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Anthony's Trip Diary

We undertook a flying visit to Beaune last week, mainly to deal with some admin matters, however we still managed to squeeze in a visit to Auxey Duresses to see Michel and Madame Prunier and Estelle. Unfortunately it rained almost continuously for the two days we were there, but chatting to Michel and dinner at la Cremaillere are a superb antidote to even the dampest weather and we had a tremendous time. We tasted a number of Michel's new wines in his cellars under the house, before walking over the road for dinner.

Michel joined us, emerging from his cellar with a dusty bottle clutched firmly in one hand. As we debated the wine list I saw a St Aubin from Lamy-Pillot, which ought to go well with the fish and then chose one of Michel's own wines, a half bottle of his Beaune les Sizies 1er cru 1999 to accompany the duck. Both wine and food were splendid and then Michel insisted we had some cheese for, if not, there would be nothing to accompany that dusty bottle which had come from "Ma reserve personelle".

Out came those huge balloon glasses, the ones that had caught me out on previous occasions when I had protested that I did not wish for any cognac thank you! These are the tasting glasses, big bowls very similar to brandy glasses, although larger and they help to capture and concentrate the finer aromas of older bottles. As the bottle was poured, Michel turned to me and asked: "What vineyard? What vintage?" There was no use in my protesting that mere amateurs should be allowed to enjoy their wine without painful and potentially embarrassing mental challenges. He has done it to me often enough before for me to know that I had no easy escape route and he was enjoying the moment. There was one occasion a couple of years ago when I had put my foot in it in spades and the mirth caused by that mistake makes each new occasion a potential re-run of that embarrassing moment. A lot of gentle sniffing, a handful of tiny sips and I was approaching the moment when I had to deliver the verdict. Well, here goes, "Beaune 1er Cru Les Sizies 1990", the words uttered firmly as a statement, not a question. Michel's hand came across the table and we shook on it "Not bad, it is the Beaune, but actually the 1989. You are a year out.". Phew!

We returned the following morning to say thank you and while we were talking Estelle said she would like to offer us a red and a white for summer drinking. Their Bourgogne Blanc 2003 is already on our list and has what the French call a "Superb rapport qualite, prix" which to us translates roughly into "there is an excellent relationship between the quality and the price" or, "this wine could easily sell for more and still be good value" . The red she proposed comes from their small remaining stock of Chorey les Beaune 2001. Both wines are being offered as specials as we have been given a discount on the normal price. Do try them.

Driving around the minor country lanes is fascinating. Rural France is caught in a slight time-warp relative to the UK and it is possible to see things which seem so unexpected. Almost every village will have its own baker and as the French buy their bread fresh every day, for those villages without one, life is missing a key ingredient. The solution is a visiting bread delivery and if you are out then your baguette, or sometimes only a half baguette, will be left propped up on your window sill to await your return. The pastures were full of cowslips, scattered randomly across fields, hedgerows and roadside verges. Not for rural France the arrival of the County Council JCB to mow everything flat before it has had time to seed. Here, where there is less pressure on space, nature still has a chance to survive the hand of man.

Another aspect of French life is that they have refused to adopt the 24/7 shop-til-you-drop mentality of us in Britain. This endearing characteristic will result in shops closing at 12.30 sharp and re-opening at 2ish, with heavy emphasis on the ish bit. They stay open later in the evenings but Sunday is quiet except for the Boulangerie and the chocolate shop. Even quite small towns will often support several family run Chocolatiers. And petrol stations are not 24/7 either, which nearly caused us to come to grief when I noticed that my petrol gauge was showing empty. We were well off the beaten track and as we went through village after village there was either no station at all, or it was closed. Beaune was 20 kilometres away, night was falling and we were already late for supper in Nuits St Georges. Things got a bit tense as my jovial disregard for what might be about to befall us was not shared by Catherine, who was deeply concerned that we might miss supper and our bed for the night!

We managed to fill up in Beaune at what turned out to be the only filling station for miles that was open. Even the supermarkets were closed. We then set off for Nuits St Georges on the N74, that major road through the vines. It was dark, we were late and it seemed that we were on the wrong road. All the signs said that this was the D974, which is usually a minor departmental road of little consequence. We took detours down side roads in our attempt to join the main road that I had evidently left in error. I was confused because it looked very similar to the road I had taken with Graeme a few months earlier, however it was dark and the road signs left us in no doubt until, quite unexpectedly, we found our hotel. We asked the receptionist what had gone wrong and she told us that all the roads had been re-labelled last week. We had been on the right road all along, but the authorities had changed its name without telling us!

After all that it is sad to report that dinner was well below expectations and our room adjoined one occupied by two policemen who, we concluded over breakfast the following morning, had been conducting revolver practice in their room during the early hours. Either that or one of them had a serious snoring problem. Anyway dawn was a welcome relief and we will probably be trying somewhere else to stay next time.

As luck would have it, the day of our return to England dawned chilly, but clear and with a blue sky and bright sun. Why could we not have had that yesterday? The vines are still firmly dormant; it can still be very cold and we had had sleet not rain as we went over some of the hills. I commented on this when talking to Michel the day before and remarked that my vines at home were already in bud. He looked very perplexed and then asked me "Are they in a greenhouse?" I smiled.

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