No Wine without Cuisine… | Posted: 07 January 2014
The remarkable Hospices de Beaune, which you can visit on our cycling holiday in Burgungy
Peter Williamson

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Peter Williamson

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Sample some of the famed wines during your cycling holiday in Burgundy

There are certain names that float in and out of memory. Like a wine from Burgundy called Puligny-Montrachet...

Many years ago in another life, I had a job behind the bar of a pub in Clerkenwell in London. 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 recently.

Or should I say, until Inntravel began to explore this fabulously gastronomic region, famed for its vineyards and historic towns – like Cluny (an old walled town with narrow streets, several fine Romanesque houses and lots of atmosphere); Givry (with one of the most beautiful town halls in France in the shape of a triumphal arch); and Puligny-Montrachet itself, one of Burgundy’s best-known wine-producing villages and home to that elusive fine wine of my past. Well I never!

I’ve still not tasted the wine or been to Burgundy, but the Hotel le Montrachet in Puligny-Montrachet has a growing reputation and is well deserving of its Michelin star ranking – due in no small part to the cuisine of Le Montrachet’s innovative chef, Luc Filoé.

Luc was born in the Auxerre region and it was here he began his career, working his way up the culinary ladder with stints at several restaurants. He then came to the Beaune area where he started work at Le Montrachet before moving on to another position. He returned to Le Montrachet in 1994 to work under chefs Michel Bezout and Thierry Berger before taking the helm himself, detemined to carry on the fine traditions of his predecessors. Luc loves the region and enjoys seeking out the best and freshest produce at the market, exploring the variety of the region’s produce and the rich possibilities it offers. 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’.

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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 Luc'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. 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.
Cluny image © Alain Doire, Bourgogne Tourisme

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