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Trip To Burgundy 2002

(and five and a half châteaux) 

                After rather a scramble, all last minute, to get this year's trip to Burgundy organised, my arrival was smoothly accomplished.  The hotel was very quiet - I think I was the only guest.  I had decided to go soon after Christmas in early January in order to have more time to sort myself out for the annual tasting in London, where I like to show off my new discoveries.  As usual I arrived on a Sunday so as to start tasting first thing Monday -

Domaine Leger, Épineuil.  My first appointment is at Épineuil a few miles east of Chablis, outside Tonnerre.  This is a red wine appellation (it is also allowed to make rosé).  I meet M. Leger at 9 o'clock.  We taste his 2000 - just one wine, a red.  It is delicious, with vivid, fresh, ripe fruit.  He doesn't seem to have made a rosé this year.  So I think this is going to be a short tasting, but then (life is full of surprises) he says shall we go and see his other cellars where we can taste the 2001 in tank?  So we wind off around the edge of the village until we pull up at a nondescript-looking barn on a hillside just above the road.  We go in.  Large upright resin tanks fill the space inside.  We taste.  The colours are very light (we will be seeing some very light colours in the reds from 2001), but there seems to be good flavour there.  At the back of this barn is a door, which I hadn't noticed.  M. Leger takes me through, saying that this year he has bought some secondhand barrels from a vigneron in Chambolle-Musigny, as an experiment, and he's aged some of his 2000 vintage in them.  We taste.  This is lovely, with somehow more substance and better texture than the bottle we tasted earlier.  At the time of bottling the vintage in September he had transferred some of the wine into the barrels.  So the oak aged wine had spent about 10 months in tank, and he thought he would give it about 6 months in barrel.

                Noticing my appreciative noises, he said would I like to buy a barrel.  Nobody in Burgundy has ever asked me to buy a barrel of their wine before.  I was flattered.  I asked how many bottles that would be.  He said 300 (I should have known - nearly all barrels in Burgundy hold 300 bottles).  I agreed to buy a barrel.  So exciting!  He will contact me when he has bottled it, and I can then ship it.

                As we said our goodbyes he gave me a magnum, as well as a sample bottle of his unoaked 2000.  Charming man.

Domaine Sylvain Mosnier, Beines.  M. Mosnier is in fine form.  He always gives me a comprehensive tasting, even though I don't buy very much from him.  After meeting up at his little cellar by the main road from Chablis to Auxerre, where we tasted his 1999s and 2000s, he took me off to the building where he actually makes the wine.  It is built into the hillside, and is designed so that the wine can be moved by gravity rather than pumped.  We taste through his 2001s in tank.  Although 2001 was a difficult vintage, M. Mosnier seems to have made a good job of it.  It will be interesting to taste when the wines are in bottle.

                M. Mosnier then opened a bottle of his 1994 Chablis - not a great vintage - it was still lively, with a touch of honey in the taste - very impressive.  On leaving, he stuck the cork back in the bottle and gave it to me.

Domaine Denis Pommier, Poinchy.  My third visit of the day was to the Pommiers, and by now I was already running late - I hadn't expected to be taken off at both of the two previous domaines to a second building, which all takes time.

                I have sold a significant quantity of the Pommiers' wine over the last year.  So this is an important address for our little business.  I was treated to an exhaustive tasting.  The 2001s, tasted in tank, seemed sound, with good flavour but soft, for early drinking.  The Pommiers asked me whether I would like lunch.  How could I refuse?  By now I had missed my next appointment, with Mme. Naulin.  So Mme. Pommier rang Mme. Naulin for me to arrange it for later.

                Young Clément Pommier, 3 years old, is ill, and bawling.  He looks so miserable.  Until a plate of food is put in front of him, when he miraculously cheers up.  Lunch is a four course affair with wine, preceded by the fizzy Monnow Valley wine I had brought from Monmouth as a present for the Pommiers.  They kept apologising for the meanness of the meal - to me it seemed entirely excellent.  After making arrangements to collect an order from them on the Saturday, I left in good spirits.

Domaine Heimbourger, St. Cyr-les-Colons.  Olivier Heimbourger, the son of the house, who is in his twenties, runs this domaine.  He was away skiing, so his father attended to me.  We tasted the 2000 vintage, both red and white.  We started with the Bourgogne Chardonnay.  This is an extraordinary drink:  arrestingly perfumed, quite unlike any other wine I have ever tasted, but seriously delicious.

