I recently returned to the French region of Burgundy, as part of the #VisitFrenchWine campaign - I spent three heavenly days learning all about Bourgogne’s wines, fine produce, and its dining scene, the latter of which I wrote about in detail here. If you are planning a visit to Dijon, you will find some great restaurant recommendations there.
Today I am sharing my experiences exploring the wines and Climats of Burgundy, the great ingredients and dishes I discovered, and some amazing things to do in the region.
Learning About the Wines of Burgundy and its Climat
Discovering the Routes des Grands Crus with Bourgogne Gold Tours
Going on a private 1:1 wine tour of the region might seem a bit intimidating, but I need not have worried as I was in the capable hands of Bourgogne Gold Tour’s founder Youri Lebault. Wine education is a real skill, and I know only a handful of people who can deliver such specialist knowledge in an accessible and engaging way. Well Youri had plenty of all that!
Our wine tour took in the wonderful Routes des Grands Crus in Burgundy, the region for the world’s best Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays, but also home to some great Gamays and refreshing Aligoté wines. The route runs from Dijon in the north, through the lovely central town of Beaune, as far as Santenay in the south.
As I only had a morning, the tour took in only the northern-most region - the Côte de Nuits, from Dijon to Corgoloin. This is the most prestigious stretch of the route, as it contains some of the greatest red wines in the world including 24 of Burgundy’s 33 Grand Crus (the highest classification in the region).
We set out from Dijon, heading along the Côte de Nuits, passing stunning vineyards with golden-leaved, autumnal vines – it was a sight to behold. We went past a number of villages on the way and I recognized some evocative names I knew only through wine bottles and their contents – Marsannay, Gevrey-Chambertin and Morey-St-Denis for example.
Just before Chateau Clos de Vougeot, when I thought we were stopping for a photo-opportunity, Youri whipped out some of his maps and charts of the region for a 10-minute crash course in situ. One of the most interesting things I learned that day was about the climats of Burgundy, and by the way this has nothing to do with climate!
So what is climat? You can think of climat as a term used in Burgundy for a single vineyard plot. To understand the way climat is used, it helps to understand terroir first. Terroir is a French term that translates loosely into “sense of place”, suggesting how the combination of climate, soil type and typography influence the way a wine turns out. Given that terroir refers to this concept, then climat refers to an actual plot that is unique because of its geographic characteristics or terroir. The climat classification is unique to the region of Burgundy, and in 2015 UNESCO recognized the climat of Burgundy for its World Heritage List.
So what does this mean for the wine buyer? The idea is that every plot of land in the narrow strip between Dijon and Santenay will make for a unique wine style due to its soil and location. Some climats are more prized than others – there are those that are tiny and produce small amounts of Grand Crus wine which will be then be dearer than larger sites with a different soil make up.
Our second stop was at the Chateau du Clos de Vougeot, a 12th century chateau built by the Cistercian monks.
While the Chateau is not strictly speaking open, you can visit a number of its working buildings that house four huge presses, the cellar and the dormitory of the lay brothers whose magnificent woodwork dates from the 14th century.
Burgundy Wine Tasting
Chateau du Clos de Vougeot is a great place for a visit with a real sense of place, and to take in the history of almost 1,000 years of wine making in Burgundy. From here, we drove a short distance to La Maison Vougeot to finally try out the eponymous wine.
La Maison Vougeot is a modern wine boutique kitted out with oenomatic machines keeping wines in the perfect condition and temperature for tasting.
It is similar in style to The Sampler or Vagabond in London, with a card to purchase credit before embarking on a tasting session.
It’s a very elegant spot, and a great place to try a huge variety of the wines of Burgundy in 25ml measures, without committing to a full glass or bottle. It was here that we tasted a measure of the magnificent Vougeot Clos du Prieuré Monopole 2014.
Our next stop on the tour was at the biodynamic winery Domaine Michel Magnien for a great tasting of some of Burgundy’s iconic wines.
These included 2012 vintages of Morey Saint Denis (€69), Chambolle-Musigny Vielles Vignes (€48) and their Premiere Cru, Borniques (€50), the lovely Gevrey-Chambertin Aux Echezeaux and finally the Grand Cru Charmes-Chambertin at a whopping €90 per bottle.
