A French Wine Adventure
Back in January, my husband and I went to France with a group of 10 other people. Our destination was a small village called Gevrey-Chambertin, just outside Dijon in eastern France.
Six of us set out one early Wednesday morning to catch the Eurostar train from London St Pancras International to Paris Gare du Nord. The journey only takes 2 hours 20 minutes, and those 20 minutes are in the tunnel under the English Channel. The tunnel is 50 km (31 miles) long and at its lowest point you are 75 meters (250 feet) below the seabed. You barely even realize you’re in another country when you come out into the light on the other side unless you notice the cars are driving on the right. Breakfast was served onboard which, of course, consisted of croissants, bread rolls, and preserves. And coffee, as much as you wanted. And, unlike coffee on planes, it was very good.
We arrived in Paris without any delays or fuss, and took the Métro to Gare de
Lyon. We were lucky enough to have a Frenchman traveling with us so whenever we needed a translator, he was kind enough to oblige, like buying the tickets for the Paris subway. From there, we hopped on the TGV (Train de Grand Vitesse or High Speed Train) to continue our journey to Dijon. It really does live up to its name as it travelled at a top speed of 295 km/hour, or 183 miles/hour.
We arrived in Dijon 1 1/2 hours later, in beautiful sunshine and jumped in a taxi to take us the last bit to where we would be staying.
Les Deux Chèvres (The Two Goats) in Gevrey is a beautiful Bed and Breakfast in a converted winery dating back to the 18th century. It is run by a British gentleman and his Polish wife and they couldn’t have been more welcoming or hospitable. We were shown to our rooms and were amazed at the effort that had gone into the refurbishment. It was a gorgeous room with a large bed and a stunning bathroom. The views over the vineyard on one side and the courtyard on the other made it even better.
The other six members of our party had driven all the way down and were already settled into their rooms. Across the courtyard from the reception area was a small lounge with a large woodburner where we could all meet up for a chat and a glass of wine.
We took a quick stroll through the village that first afternoon before returning to the hotel to freshen up and change for dinner.
We had reservations at a restaurant in the center of the village that served traditional food from Bourgogne. It was a wonderful evening with some excellent food, which included snails (I’m sorry, I have tried them and I won’t do it again), as an option for the entrée, but I chose a local dish called Oeufs en Meurette, which was poached eggs in a red wine sauce with shallots, bacon and mushrooms. Delicious!
What would a typical meal in Burgundy be without a few bottles of local Bourgogne wine? Well, for this group, it really wouldn’t be a meal at all, so we washed it all down with some beautiful vintages.
The next two days consisted of several wine tastings (yes, we did drink wine at 11 am) and more dinners at restaurants in the area, with even more wine to go with the food.
It was fantastic. Except for the French (or is it local?) fascination with offal. We had black pudding créme brulée style, liver in a deep-fried, breadcrumbed case with cheesy pumpkin soup, foie-gras, and several other ways of serving this part
of an animal. I don’t like liver. In fact, I can’t even stomach the smell of it when being cooked. So, I politely refused to eat any of it, but luckily, there were several members of our party who were only too happy to eat my share as well. And, fortunately for me, we had many other beautifully cooked dishes put in front of us. Things like seabass, boeuf bourguignon and coq au vin, made from an actual cockerel and not a chicken, and of course, it was all followed by lovely desserts and fabulous cheeses. I happen to be very fond of a good French cheese and a glass of red wine. I was
not disappointed, and there was plenty to go around.
The main reason for this trip to the Côtes de Nuits, was the occasion of the St. Vincent (the Patron Saint of Winemakers) Tournante Wine Festival. It is held in January every year with a different village hosting each time. It had been 20 years since it was in Gevrey last time. It lasts the two days and it suddenly went from having been a sleepy, little village with barely a soul on the streets, to a bustling, noisy, fun and vibrant place. Everywhere — and I mean everywhere —
was decorated with flowers in the colors of the “Pinot Noir aromas” of orange and yellow on every lamppost, every wall, every bush, every tree and every fence. It was beautiful and festive, and it showcased how the whole village came together as one to ensure the festival was the best it could be.
Saturday morning kicked off with a parade through the town with banners from all the different local wineries, marching bands, and the King of Gevrey-Chambertin himself.
For a small fee, we were all issued with a map of the village, vouchers for the different wine stations, and a souvenir glass to use for the tastings. It all came in a little bag to hang around your neck where your glass could be kept safely if it was empty.
There was food on every street corner, cheese varieties in the hundreds, every type of Bourgogne sold by the bottle you could wish for, and people. So many people. According to our sources there were over 100,000 visitors to this year’s
After having sampled numerous wines and plenty of French delicacies, we returned to the hotel for a couple of hours’s rest, and to change into evening wear for the Gala Dinner.
The Gala was held in a very large building on the outskirts of the village, and as no cars were allowed within its limits, we were pleased they had put on transport for everyone who needed it. It would have been a very long walk in high heels and evening gown otherwise.
We were all welcomed with champagne on arrival, and taken to our table by a host who also checked for any food allergies or special requirements.
The dinner was attended by 900 guests and I must admit, the organizers had everything very well planned out. One of the reasons this dinner was so special was the wines that would be served. These were limited vintages and wouldn’t be served anywhere else, ever again.
The food was, of course, excellent, and perfectly paired with the wines. For every dish there was a different wine, and each was heralded by a fanfare before the
servers all walked in with a bottle each to be presented to the guests before being served. There were nine courses and nine wines. This is not to say there was any shortage of the ruby red liquid. No, the wine kept being poured throughout the evening for as long as you wanted, and these wines really were something special. To finish off the meal, Café Voluptueux et Marc de Bourgogne was served, and for those who have never tried Marc, it’s a clear pear brandy. It’s very strong. Blow-your-head-off strong, but perfect with a black coffee and some petit-fours.
We also had entertainment during the evening in the form of Kichigai Taïko. — Japanese drumming, which was hugely entertaining and fascinating to watch, and some beautiful music by famous concert pianist, Hervé Billaud.
Although the dinner was meant to have been finished by 11 pm, we found that the coffees weren’t served till nearly 1 am(!) so we didn’t get back to the hotel until just gone 2 am.
Consequently, breakfast the following morning was a little later than previous days, but as soon as we were done, we headed back out to the festival to try the vintages we’d missed the day before.
Our last dinner was held especially for us in our little hotel and they had brought in a caterer for the occasion as they don’t normally serve anything beyond breakfast.
This dinner was probably the best we’d had during our trip and also the most relaxing as we didn’t have to leave premises. Everything superbly prepared and
cooked, and once again, the wines didn’t disappoint. We even had a little tour of
the proprietors’ wine cellar before we sat down to eat, and got to know a little of the history of the property and how it went from a flourishing winery, to a derelict building, to the beautiful and prosperous Bed and Breakfast it is today.
Monday morning arrived and after breakfast we all set off to make our way back to London.
We arrived home that evening with lots of wonderful memories, a few bottles of wine and numerous different cheese that we picked up in a local hypermarket. It was a little bit of France to take back to the UK.