                The Heimbourgers make two bottlings of Chablis - one which spends time in oak barrels, and one done entirely in tank.  I like both.  In 2000 they have a suggestion of the extraordinary perfume that the Bourgogne Chardonnay has, but more restrained, with perhaps more richness than the junior wine.

                On to the reds:  I am a fan of this domaine's reds - they strike me as showing all the best hallmarks of Burgundian Pinot Noir, with an animal dimension to the taste and smell that absolutely appeals to me.  They make two reds - a Bourgogne Pinot Noir and an Irancy, which gets better each vintage, since it comes from young vines recently planted on land that they have cleared to make vineyard.  Both these wines exhibit fresh vivid Pinot fruit, along with that extra animal dimension.

                As I said my goodbyes here, a magnum of Bourgogne Chardonnay was pressed into my hands.  Generous people.

Domaine Jean-Marie Naulin, Beines.  Mme. Naulin's Chablis has been a more of a success than I ever dared to imagine.  Not only do we sell significant quantities of it, but it has impressed the critics, with both Ned Halley of SPYGLASS and Steven Spurrier in COUNTRY LIFE independently saying it outperforms many a Premier Cru Chablis, and also Jancis Robinson in the FINANCIAL TIMES chose it as one of her whites for Christmas a couple of months ago, describing it as delicious.

                 As we enter the cellar, which I have visited before, Mme. Naulin tells me to mind my head.  She goes ahead of me.  I follow her, and bump my head.  Idiot.  I have to rub my scalp it hurts so much.  She says I did tell you.  I say yes it was my fault.  She explains that they had to raise the level of the cellar floor because it kept flooding.

                2000 was definitely a terrific vintage in Chablis, with plenty of the racy acidity characteristic of the wines, but with good ripeness as well.  The Naulins have done particularly well.  They make two wines:  their village wine in this vintage is absolutely correct, textbook Chablis, with a lovely finish and excellent length;  their Premier Cru Beauroy is spectacular, with good minerality and a wonderful sweet, full, aromatic finish.

               I say good bye to Mme. Naulin and hurry off to Vézelay, about an hour's drive away.

Domaine Élise Villiers, Vézelay.  We taste the 2000 vintage.  I am a big fan of Mme. Villiers' wines.  In my opinion they are beautifully made, with a fascinating interweaving of flavours, and impressive "correctness", as the French might say, and purity.  She makes two wines, both Bourgogne Vézelay - one "Le Clos", the other "La Chevaliere".  The "Clos" comes from older vines growing on the hill of Vézelay itself, and spends time in 600 litre oak casks.  The "Chevaliere" comes from more recently planted vines a few kilometres away from the town.  It sees no oak.  It exhibits more floral, less mineral flavours.

                Mme. Villiers asks me about my customers, and how do I recommend wines to them.  Do they tell me the menu, and I suggest the wines?  I rather haltingly and not very adequately attempt to answer.

*     *     *

Tuesday morning.  Overnight there has been freezing rain.  Burgundy has had a stretch of unaccustomed cold weather for about a month, and the ground is still very cold.  It rained during the night, then froze.  The result is hair-raising:  sheets of black ice - for example my car is covered with a layer of clear, not frosty, ice 2 mm thick.  It takes a couple of attempts to remove it.  The same ice is on the roads.  Already at breakfast in the hotel there is talk of accidents all over the place, and the pavements in the village are spectacularly slippery.  I motor off very gingerly.

Domaine Alain Voegeli, Gevrey-Chambertin.  My first visit is to this domaine on the main road between Nuits St. Georges and Dijon.  M. Voegeli takes me down into his cellar to taste his 2001.  The tasting is quite a swift affair, because he only makes one wine, a village Gevrey-Chambertin.  I am surprised by the good colour and fine flavour.

                Then I am off to my next appointment -

Domaine Bernard Amiot, Chambolle-Musigny.  M. Amiot has retired.  He has been talking about it since my first visit here 5 years ago.  His children do not want to take over, so he has sold his vines.  But he does still have wine to sell.

                The cellar only has a few barrels in it, and some of those are empty.  We taste a selection of his 1998s, 1999s and 2000s.  His wines are always soft, untannic, but will surprise you with their longevity - in their youth they can be very unexpressive, not unpleasant, just appearing to be uninteresting.  They do develop in time, and display marvellous aromas of the farmyard, undergrowth ("sous-bois", as the French say), truffles - classic Pinot Noir characteristics.

