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Anthony's Trip Diary

Another visit to Burgundy which has gone by in a flash. Three days seemed to be ample for what we wanted to do when I was organising our trip, however, as has happened on every previous occasion, unexpected events manage to crowd in on a carefully planned diary. This time, our itinerary was not helped by the Regional Highway Authority's decision to use the holiday season to undertake a huge number of minor and seemingly wholly unnecessary road repairs.

Déviation The road from Chagny to Givry had three such "travaux" necessitating a "deviation" of several kilometres on each occasion. Although the countryside we passed through was beautiful and with the grain harvest in full swing there was plenty of activity in the fields, it was slightly unnerving to be seeming to be driving in circles, guided by the yellow "deviation" signs which took us along small lanes that did not even appear on our map. That first morning we managed to lose 45 minutes on a journey that should have only taken us half an hour and this was on the outward leg. The return journey was the same, except that at least this time the lanes had a familiar look to them and the charolais cattle sheltering under the trees nodded in acknowledgement as they saw us go by for the second time in the morning.

La Table d'Olivier Leflaive So our agenda for day one was blown right off course before it had even begun and with further slippage at each step of the way, I was soon telephoning ahead to make my apologies. By lunchtime we found ourselves in Puligny Montrachet having booked at La Table d'Olivier Leflaive. Though we have been here before, it is such a charming venue that it was a pleasure to be returning. The ambience, the explanations offered by Pascal and above all the selection of wines make it a memorable occasion. Puligny and Chassagne lie alongside each other, separated by a few hundred metres of vineyard so any visits to these villages and St Aubin are fairly straightforward. Straightforward that is in terms of minimising travel delays. What no amount of planning is able to prevent is the animated conversation between four enthusiasts (one vigneron and three visitors) over-running the appointed time. The next meeting may be only a mile away, with no roadworks in sight, but if the discussion is in full flow, it just continues. As I have noted before, the vignerons have a high degree of tolerance to this "problem", because each of them is as guilty as the next. Ma Cuisine As a result we even managed to be late for dinner, which might have been critical. We had booked a table at Ma Cuisine for 8 o'clock but were still driving back from Meursault when we should have been seated in front of our first course. As Ma Cuisine is one of the liveliest restaurants in Beaune and invariably full, we knew our table might be at risk. Happily, although they were fully booked and they were turning diners away, our table was waiting for us when we finally arrived and it was worth the wait. Their extensive wine list is an excellent accompaniment to their cooking.

Tastings form an important part of any of our visits. While this might seem obvious, there are different types of tasting. When you visit a new vigneron you need to discover whether his wines are to your liking. Then when you revisit there will usually be new wines to taste, either a new vintage or a wine you have not tried before. These are the routine occasions, but then there are the really special occasions when a vigneron will invite you to try one of his earlier vintages, one usually held in "ma cave personelle". These are the brain teasers and they are exciting occasions because they are a rare chance to try fully mature or partially mature wines and compare them with current vintages. We were also fortunate to be invited to taste some samples of the 2005 vintage, both red and white. These are still in barrels and so it would normally be more difficult to get a good feel for their potential, but these were already approachable. It was a year when all of the key conditions were almost perfect and the yields were at normal levels, unlike 2003, which produced only half the usual crop. The consensus, across the board, is that 2005 is something special.

Anthony @ La Cremaillere During dinner at La Cremaillere on our first evening, Michel Prunier brought to the table one of the mystery bottles he likes to test us with. He brought it over masked by a cloth wrapper and poured it into the now instantly recognisable balloon-shaped tasting glasses. It was a deep, rich wine with a marvellous aroma and Steve observed that if he was ever to have a bottle of this at home he would want to open it alone, seated on a club sofa by a roaring fire, with a cigar, a Labrador and a pair of Purdey's. The rest of us could understand the sofa and the log fire. I, as a non-smoker, did not see the need for the cigar, but the Labrador and the PAIR of Purdies?? Those had us stumped and as no explanation was forthcoming we returned to the more pressing matter of identifying the mystery wine. It turned out to be Michel's Clos du Val 1990, a bottle that he had shared with me on a previous occasion and once again it demonstrated the staying power of well made, well cellared Burgundy. It is truly splendid and has years ahead of it. His new vintage, the Clos du Val 2003 which he has just released, won Gold at the Concours de Paris, one of the top awards nationally.

Being mid-summer, our visit began in dry and baking heat, in sharp contrast to our last visit in April. As I wrote some of these notes, at 06.30 one morning, the sun was rising over the houses across the square from my hotel window in Beaune and the relative cool of the night was already giving way to the heat of the day. The forecast for the next few days was for more of the same. Hotel de la Cloche Our hotel has proved to be something of a curate's egg. It is simple, inexpensive and very well located for the town centre, but our rooms overlook the Place Madeleine, which means we have been treated to a range of night-time noises from bars disgorging their last late night clientele to rubbish collection (several lorries between 03.30 and 05.30), followed by the growing volume of normal morning traffic from 06.00 onwards. There are other rooms which face towards the garden and it will these next time, for certain! Another feature of Hotel de la Cloche is the car park, which is tucked safely away behind huge ancient wooden doors, in the walled garden. However if you have a large car then avoiding the doors while driving through the archway can require a certain amount of reversing, causing some congestion and much tooting in the street!

We criss-crossed Burgundy for three days in a profusion of butterflies and I was particularly pleased to see a Marbled White on the track beside the Clos du Val. This is a butterfly which is relatively common in tightly defined colonies in the South of England. We visited first the South, then the North and finally the centre, before leaving Beaune at 07.00 on the Friday morning for the journey back to England. Despite a forecast of thundery showers, the worst we saw was high cloud which helped to push the thermometer down a few degrees. After an uneventful drive, in itself a noteworthy event in view of the hiccups we have suffered in the past, we made the Channel Tunnel with time to spare and found ourselves back in England by early afternoon. When will we make our next visit? August is the holiday season and late September is the vendange, when all vignerons are working flat out to bring in this year's grapes and begin the fermentation process, so our next trip is planned for mid-November. It seems far off today, but I know that as with all the other visits we have made, it will come rushing up faster than we realise and when it does, another cycle of packed days and unplanned delays will begin to unfold before us.


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