Made from 100% Pinot Noir grapes, these fine wines at their best are deep ruby in colour, and express aromas of strawberry, blackcurrant, liquorice and spice. With age, they develop power and elegance, with a full and complex body. It is not hard to understand why these are some of the most sought-after wines in the world.
Lunch at Le Castel Très Girard
The end of our tour was a fabulous lunch at the nearby restaurant Le Castel Très Girard, which is also a small boutique hotel. Here I had two of the Chef Chern Gan’s specialties, which included some of Burgundy’s finest ingredients.
A delectable starter of escargot (snail) ravioli in parsley butter served with a refreshing glass of Saint-Romain, Alan Gras, 2014, a wonderful Chardonnay I enjoyed so much I bought six before returning to London, but more on that later.
It was my last meal of the trip, so of course I had to order the Beouf Bourgignon for main course. Served with a gratin dauphinois, this was perhaps the best I had on the trip. Succulent, tender meat in a richly intense wine sauce that saw me scraping my plate with relish!
To accompany, I had another taste of Morey Saint Denis, but this time a 2013 from Domaine Arlaud, which had a great depth of berry fruit flavour and sufficient structure and length to partner the mighty beef.
Burgundy Wine Buying at Grands Bourgognes
The Castel Très Girard Hotel & Restaurant is owned by a wine merchant whom Youri seemed to know well. His wine business, Grands Bourgognes has a mind-boggling selection of every type of Burgundian wine (see details in the Travel Essentials section).
As I was returning to London by Eurostar (with no weight limit), I decided to pay a visit to stock up my cellar. Grands Bourgogne is a huge warehouse with a shop out front, in an industrial estate outside Dijon, much like a massive Majestic Winestore. Perhaps because of this, there is a wide range of wines for every budget, including some affordable Grand Crus and Cremants de Bourgognes. It is also possible to purchase online for delivery in the UK, and I highly recommend it.
When it comes to wine travel, France has so much to offer. Like the Routes des Grands Crus, there are popular wine touring routes all over the country, including in Champagne, the Loire Valley, Bordeaux and the Rhone, but few are as picturesque or with so many legendary names as the one in Burgundy.
If you are planning a visit to discover more about Burgundy’s wine routes and to taste some fantastic wines on the way, I highly recommend one of the many itineraries provided by Bourgogne Gold Tours.
For information about wine tourism in France, visit www.visitfrenchwine.com.
Discovering Burgundy’s Finest Ingredients
Dijon International Gastronomy Fair
Every year the Dijon International Gastronomy Fair takes up residence for two weeks in November. This is a major event in Burgundy, and the sixth biggest in the country, attracting nearly 200,000 visitors, and over 600 exhibitors each year from across the world.
I spent some very enjoyable hours talking to many French food producers from different areas of France. Some of these included La Biscuiteria Basque, where I tried their superb Basque Gateaux, the nougat makers from La Maison du Nougat, and my very favourite, the lovely people from Le Domaine Macarons de Réau who make old fashioned macarons of every flavour and colour. They were delicious.
The Dijon International Gastronomic Fair is a great day out in town and a fantastic opportunity to learn and sample a huge variety of French produce and dishes.
Cheeses of Burgundy
Burgundy is not only about its wines, but the cheeses are also noteworthy. I got to visit Fromagerie Gaugry for a fantastic cheese tasting of 4 different cheeses of the region including Epoisse, Brillat Savarin, and L’Ami du Chambertin.
Priced at €12.50, the tasting also included and a glass of wine and a guided tour of the factory with a detailed explanation of the various processes in cheese making.
Fromagerie Gaugry is well outside the centre of town on the RD974 road between Dijon and Nuits St Georges, and while I would not normally pay a special visit, it happens to be just a few metres from the Grands Bourgognes wine store, which makes it a great stop if you fancy stocking up on cheese as well as wines before returning to the UK.
A visit to Dijon would not be complete without paying homage to the city’s eponymous mustard. There are two stores that really stand out – La Maison Maille, and Edmond Fallot.
I am a total convert to Maille mustard, and have written about it in detail following a very inspiring tasting at the Maille boutique in London’s Piccadilly, which you can read here. There is much more to mustard than just a spread on your ham sandwich, with many different types and ways of cooking with it - I found it a truly eye-opening experience.
Edmond Fallot have been making mustard in Dijon since 1840, and is another big name for quality mustards of Dijon. I paid a quick visit to their store and was astounded by the variety of flavoured mustards available.