                I arrange to buy a small quantity of wine before hurrying off to Nuits St. Georges to -

Domaine Philippe Gavignet, Nuits St. Georges.  M. Gavignet is always brisk.  I am taken through a comprehensive barrel tasting of his 2001 vintage, starting with a pair of whites before going on to his reds.  As usual I am impressed by his Nuits St. Georges 1er Cru "Les Bousselots", which seems to have more weight than his other wines, as well as really good flavour.  And his most recent acquisition, another Nuits St. Georges 1er Cru, "Les Pruliers", is delicious, perhaps lighter than the others, but very fine and harmonious - an outstanding wine.

Next stop -

Domaine Thevenot-Le Brun, Marey-les-Fussey.  From Gavignet up into the hills west of Nuits St. Georges, about 10 minutes' drive, to the Thevenots.  We start with their whites - as delicious as ever - including their Pinot Beurot (known as Pinot Gris in Alsace), which is fermented in 100% new oak, and is a fascinating rarity.  Very limited quantities of this are made, and they allow me to buy a few cases each year.

                Then on to the reds.  The Thevenots do not hurry to sell their vintages.  We taste their 1998s.  I am particularly struck by the Bourgogne Hautes Côtes de Beaune, a wine that I have not bought from them before, and their "Clos du Vignon" which I have been buying for several years now.

                I arrange to buy, and collect from them on Friday, some of their delicious Creme de Cassis, which has been more successful than any other Cassis we have had in the shop.  It is made from blackcurrants grown on their own estate, and they use an unusually high proportion of fruit to give an exceptionally blackcurranty liqueur.

*     *     *

                Today I am being ambitious:  I have arranged 8 appointments.  I am behind.  I have missed lunch.  I have to hurry on to my next tasting -

Domaine Jean Raphet, Morey St. Denis.  M. Raphet always gives good value when I visit him.  He treats me to a spectacular tasting, opening a dazzling array of bottles, joking and chatting.  Usually there's a visitor or two.  Today a cork salesman is there.

                M. Raphet is quirky and unpredictable, which is largely why he is such good value, but it can be quite difficult to buy from him if you are a trader like me.  His wines, however, are irresistible, so I keep coming back to him.

                He takes me across his yard to where a domaine worker is busy bottling.  We taste some wines from the tanks that are about to be bottled.

                Then we go down into his cellar - the first time he has done this with me.  We wind our way along rows of barrels, and taste his best wines - Chambertin Clos de Beze, Clos de Vougeot, Clos de la Roche, Charmes-Chambertin, and the lights go out.  We are 10, 20 yards from the door of the cellar.  It is a little bit disconcerting.  M. Raphet huffs and puffs.  The lights come on again.  He explains that all the bottling activity up above puts an overload on the electricity so the lights go out.  We go on tasting.  The lights go out again.

                In between the lights going out, M. Raphet tells me that Dominique Laurent, a micro-negociant with a sky-high reputation (the wines are terrific - I have tasted them) and stiff prices, buys from him.


               I go away impressed, and over the next day or two decide to buy from M. Raphet again.

*     *     *

                By now I have missed my next appointment altogether, so I go straight on to -

Domaine Bruno Fevre, Meursault.  M. Fevre tends the wines for my friends the Toulmins who have a house in Auxey-Duresses with a vineyard.  He also has his own domaine.  I haven't been able to telephone my missed appointment because I have been foolish enough not to have the number with me.  When I reach M. Fevre I ask if I can borrow his telephone to ring M. Lafouge.  He obliges.  M. Lafouge is a little bit fed up (he has been waiting an hour), but agrees to rearrange the tasting for the next day at 5 o'clock.

                I like M. Fevre's range of wines.  I went to taste at this address a couple of years ago, and I think since then his wines have taken a grand step forward.

                At the end of the tasting I arrange to buy some of his Bourgogne Chardonnay, and some of his Meursault "Moulin Landin", made from old vines, which is very fine - it has a wonderful serious white burgundy smell, with the concentration of flavour that comes from old vines.  Terrific wine.

                I also like his red Monthelie 1er Cru "Sur la Velle" (a vineyard next to the boundary with Volnay - good site), and hope to buy some in the future.

Domaine Pascal Prunier, Meursault.  I reach Pascal Prunier at 5.30 - on time!  This is a new grower for me.  He is a friend of Damien Gachot, my favourite winemaker.  We taste through his range, both reds and whites.  I like his white St. Romain - it is attractively full and rich.  His reds have a distinctive style, with an individual spiciness which I find entirely alluring.  It is most pronounced in his St. Romain.  I arrange to buy some of both his red and white St. Romain.  I am surprised and impressed, because in the past my tastings of wines from St. Romain have been disappointing.

