. A record breaking early harvest changed the plans – most of the grapes were already harvested and were fermenting in the vats in the cellars. But this meant that instead we had an in-depth introduction to the first steps in the winemaking process. One of the first things we had to learn was to manage the strong smell of fermentation that is everywhere at this time of the year.

Initially people were a bit concerned about the 2011 harvest. The spring was very early and warm but the summer was not so good. The early flowering of the wines meant that harvest came early and the growers have had to make diligent selection of the grapes to get a good raw material for the wines. The wine growers were all a bit exhausted, but satisfied, and it looks as if 2011 will be a good vintage although perhaps not outstanding in the north-east of France.

We start in Epernay in Champagne

We started our wine tour in Epernay with a dinner, an exciting menu where all dishes were paired with a different champagne. Thursday morning we learn how this noble beverage is made when we visit one of the most famous houses, Billecart-Salmon. We taste a classic blanc-de-blanc, an ultra-dry aperitif champagne and a new cuvée made in oak barrels. After the morning visit we head south towards Bar-sur-Seine. On the way we stop for a delicious three course lunch with local wines.

Many bottles in the wine cellar

Many bottles in the wine cellar, copyright BKWine Photography

The visit a Veuve A Devaux made some strong impressions in the memory. The decoration in the entrance is in retro-style with daring elegance and we will later see the same fusion in the wines. The tasting starts with wines that have not yet gone through the second fermentation in bottles (“vins clairs”). the winemaker, Michel Pariseau, tells us how he every year tastes all the tanks and barrels in the same way as we, each tank, each grape variety, each vineyard etc separately – to find the perfect blend for the different cuvées.

– It is like making perfume, Pariseau explains.

In Champagne they put aside a portion of the wine every year to use in blends in subsequent years. At Devaux the store this reserve wine in big oak vats which contributes to a more full-bodied and more complex taste than if you store it in stainless steel.

The winemaker’s pet project is the Cuvée NV from La Collection D – it shows some malolactic notes balanced with a fresh fruit. L’Ultra is their cuvée with no dosage (no added sugar) and has a residual sugar of only 3 grams. The saltiness and the iodine character could go perfectly with a soy sauce and would contrast well with the sweetness in a sushi. The wine that is the biggest surprise is the rosé, Le Rosé. Even the most hardy rosé-haters appreciate the nuttiness in the taste. Le Millésimé 2002 from the classic collection shows a typical bready / toasty character with hints of caramel and an excellent balance between acidity and maturity – even if it will no doubt last in the cellar another ten years if you want.

Continuing to Chablis

Vineyards in Chablis

Vineyards in Chablis, copyright BKWine Photography

From Champagne to Chablis. Neighbours in many ways but also very different. Thriving and exclusive champagne houses compared to small, family owned wineries with Meulière as a good example. We had a taste of both wines and gastronomy the evening before when we arrived at the best hotel and restaurant in Chablis, Le Clos. A magnificent Premier Cru from Dauvissat became our point of reference for the firs tasting of the day. Meulière found some gems in the cellar to rise to the challenge and the outcome was very honourable – proof being for example all the cases of wines that our travel companions carried out to the bus, including several magnums. We had a good view of the famous Grand Cru vineyards from the bus but some energetic travellers made it an early morning the following day and walked up the steep hill. They were rewarded with a beautiful sunrise over the Chablis village.

Burgundy, with all its famous villages

A range of wines to taste over lunch

A range of wines to taste over lunch, copyright BKWine Photography

Our voyage continued shout, towards Gevrey-Chambertin and a wine maker that we will not forget easily, Domaine Heresztyns Florence. She has been thoroughly schooled in the family business and with training both in France and abroad. For ten years she has been in charge of the winemaking together with her father but this year she will shoulder the responsibility on her own.

– 2011 will be a feminine vintage, she says and smiles.

The tastings starts with a selection of wines from different “terroirs” and different vintages. Some are described as more feminine and others more masculine. Apparently it is the fruit and smooth body that is feminine and the tannins and the powerful wines which are more masculine – in this case.

One of the wines we taste is the Premier Cru Gevrey-Chambertin Les Champonnet 2007.

– It is a terroir that produces very mineral wine according to connoisseurs, says Florence.