One to note was the yuzu mustard which I got to try and it blew me away with its flavour intensity. I would love to be able to cook with it if it were available in the UK.
Around the corner from Edmond Fallot’s mustard store is the charming Pain d’Epices Mulot et Petitjean, founded in 1796.
An enchanting shop, it is known for its Pain d’Epices (usually translated as ginger bread although it does not contain any ginger).
Pain d’Epices is a sweet, dense bread that comes in many shapes and sizes, and sometimes coated in a sugar glaze or filled with blackcurrant (cassis) jam, another important ingredient in the region.
I found it delicious on its own, but was told it makes for great toast topped with pan-fried foie gras and a cassis-based sauce. I had a tasting at the shops old kitchen of the different styles of Pain d’Epices, with a classic pairing of Crème de Cassis.
Mulot et Petitjean is the top maker of Pain d’Epice in France, and for Londoners, it is the French equivalent of Fortnum & Mason. I highly recommend a visit and tasting here.
Crème de Cassis
It was also at Mulot et Petitjean that I discovered the region’s fondness for cassis (blackcurrant). The berry is a major ingredient in the cooking and drinks of Burgundy.
It was a former mayor of Dijon named Felix Kir, who invented the first cassis cocktail, the Kir, made with two local drinks - Aligoté white wine and crème de cassis. Everyone knows Kir Royale made with crème de cassis and Champagne, but this was a fancier version of the Dijonnaise original.
What to Do
You may be surprised to learn that between the wine tours, cheese tastings and other indulgences, I still managed to explore the old town on foot!
Dijon’s Owl Trails are self-guided walking tours with 22 stages designed to give a taste of city’s charm and to take you back in time and show you the history of the town.
Each numbered stage takes a place of interest and a whole trail can be covered on foot in about one hour. There are 3 trails covering different areas and aspects of the city.
Having no sense of direction whatsoever, I still managed not to get lost as the trail is so clearly marked by brass owls in the pavement for every stage, with painted dots joining the owls along the route. It was great!
Tower of Philippe le Bon
One of the best stops was at the Tower of Philippe le Bon, Duke of Burgundy between 1419 and 1467.
It is possible to have a guided tour of the tower, climbing 316 steps to the top for commanding views of the city.
This must be booked at the Dijon Tourist Office (€3 per person) where the tour begins.
Where to Stay
I stayed at the Hotel Vertigo, a chic hotel in the heart of the city overlooking Place Darcy, and a few metres away from Rue de la Liberté.
The building was constructed in 1926, and is now listed, but inside it has been ultra-modernised - my room had some wacky features like a ‘floating’ bed, and a huge mirror that doubled as a TV (which I only discovered by pressing the remote control button).
The hotel felt intimate, with a small spa and swimming pool, a fitness centre, and a beautifully designed and welcoming lounge area.
The tram stop is right outside the hotel, which was handy to get me to the International Gastronomic Fair and to explore the city.
Best of all was the hotel’s breakfast buffet, with a generous selection of great cheeses, freshly squeezed juices, charcuterie and patisserie including breads, cakes and croissants.
There were also some cooked options, served in individual cast-iron cocottes. I loved the velvety, creamy scrambled eggs, and the ham and sausage.
As you plan your trip to Dijon, bookmark this page and make sure to visit any of these venues to experience the best of Bourgogne cuisine, wines and hospitality in town. For information about wine tourism in France, visit www.visitfrenchwine.com.
The #VisitFrenchWine campaign was created and managed by Captivate in partnership with ATOUT FRANCE – France Tourism Development Agency. The London Foodie maintains full editorial control of the content published on this site as always.
Visit French Wine (Wine Tourism)
Bourgogne Gold Tours
Mr Youri Lebault
La Maison Vougeot
1 Rue du Vieux Chateau
Le Castel Très Girard
7 Rue du Très Girard
ZAA Le Saule
Chemin de Saule
Dijon International Gastronomic Fair
Domaines des Macarons de Réau
Rue Frédéric Sarazin
La Maison Maille
32 Rue de la Liberté
16 Rue de la Chouette
Pain d’Epices Mulot et Petitjean
13 Place Bossuet
Dijon Tourist Office
11 Rue des Forges
Dijon’s Owl Trail
Tower Philippe le Bon
Palais des Ducs de Bourgogne
3 Rue Devosge