*     *     *

                Although I only managed 7 out of the 8 tastings I had arranged, it has been a long day.  I sleep well Tuesday night.

Wednesday morning -

Domaine Claude Nouveau, Marchezeuil-Change.  M. Nouveau always strikes me as being very well-organised.  He has with him the file relating to his dealings with me.

                We start with his white Santenay 2000.  From one vintage to the next this is a beautifully made wine, tasting of proper white burgundy with new oak in evidence, but always well integrated.  Interestingly, tasting on this occasion, the oak is less noticeable than usual, but M. Nouveau assures me that exactly the same proportion of new oak has been used as in previous vintages.

                We taste through his reds.  Up to now I have bought his two Santenays, a village wine "Les Charmes" and a Premier Cru "Grand Clos Rousseau", which are consistently well made - specifically M. Nouveau seems able to cope well in more difficult years, managing to make wines which reflect the nature of the vintage, but still showing charm and good flavour.  He also makes a Maranges, a comparatively new appellation which is sort of a continuation of Santenay.  We taste his 1999 - and it was delicious:  lots of colour, with new oak noticeable, and delivering a satisfyingly mouth-filling block of flavour.  I have arranged to buy some.

                On my departure, M. Nouveau fixed me up with some sample bottles, and gave me a present of a magnum of white Santenay in its own wooden box.  A charming man.

Domaine Michel Serveau, La Rochepot.  On every occasion I visit this domaine M. Serveau is busy doing something when I arrive, usually chopping wood.  He was chopping wood this time.

                We go inside and start tasting.  M. Serveau is chatty, in fact more than chatty, he is positively gossipy.  He talks about other growers, and an English journalist friend of his who has a house in the village.  We taste his white Bourgogne Hautes Côtes de Beaune first.  This is reliably a pleasing mouthful.  Then on to his reds, beginning with his Bourgogne Hautes Côtes de Beaune 2000, which has a fresh, vivid smell.  It is soft and pretty.  This does seem to be a feature of the reds in 2000 - perfectly sound wines, with lovely flavour, but soft, for early drinking - not a vintage for long ageing.  As a little wine merchant this suits me very well - it is an expensive business keeping back wines that are not ready for drinking.  Next the 1999 Hautes Côtes de Beaune:  this is a wine with lots of potential, but at the moment is not nearly as easy drinking as the 2000.  Then on to the 1998, which I like less than the 1999 and 2000.

                We move on to his St. Aubin, tasting first the 2000, which is soft and pretty, and then the 1999, which is delicious, with excellent colour and lovely length.  I might buy some of this for the shop.

                Finally his Chassagne-Montrachet, which on this visit I find less alluring than his St. Aubin.

                I say my goodbyes to M. Serveau and hurry off to -

Domaine Poulleau, Volnay.  This is going to be interesting, because Thierry Poulleau always treats me to a barrel sampling of the latest vintage of all his wines.  So here is a chance to take a "look" at his efforts in 2001 (wine merchants "look" at wines - and if they give them to other people to taste, they "show" them - I love the jargon).  As we enter the cellar, he catches his pipette on the door, breaking it.  He disappears to find another one.  He has done very well indeed in 2001 - excellent colour, and surprisingly concentrated.  I look forward to seeing these wines in bottle.

                After the barrel tasting we go on to his 2000s.  Lunchtime arrives, and Mme. Poulleau brings in some cheese and bread, which we munch on as we taste.  We chat, and make our way through M. Poulleau's range, tasting a few 1999s as well as 2000s to compare.  A comprehensive and fascinating tasting.  It all takes over three hours.

Domaine Lafouge, Auxey-Duresses.  The tasting I missed yesterday, and another new domaine for me.  We start with his whites - an Aligoté, which is surprisingly rich for an Aligoté, and then two Auxey-Duresses, from different climats, and a Meursault "Meix Chavaux".  Until now M. Lafouge has been rather reserved, but when I say that "Meix Chavaux" is a good vineyard site and name another grower who has vines there, he visibly relaxes and becomes much more friendly.  These wines are very clean, with a purity of flavour bespeaking meticulous winemaking.  We move on to the reds - a straight village Auxey-Duresses, and three Premiers Crus.  Again the reds, like the whites, are very clean, with purity of flavour and an intensity that is very exciting.

                I tell M. Lafouge that I like his range of wines, and hope to be in touch to buy some.

