Set among vineyards that produce world-renowned red and white wines, centuries-old chateaus and cathedrals paint the countryside in the Bourgogne, or Burgundy, region of France.
We were drawn to the region for an annual wine festival held in the capital city of Beaune (pronounced Boone) called La Vente des Vins des Hospice de Beaune, which takes place the third weekend of November each year. This year celebrated the 151st anniversary of the event that brings in wine aficionados around the world to celebrate the end of the grape harvest. (Grapes were picked earlier in the fall for the 2011 selection.) The weekend concludes with one of the most crucial part of the harvest for wine makers: a private auction of 44 vintage wines of the Hospices (a prized selection of wines from the region) led by Christie’s. This auction is supposedly the largest charity auction in the world, called Les Trois Glorieuses, which benefits the local hospital. The wines that are chosen continue to be a highly sought after selection until the next harvest the following year.
On our last day in Paris, we took a cab to the Orly airport to pick up a rental car, which happened to be a stylish black BMW 5 Series. (Thankfully it had navigation because maneuvering the crowded streets of Paris was challenging to say the least!) We drove three and a half hours southeast of Paris to Beaune, an easy and scenic drive through the French countryside.
Because we scheduled the trip last-minute, all hotels in town were booked for the festival, so we stayed at La Jasoupe, a bed and breakfast in an 18th Century estate in neighboring town Demingy, about 10km south of the city center of Beaune. The owners recently finished renovations of the eight-room home, but maintained classic decor with antiques and furnishings. The property is quintessential French countryside, with statues, ponds and stone walls on the property that is set in the middle of a vast, green field. You can even hear the sound of bells chiming from the town’s cathedral if you open your windows.
The rooms are large, but drafty. (France was on the cusp of winter when we visited, which brings cold, damp air and thick fog with light rain some days.) But the upgraded bathrooms offered a large soaking tub with plenty of hot water and a towel warmer, a staple in all French bathrooms we’ve found. WiFi is only accessible in the main house, which guests have 24-hour access to, and snacks and wine and beer are offered for a small price. Breakfast awaits when you awaken at a reserved table in the main house stocked with giant buttery croissants, jam and local honey served with coffee and orange juice.
The owners, who spoke broken English, were very helpful, giving us tips on the best way to explore the festival in town. They even made us reservations at an excellent restaurant in Beaune the first night we were in town called Le Gourmandin, where I sampled my first taste of the popular beef bourguignon.
About the La Vente des Vins des Hospice de Beaune
During the wine festival, visitors, locals and winemakers flock to the historic streets of Beaune for a chance to sample local fare such as truffles, fresh cheeses, meats such as chorizo, fois gras, escargot and frog legs. And yes, we tried it all!
But the main attraction of the festival is the wine tastings. Local wine makers open their doors for tours and tastings in the most unusual setting – dimly lit, damp underground wine caves that run miles under the streets that store millions of bottles of wines dating back centuries, which is a traditional way to store wine and champagne across France. The low ceilings and narrow passageways were draped in cobwebs, with dusty bottles of naked wine bottles lining the walls from floor to ceiling in some rooms.
We visited two different caves that had us winding deep beneath the streets of the city with wine glass in hand. Each small, candlelit room we came to offered a different tasting of different vintages. Most caves begin tours between 10 a.m. – 11 a.m. and end around 5 p.m, which gave us only enough time to visit two caves. The Patriarche vineyards offered the better experience of the two due to the fact that all tastings were underground in the caves, where half of the other caves’ tastings were in one overcrowded great room at ground level, which took away from the experience.
35€ per person
10 tastings: 3 whites, 7 reds
Favorites: Rully 2010 sur fut (white)