A typical pinot noir with a very good volume on the palate. Hints of old leaves, mushrooms and violet in the aromas and we understand that this is a masculine wine.

Continued below.

Tasting wines in the old barrel cellar

Tasting wines in the old barrel cellar, copyright BKWine Photography

We taste two Morey-Saint Denis 1er Cru Les Millande, both the 2006 and 2001, the latter was also the first year that Florence worked in the cellar. The vines are 70 years old and give very small quantity of very concentrated fruit. Les Millandes was nominated to “vineyard of the year” in 2006, a vintage that shows great concentration of fruit, whereas the 2001 is more elegant with a very long finish and some hints of rose hip.

We continue from Heresztyn to Beaune. On our way we pass some of the finest vineyards in the world and the villages that have taken their names to add a glimmer of fame to the villages.

Along the Route Nationale RN 74

A vineyard hut in a Grand Cru

A vineyard hut in a Grand Cru, copyright BKWine Photography

The distances between the villages in the Côtes de Nuits are small, or more correctly, between the communes. They lie like the pearls on a necklace along the RN 74 road between Dijon and Beaune. At the northern end you have Marsannay and Fixin with intensely red wines with a lot of tannin. Then you have Gevrey-Chambertin, the biggest village appellation, famous for some of the Grand Cru vineyards like Chambertin and Clos de Bèze. These are powerful wines with more colour, intense aromas and sometimes a bit harsh tannins. They are also a bit more full-bodied than the neighbour Morey-Saint-Denis that tends more towards the elegance of Chambolle.

When we arrive at Vougeot our thoughts go to the monks who have meant so much for the vine growing and wine production in the region. The Chateau du Clos de Vougeot can be seen from afar and the vineyard is enclosed by a stone wall, the only grand cru in the village. Its wines are elegant with a good balance between tannins, body and acidity.

In Vosne-Romanée they make some of the world’s most expensive and sought-after wines. Very well balanced, long-lived and elegant wines made from the pinot noir grape, for example in the vineyards La Tâche, La Romanée and Romanée-Conti. This is wines that express the typical aromas of cherries, wild strawberries, strawberries, violet and sous-bois.

In the famous vineyard

In the famous vineyard, copyright BKWine Photography

Next to Vosne-Romanée is the main village of the region, Nuits-Saint-Georges. The wines from Nuits are similar in character but they are also known for more powerful wines, perhaps the wines with the most tannins in all of Burgundy. The tannins together with power give full-bodied wines with a good structure.

When we arrive at Aloxe-Corton we have passed the border to Côtes du Beaune.

The best vineyards with grand cru status are on the mountain slopes of the Corton hill. Corton makes full-bodied, powerful wines from both red and white grapes and from the Corton-Charlemagne vineyard come some famous, complex and full-bodied white wines. The wines from here are among the most long-lived in all of Burgundy.

When we arrive in Beaune we check into our hotel, the Hostellerie de Bretonnière, close to the town centre and near the impressive Hotel Dieu and all the restaurants. We have a free evening but most of us choose to go to a restaurant run by a Swedish chef (!) for a delicious dinner. There’s a specially ordered foie gras duck liver that causes both some frustration and good laughter.

Saturday is spent in the most famous white wine districts starting with a visit at Olivier Leflaive in Puligny-Montrachet. A very well organised visit to the vineyards and then the winery that we end with a lunch and extensive wine tasting. The charm and humour of Olivier almost caused us the loss of one female traveller who was offered a rapid marriage.

The afternoon was spent exploring Beaune and their charming shopping district. One or two rarities were also found in some of the excellent wine shops. The wine tour finished with a farewell dinner that was filled with speeches and happy laughter. And we extricated, again, a promise from the organiser to make a new tour for us next year.

As I am sure you have understood, we learned a lot on this tour and the trip was filled with exciting wine and food tastings as well as interesting meeting with the vignerons.

Many thanks to Prästgården for letting us publish their article on this tour through the Burgundy and Champagne wine country.

The program on this bespoke tour was designed specifically according to the requirements of the customer, as always on our custom made tailored wine tours. Other tours can of course have different contents.

Taking a barrel sample for tasting

Taking a barrel sample for tasting, copyright BKWine Photography

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