*     *     *

                That evening I stay in Nolay in a hotel with no restaurant.  All the restaurants in Nolay are closed.  I ask where I can eat.  I am told I will have to go to Beaune.  It's been a long day.  I'm too tired to go to Beaune, even though the only lunch I've had was the nibble of bread and cheese chez Poulleau.  I go into a bar and ask if they can do me a salad.  Non.  Un sandwich?  The patronne looks slightly fed up, so I say never mind, but she says no it's all right, they just haven't got any bread, why don't I see if the bakery across the road is still open and I can go and get a baguette, and she'll make me a sandwich.  I stick my head out of the door.  The bakery is still open.  The patronne gives me 4.10 francs and I trot across the road to get the bread.  It is the first and only time I handle French francs - throughout this trip I use exclusively euros.

                I eat my sandwich and drink a beer, return to the hotel and go to bed.

 *     *     *

Thursday morning, first tasting -

Domaine Christophe Mary, Corcelles-les-Arts.  This is the garagiste I visited last year and persuaded to sell me 18 bottles.  This year he is very friendly, and, I think, impressed that I have come back after a year.

                We go through his barn with farm machinery and into his minuscule cellar.  We taste his Meursaults and Puligny-Montrachets.  They all have their own distinctive character, reflecting the sites where the grapes are grown - the Meursaults are are softer, broader in flavour, the Pulignys more mineral, with more of an edge to them.  They are quite delicate, but lovely wines.  And his reds.  I like his Auxey-Duresses the best:  it has a vivid, immediate fruitiness, supported by a depth and structure that promises good and interesting future development.

                I arrange with M. Mary there and then my order - all of 11 cases!  And offer to pay.  He refuses - he says I should pay when I receive the wines.  He also asks me if it would be a nuisance if he puts a magnum in for me when I ship the order.  Absolutely not.  A charming man.

Domaine Gachot-Monot, Corgoloin.  This is always the high point of my visits to Burgundy.  Damien Gachot makes wines that make me get up and stump about the sitting-room muttering exclamations such as:  Brilliant.  Wonderful.  N-n-nng.  Fabuloso.  I have witnessed one of this domaine's wines silence a table of 24 people.  Burgundy at its best reaches parts of the brain, sets off emotions that no other wines ever get near - as Maurice Healy wrote in Stay me with Flagons:  "I took one sip; I closed my eyes, and every beautiful thing that I had ever known crowded into my memory..... the prince drinks a magic potion ..... and all the secrets of the earth are revealed to him.  I have experienced that miracle.  The song of armies sweeping into battle, the roar of the waves upon a rocky shore ....."  And so he goes on.  Yes, great burgundy really does this to you.  If this has happened to you, you will know what I mean.  If it hasn't, you will recognise it when it does.

                Happily, my first meeting with Damien Gachot's wines were revelatory:  the sheer exhilarating, wild, thrilling fruitiness of his wines took me on a rollercoaster of gustatory pleasure that I will never forget.  I said (and wrote) at the time that his wines reminded me of Henri Jayer's wines.

                I have now been buying as much of this domaine's wines as I possibly can for 5 years.  They are every bit as exciting now as they were in 1997.

                The vines are tended with scrupulous attention to detail, and the winemaking is exemplary.  I have tasted all the vintages that Damien has made (1992 - 2001).  They are all beautiful wines - he manages to make terrific wine in difficult vintages.

                So we start the tasting by looking at his 2001s, still in barrel:  despite the weather, these wines have good, positive colour, and, like Poulleau's, an impressive degree of concentration - again, I look forward to seeing these wines in bottle.

                We try the 2000s.  His Côtes de Nuits Villages is soft and forward and seems ready to drink now.  His special bottling of Côte de Nuits Villages - "Les Chaillots" - is similar in character, but shows more in every department:  more substance, more concentration, more intensity.  His Nuits St. Georges village wine, which comes from a parcel of vines close to the boundary with Vosne-Romanée seems to me to have more of an animal component in its make-up than this domaine's other Nuits St. Georges, which appear to have more of a fruit tendency.  All these wines, like the Côte de Nuits Villages, seem soft and forward - ready for drinking soon.  I should say, however, that these wines will deceive you with their longevity:  a bottle of their Côte de Nuits Villages 1993 drunk with Christmas dinner a few weeks ago was mature, but magical - ask my family about the stumping about the sitting-room activity I mentioned earlier.

