Hold the mustard… not! You’ll want to taste plenty of varieties in Dijon, where the TGV arrived early one morning to drop me off to a place where some of the world’s best mustard is produced and sold. In Dijon, mustard is everywhere and in all colors and flavors. It is here where I purchase a jar of mustard blended with Modena balsamic vinegar to bring home for a later indulgence. Once tasted, it proved worthy of another train ride to get more of this specialty to the Burgundy region of France.
Aside from mustard, Dijon offers a city of history, and I partake in a brief walking tour offered by the Dijon Tourism Office to shed some light on the small area’s historical background. From Notre Dame to the Romanesque Dijon Cathedral to the Rue des Forges and Maison Milliere, I stroll along the cobblestone streets in awe of this quaint city in Eastern France.
What brought me to Dijon, however, was not the mustard, or the “Kir” Dijon is known for – also known as crème de cassis, but the annual International and Gastronomic Fair, where over 500 exhibitors and 200,000 visitors flock for a taste of the region’s specialties. So, I hopped on a tram to arrive at the amazing Foire Gastronomique.
Champagne is poured for a price, so I decide to sip an A. Bergere Champagne and sample Comte cheeses and more culinary delights, including escargot marinated in butter and seasoned with garlic and parsley. An order of pomme frites paired well with the Champagne as I strolled along the aisles holding the French specialty served in a paper cone.
A quick tram ride to the train station later, I’m headed to Beaune.
Google Mapping my way to the historic monument, the Hospices, I learn this is where some of the priciest wines are sold via a well-known wine auction. Although I didn’t have the opportunity to taste these wines, I did get a taste of the infirmary where, coincidentally, a woman in our small group fell ill. As I strolled through the “palace for the poor,” established in 1443 by chancellor to the Duke of Burgundy – Nicolas Rolin and his wife, Guigone de Salins – and listened on the audio-guide, I couldn’t help but wonder how the nuns would have taken care of my friend. I could almost see her lying in one of the many rows of beds. Fortunately, the pharmacies of France proved knowledgeable and within an hour of taking a recommended dose of a magic pill, the cheese-overindulgence side effects were a mere memory.
Off to the next stop, I ponder over the fact that the United States spends the most dollars on Burgundy wines of France, with the U.K. holding second place. In 2011 alone, 199 million bottles were sold, with the majority being white wine — mostly Chardonnay.
So, why are Burgundian red wines so special? Apparently, these wines are what they are due to their terroir, and some of the most expensive wines in the world come from this region of France. If you like pinot noir, these wines will send you swooning. They differ from American pinot noir grapes in that the Burgundian grapes are more fruit-forward, but they all pair well with savory, less spicy dishes.
To learn more, I stopped at Vins des Tonneliers, a distributer in Beaune that offers more than 500 Burgundy appellations selected carefully and personally from 52 family-run domains located in the Côte de Nuits and Côte de Beaune vineyards, the latter most famous for its white grand cru. With a few friends in tow, we tasted some local amuses-bouches and several rare wines made in small quantities from this distributor’s chilly wine cellar named La Vinif.
One Thursday each month, La Vinif offers “Thursday Aperitifs,” focusing on different themes and entertainment (visit Facebook page La Vinif – for members only). Customized service is what the Vins des Tonneliers offers, so for corporate events and parties, you can make an appointment for a full tasting, and this means with appetizers, to select the bottles of choice. Vins des Tonneliers will also help you with wine menus, corporate gifts, training, customer events, distribution and team-building seminars. The benefits of being a member of this organization include phone advice to those seeking wine pairing or wine-opening decisions on aging bottles, personalized notifications, occasional discounts, and access to private sales (membership fee is 150 euros/year). I walked out learning that dependent upon weather conditions, a white wine can be stored for 5 to 7 years, and a red for 8 to 10 years.
I tasted an elegant chardonnay without a label, produced by a viticulturist, and a Pernand-Vergelesses ($25) that offered a clean, fresh minerality pairing nicely with cheese, fish, white meat – as an aperitif, and a puligne made from a wine merchant. As for the reds, a Pierre Bouchard 2011 Cote de Nuits-Villages ($17) offered licorice aroma and a spicy, young, delicious taste or raspberries and more red fruits, and a 2009 Domaine J.M. Boillet that isn’t titled as a grand cru – but it should be. This particular wine can be stored until 2024. I also walked out with a bottle of 2008 Savigny-les-Beaune first grand cru “Aux Gravains” rouge that proved black current-forward when I tasted it, and opened it almost two months later for a special dinner of oysters, escargot and various French cheeses; it was a medium-bodied, flavorful pinot noir.
By 10 p.m. same day, I was back in Paris, satiated with wine tastings that paired well with adventure, and I now had a flavor of Dijon and Beaune, a destination I’d head back to for an overnight visit to sip and explore the various wine shops, bars and wineries in the walk-able circle. I also developed a strong thirst to return to Burgundy for a visit to the elusive Romanee-Conti, where one of the most expensive wine labels in the world is produced.