23 August, 2011

Beaune Wine center of France

Beaune - the unofficial capital of Burgundy is reputed to be the greatest wine town in the world. Arriving by train from Chalon sur Saone one walks past the storage cellars of the vineyards and the companies that support the industry, stainless steel works, pipes and barrels but when you are in the centre of the old town that is when you relise that this town sells wine. There cellars or Caves as they are known here one after the next all offering a wide selection of the local wines. Try as we may to find one that was referenced in our comprehensive wine book we could not. They were either bottled by someone else, not the right appellation or just the wrong year.

We should have stood back and found Bouchard Pere et Fils cave and purchased a few from him. In the end we wondered into a merchant who is a consolidator called Patriarche who took over the Convent of the Sisters of the Visitation and turned it into a wine cellar. Entry is 10 euro each and you wonder through their 5 km of vaulted cellars filled with bottled wine. They are stacked one on top of the other as far as the eye can see. From the notice board in each section they were not that old although one section behind a double steel grill was in the early 1930 and 1950.

At the end of your walk there are around 20 bottles of wine each on its own barrel for you to taste starting with three rather good whites: Rully, Auxey-Duress and Meurault. We the went on to taste a range of Bourgogne Rouges which were rather fat and ordinary. The wine guide tried to tell us about their fruity character, softness, aromas of wild fruit and flowers etc etc but frankly rather flat. In the end we purchased Rully red which did not even had a winemaker name on the label. It was a good marketing experience which did not work on either Denny or I.

What did work was the Hotel Dieu or Hospices de Beaune. This use to be a hospital right up to 1970's. Today it is just a tourist attraction but on the third Sunday in November all the great wine connoisseurs and merchants gather in the great hall for the annual charity wine auction started in 1895. The auction is the centrepiece of a week of serious tasting, partying and in my opinion hot air but visitors come from all over the world to bid at the auction. In the old days the wine was made by the individual vineyards and sold at the auction in casks/cuves. The purchaser bottled the wine and the sold it on. Today more than 250,000 bottles are sold each year. The wine comes from either the Hospices own vineyards inherited down the ages or from wine donated by the local vineyards. The auction has an interesting method to force the next bid. When a bid is received a small candle is lit by the autioneers assistant. The next bid has to be received before the candle is burnt to the end and goes out. Great names are created here and people as in all auctions pay far more for the bottles than they are really worth but there again that is part of the mystic of French wine.

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