                After tasting we went upstairs and had lunch.  A very excellent lunch accompanied by wine, including a delicious bottle of 1994 Nuits St. Georges 1er Cru - I guessed correctly both the vintage and the wine!  Lise, Damien's wife, left to go to Beaune, and I stayed chatting with Damien for a while.  We talked about organic methods of viticulture, and he says he would like to do it, but at the moment it is difficult and expensive, and would take several years.  As it is, he uses minimum treatments.  Last year he visited Huet in the Loire, an entirely organic estate, and was very impressed by their wines and what they were doing.

                He also let slip that he had been to see Aubert de Vilaine, who runs the Domaine de la Romanée-Conti (DRC), the top domaine in Burgundy, who gave him a barrel tasting of the domaine's 1999s.  I read that nobody is allowed to taste DRC's wines from the barrel any more, so he is a lucky fellow.  In describing the wines, which he said were magnificent, Damien scratched the air like a crazed cat - the wines were that good!

                On my leaving, we made a tentative plan that the Gachots would come to the annual Irma Fingal-Rock tasting in London.  Huge excitement.

*     *     *

                Wine at lunchtime befuddles me.  I was short of cash, so after leaving the Gachots I thought I would try to get some.  Already earlier in the week I had tried to get cash (euros).  I forgot my PIN number years ago, so the only way I could find to obtain euros in Beaune was to put sterling banknotes into a hole in the wall.  I received less than half the quantity I was expecting (the rate worked out at about 0.7 euros for L1, whereas in changing cash in Monmouth before I went the rate had been about 1.5 euros for L1).

                So on this Thursday afternoon in Nuits St. Georges, befuddled after lunch, and suspicious of banks, I tried to change money.  My French was not up to it.  I didn't know the French word for "rate" - and I was trying to ask what the rate was.  There was a queue behind me in the bank.  The attendant wanted to know how much money I desired to change.  I didn't know how much money (in pounds) I desired to change - I just knew how much money (in euros) I wanted to end up with.  I gave up.  I'm not good at mental arithmetic, but I eventually worked out a few days later that the bank had in fact been offering me a very good rate.  Oh well.

 *     *     *

Domaine Montchovet, Nantoux.  Last year neither M. nor Mme. Montchovet were at home when I arrived at the appointed hour for tasting.  This year M. Montchovet was there, and very apologetic.

                We taste his white Bourgogne Hautes Côtes de Beaune in 1998 and 1999 vintages.  A small proportion of the 1998 was put into new oak as an experiment.  The 1999 saw no new oak.  To my taste that subtle (and it is subtle, well integrated) extra dimension of oakiness seasons the flavour of the wine brilliantly.  I think he should continue to do it.

                We taste his reds, including the 1998 Bourgogne Hautes Côtes de Beaune, which we already have in the shop and is excellent, and his Pommard 1999, which I have never bought up to now, but is so delicious I probably will.

                After tasting, M. Montchovet asks me if I'd like to see his vines.  He cultivates them organically - in fact biodynamically.  He clearly believes in the organic movement passionately.  The vines are pruned in a lyre system, with a long stem instead of a stump and the vine trained high.  Vegetation is allowed to grow around the base of the vines.  M. Montchovet has been clearing uncultivated land to plant vines for a number of years now.  He showed me a new plot of about 1 hectare which he has recently planted.  The vines are little spindly babies at the moment.  To get to this plot we have to go down a narrow track for a couple of hundred yards, and to go back we reverse, which he does expertly and very fast (I wish I could reverse like that).

                When we return to the domaine he gives me some sample bottles and a whole Cîteaux cheese - he is obviously still feeling guilty about last year.  This is a very special cheese made by the monks at the monastery of Cîteaux - the original Cistercian monastery.  It is never seen outside the region, and is seriously delicious.  I hope he forgets an appointment again in the future.

 *     *     *

                Thursday night I stayed in a very swish hotel in Puligny-Montrachet, of which I had heard good reports.  I will be honest:  I found it a bit of a curate's egg.  The service was impeccable - specifically at supper I only had to think the thought - more water or whatever - and there was a waiter or waitress at the table to attend to me.  The room was fine and comfortable.  The wine list was unbelievable, with a choice of about 48 different bottlings of Le Montrachet, not to mention a dazzling selection of other wines.  The food, however, was so rich that by the time I had struggled through the first course (a sort of liver soufflé swimming in a venison reduction), I thought I was going to burst.  And the bill was approximately twice the size of the bill the next night at the Hostellerie des Clos in Chablis - my favourite hotel, as followers of my travels in Burgundy will already know.

