Burgundy can seem overwhelming at first. However, once you fall in love with the wines of the famed Côte d’Or, you will want to return again and again. While other regions around the world hit you with tasting rooms and wine clubs, Burgundy plays hard to get, slowing revealing her secrets—if you just work a little.
Whether you love the stunning Chardonnays in the Côte de Beaune or the storied reds of the Côte de Nuits, Burgundy has something for everyone.
When to Go
Summer, especially May or June, may be the best time to visit Burgundy. However, many people also go for the third week in November for the famed Hospices du Beaune auction. The winter celebration (also known as the Trois Gloriouses) includes the Vente du Vin festival, the auction, tastings, dinners, and the legendary Paulee de Meursault. Avoid September and October if you can. Harvest keeps producers busy and by October, cellars are off-limits until wine finishes fermentation.
The city of Beaune is the heart of Burgundy. Some people love to fly into Paris or Lucerne and make the 3 to 4 hour drive, but my favorite mode of travel is France’s high speed train, the TGV. From Paris, it runs to both Dijon (at the top of the region) and Lyon (at the bottom.) A local train runs regularly between the two cities, and who doesn’t get excited passing villages and towns with legendary names like Gevrey-Chambertain, Nuits-St-Georges, Puligny-Montrachet, and Chalon-sur-Saône.
Where to Stay
Nearly every village has a hotel, but for your first trip, you should stay in Beaune. (Don’t miss the famous tiled roofs of the medieval hospital—the Hôtel Dieu—in the center of town.) There are a variety of options from luxury standbys like Hotel Le Cep to budget inns that many wine lovers swear by. If possible, stay inside or on the ring road which circles the town. From there, you can easily walk to restaurants, shopping, and even some wine appointments.
Tastings in Burgundy are generally by appointment only. To be a polite wine traveler, be on time, let them know if there’s a change in the number of people in your group, and be respectful of their time and wines. You can also let them know if you speak any French or would prefer English. Depending on the time of year, you’ll taste current vintages in the bottle and wines in the barrel. You’re not expected to buy wines when you visit, and in fact many domaines aren’t able to sell you any—they may not even have it on hand. If your heart is set on it, you should ask in advance. There are wine shops throughout Beaune that are a great place to seek out wines to take home and many will ship to the U.S. for you. When you are finished with your barrel sample, pour what’s left (even just a sip) back into the barrel. Every precious drop counts in Burgundy!
Where to Go/Producers to Try
When it comes to Burgundy, it’s easy to become overwhelmed with your options, so it helps if you keep a list of producers of interest. For appointments, a polite email 6 to 8 weeks in advance of your visit will generally do the trick. If there’s a particularly special producer you’re after, try asking your local retailer or distributor for assistance. Most small producers don’t have tasting rooms, but many larger producers or negotiants (like Drouhin and Jadot) have spectacular facilities and are worth a visit. You can also inquire at your hotel or with a travel professional. Many have connections to services that can set you up with day trips including a car and driver and tasting appointments.
They key to Burgundy is to create a personal connection to the wine. For small producers, you’ll often taste with the winemaker or a member of the family. And nothing is more special for a producer than to have a true lover of his or her wine visit in Burgundy and tell them how much the grapes they grow on one side of the world mean to a wine lover on another.