Many years ago in another life, I had a job behind the bar of a pub in Clerkenwell in London [left - though I note it has changed its name since my time].
Way ahead of its time, it had a very extensive wine cellar – this was in the days of Hirondelle house wine, so those of a certain age will know what I’m alluding to? – which was greeted with great gusto by imbibers partial to the grape.
At the lower end of the scale, even our house wine was a cut above the rest while the top-end wines included one that always intrigued me, though I could never afford to buy it, as it cost about £26 a bottle (a lot of money in those days).
The wine in question was a Puligny-Montrachet blanc – I never forgot the name – though I never did get to try it. Despite achieving almost mythical status (in my mind) at the time, over the intervening years it slowly disappeared off my radar, never to show itself again – until now.
Or should I say, until Inntravel introduced a new addition to its cycling holidays in France, which highlights The Treasures of Southern Burgundy.
This holiday explores the famous vineyards of the Burgundy region, following a meandering route from Cluny (an old walled town with narrow streets, several fine Romanesque houses and lots of atmosphere) to historic Givry (with one of the most beautiful town halls in France in the shape of a triumphal arch) and ending in one of Burgundy’s best-known wine-producing villages and home to that elusive fine wine of my past, Puligny Montrachet itself. Well I never!
I’ve still not tasted the wine and I’ve yet to go to Burgundy, but the holiday – and in particular the hotel we use in Puligny Montrachet – is receiving rave reviews.
Mrs Bampfylde of Guildford stated simply, “the Hotel Montrachet [left] was wonderful!” Mr Ludlow from Worcester concurred, “Hotel Le Montrachet was really beautiful, wonderful food and helpful staff. Although the rain stopped us from having dinner on the lovely terrace, we made up for it by enjoying the great food and wine to the full!”
Meanwhile, Miss Chisholm from Bracknell was puzzled as to “why this lovely hotel would want to have hot, sweaty cyclists in their dining room. But they do and we were warmly welcomed!” She also questioned why it rates only three stars as it ranks up there with any 5-star hotel she has stayed in. Time will tell...
In fact, that time may come sooner than you think – especially if the hotel’s cuisine is taken into account – for earlier this year, Le Montrachet’s innovative chef, Thierry Berger, was awarded his first Michelin star.
Thierry [right] had previously worked at the Hotel du Palais in Biarritz, the Hotel Martinez in Cannes and the Hotel Vernet in Paris, amongst others, before taking over Le Montrachet’s kitchen. Noted for his artistically tasty concoctions, he prides himself on creating exciting new dishes using local produce, famed as much for their presentation as for their taste. In something of an understatement, the menu announces:
“The à la carte and seasonal menus are extensively researched and tested by our chef. New recipes, new flavours…. the depth of his creativity and talent can be found in each dish, from starter to dessert.”
These few words do not do justice to such dishes as ‘Filet de boeuf Charolais poêlé au poivre de cassis, crumble de chorizo Basque et champignons poêlés’, or ‘Homard bleu thermidor cuit sur la braise, aux sarments de vignes, artichauts et pomme de terre’. Nor will I destroy your wild imaginings of what these gastronomic, mouth-watering dishes look and taste like with my poor O-level standard translations – just take it from those in the know, that the food here is pretty remarkable. [My colleague Emily tells me it’s ‘Charolais beef with blackcurrant pepper, Basque chorizo crumble and mushrooms’, and ‘Blue lobster thermidor, cooked over the embers of burning vine cuttings, served with artichokes and potatoes’.)
The management of the Hotel Le Montrachet also proudly boasts that you can sample a glass of Premiers Crus and Grands Crus at any time, with eight whites and eight reds permanently on the wine list, accompanied by Thierry’s ‘gourmand snacks’ (another understatement, methinks) emphasising the important, nay vital, link, between fine wine and fine food. Indeed, as Jean-Claude Wallerand, the award-winning former sommelier at Le Montrachet once said, “There is no cuisine without wine and no wine without cuisine”.
While you’re in the area, it would be remiss not to cycle on to visit the historic town of Beaune, passing through the prestigious wine villages of Meursault, Volnay, and Pommard along the way. You will notice stone entrance gates leading into walled vineyards, standing proudly like the ramparts of some medieval fortress – though built to guard the region’s noble wines.
The town is famed not only for its fine wines and excellent eating establishments, but also for the remarkable Hospices de Beaune, one of the finest examples of 15th-century French architecture in the country, and now a wonderful museum. Of particular note are its extraordinary roofs (best seen from inside the central courtyard) which are made from glazed ceramic tiles in reds, browns, yellows and greens, that are so typical of the region [left]. It was built to serve the poor and sick following the Hundred Years’ War and, as a charitable institution, it received many bequests and endowments over the centuries, including a fair number of vineyards.
Today, the ‘Domaine’ owns over 60 hectares of vines and each year, on the third Sunday in November, the wine is auctioned and the millions of Euros raised, go to benefit sick and needy people.
A few interesting facts about Burgundy wines:
- Almost all Burgundy wines worth their weight are named after places, not the grape;
- Almost all white Burgundy – and this includes Puligny Montrachet – is made from the Chardonnay grape;
- Almost all red Burgundy, with the notable exception of Beaujolais (also a Burgundy wine) is made from the Pinot Noir grape;
- All owe their individual flavours to the terroir of each region.