*     *     *

Friday morning -

Domaine Musso, Sassangy.  This domaine has moved its base from Dracy-les-Couches to a village in the Côte Chalonnaise.

                I meet Alain, M.Musso's factotum, at 9 a.m. in Dracy-les-Couches, and he rattles off in a Peugeot van with me following behind.  It is more than half an hour's drive, passing through Mercurey and some distance further on after that.

                Eventually we reach Sassangy.

                The Mussos have arrived.  The house at the new estate, Château de Sassangy, is a real château.  It is magnificent.  I never saw M. Musso's previous house, but it was just a house not a château.

                The château was built in about 1740 and is set into a hillside facing south, sheltered to the north, east and west by the natural lie of the land.  Parkland spreads out below, with a little lake and some pine trees around its edge, and beyond a magnificent panorama of Burgundian hills.

                To one side there is a summer house the size of a semi-detached house.  There is a set of farm buildings that are to die for, including a large twefth century barn with walls at least 6 feet thick.

                There are about 13 hectares of vines on the estate, ten of which are planted with red grapes, mostly Pinot Noir.  About 3 hectares are planted with Chardonnay.

                The estate has been rather run down for about a century, a victim of phylloxera.  So M. Musso has quite a project on his hands.

                As I get out of the car M. Musso appears.  He looks like a university professor, bald with a domed forehead and a shock of white hair around the sides of his head.  He has a white beard and a rather leathery face.  He speaks quietly.

                The winemaking here is a little less chaotic than at Dracy-les-Couches.  It still seems rather haphazard, though.  In one gigantic farm building which must be at least 300 feet long there are a couple of tanks of Chardonnay, looking lonely on their own in this otherwise empty building.  It is a cold morning, and there was a frost overnight.  The outside of the tanks glisten, as if with condensation.  This is remarked on by M. Musso, who fingers it.  It is ice.  We taste the wine.  It is freezing cold(!!).  We go on to the twelfth century barn to taste his reds in barrel.  Here the temperature is milder.  The barrels are ranged in neat rows.  With the change of address there seems to be a change in the winemaking here, even though the team is unchanged, with a shorter time spent in tank and barrel before bottling.  I wonder if this is a change for the better.  Time will tell.

                We leave the barn and go to the summer house.  M. Musso sticks his head round the door and decides it is a weeny bit cold in there.  So we go into the house and set to tasting.  M. Musso says he can't understand the British because they're so bright and clever and they've made so many brilliant discoveries, and given the world so many wonderful inventions -

                So I say that's nice of him to be so complimentary.

                He continues, considering the British are such world-beaters, how could they have given the world BSE?

                I say it was Mrs. Thatcher's fault.

                M. Musso feels that it couldn't possibly be only Mrs. Thatcher.

                Alain sits respectfully silent as we engage in this banter.

                We are tasting two different bottlings of M. Musso's new red, a Bourgogne Côte Chalonnaise.  Which do I prefer?  I like the second one.  M. Musso says he prefers the first one.

                Mme. Musso enters the room.  She is round-faced, wearing trousers and a pinkish purple form-hugging jersey, and appears to be younger than her husband.  She joins us, and tastes the two bottlings of the Côte Chalonnaise.  Which does she prefer?  She likes the first one.

               Oh well.

                Time is passing, and I have some appointments, so I say I must go.  M. Musso despatches Alain to put together a case of samples for me.

                The château really is wonderful.  I want to live there.

*     *     *

                I have to hurry to my appointments in the afternoon, skipping lunch.  I have to collect wine from Messrs. Amiot and Raphet, and Cassis from Thevenot-Le Brun.

                Then I drive to Chablis to stay at the Hostellerie des Clos, which is at the top of its form.  The supper is light, brilliant, and such a relief after the blow-out in Puligny-Montrachet the previous night.

Saturday -

                I have arranged to collect wine from the Pommiers and Mme. Naulin.  This all goes smoothly, and then I have an afternoon in which to amuse myself.  I have booked a room at an untried hotel in a town called Revigny-sur-Ornain, about half way between Chablis and Calais, so that I can catch a reasonably early ferry on Sunday and arrive back home at a civilised hour.  I decide to go and look at châteaux.

                There are two just down the road from Tonnerre.  I go to Ancy-le-Franc first - a magnificent pile with a lake which has an island with a folly, and avenues of trees leading up to it and a wonderful set of stables designed in a rather military style.  The architect was Serlio, who designed Fontainebleau.  It is out of season and all locked up, so I have to press my nose up against the padlocked railings.  Next:  Tanlay - not on quite such a grand scale - of a similar date (16th century).  Restoration works are going on here.  It is also officially closed, but the gates are open, so I ask in the bar a few doors along the street to see if I can go in.  They say why not.  Again, there are wonderful stable buildings, set around a huge courtyard around 100 metres square.  They are a bit dilapidated, but utterly charming.  I am tempted to approach the inner part of the château itself, which looks all locked, but there is a big invisible dog barking somewhere and I'm a coward and don't like unfriendly big dogs - I have a theory they are likely to bite you.  So I leave.

                It is lunchtime, and I am peckish.  I stop at a bar.  I ask if they have anything to eat.  Non.  Not even a sandwich?  All right, if I'll have liver sausage.  With cornichons? I ask.  And butter.  A youth with a limp disappears into the back to make it for me.  When it arrives it is a whole baguette, about half a metre long, with the nastiest industrial liver sausage imaginable.  I make an attempt to eat it, but only manage a few mouthfuls and leave the rest.

                A while later I pass Chaumont and the road follows the Marne valley (the same Marne that flows through the Champagne region).  It is wide and picturesque.  I pass a sign off to the left to a village called Vignory, and its castle.  A few hundred yards further on past the turning I catch sight of the castle, perched high up on a promontory of rock and looking impossibly romantic and ivy-clad.  I can't resist it.  I turn back and go into the village.  As I drive through the village I pass an interesting-looking church.  The road to the castle winds up steeply through woods.  There is a farmhouse (inhabited) between the two ramparts built to defend that side of the castle.  There is the remains of the keep, and outer walls, and a wonderful view out across the valley of the Marne.  It is a magical place, and should have been painted by everybody through the Renaissance to Turner and beyond.

                I have seen a sign to another château at a place called Cirey-sur-Blaise, and so, instead of going back into the village I go off in search of this other château.  It says it was built in the eighteenth century, so it's a little younger than the others I have seen so far.  I drive for miles and miles and miles and miles.  The afternoon is slipping by.  I eventually decide that if I don't reach this place in the next 3 minutes I will give up and turn back.

                Exactly 3 minutes later the village of Cirey-sur-Blaise appears in front of me.  It is a delightful setting in a gentle valley with a small river, and quiet.  The war memorial to the sons of the village killed in action is heroically topped by a cockerel.  And beyond is the château.  Voltaire lived here for 15 years in the middle of the eighteenth century.  It's all locked up, and is sited in such a way that it's difficult to get much of a look at it.

                I go down to the river, where there is a colony of garden gnomes, with their own perfect little gnomes' house.

                It's all so peaceful.

                That was the fifth château.

                But I must hurry on.  I want to have a look at the church at Vignory.

                The light is fading as I reach the village.  I enter the church.  It was built in the eleventh century.  A remarkable, exquisite Norman church.  It is perfectly proportioned, with the roof of the nave at a guess 30 feet high.  There is a receptacle for French francs to turn the lights on.  I only have euros.  So I snoop about in the half light.  This church was discovered by Prosper Mérimée (at the time head of the Department of Historic Monuments), who happened to be taken ill nearby, and so came upon it by accident.  He designated it a national monument.  Quite right too.  The last time I remember such a thrilling discovery was about 6 years ago, coming upon the cathedral at Laon.  Vignory really is a very special church.  I urge you to visit it even if you are almost within range of it - it is worth the detour.

                I arrive at Revigny-sur-Ornain and find the hotel.  I approach it along a neatly pollarded avenue of plane trees.  I cross the moat, which no longer has any water.  The hotel is straight ahead, and pretty as a picture, completely unexpected.  It is a "maison forte" built in the 17th century.  This is the half château - it's a bit more than a house, but not quite a château.  It bills itself primarily as a restaurant, but with rooms.  The restaurant is in the "maison forte", while there are two smaller, lower buildings facing each other as you approach the house, forming an open courtyard.  The rooms are in these buildings.  They are very comfortable.  And the cooking here is good.  I could stay here again.

 *     *     *

                Just a few words about the 2001 vintage.  First, it was definitely difficult - the kind of vintage where only very conscientious producers are likely to make a success of it.  It was more difficult for reds than whites.  Buy carefully.  In relation to the reds, two domaines (of those whose 2001s I tasted) stood out:  Gachot-Monot and Poulleau.  Both achieved good colours and excellent concentration in their wines.

Tom Innes
Irma Fingal-Rock

January 2002