Last year, another of the places I loved and wanted to get to know better in the Burgundy region was the city of Beaune. I was able to visit several times, but it was always, of course, with at least my own kids in tow and often several others as well. And this does not lend itself to participation in the one activity I had really wanted to indulge in while in Beaune: Wine tasting.
You see, Beaune is the “capital of Burgundy wines” , and as such, there are loads of wineries in and around the city. It would take a very long time to visit them all, and since we only had 4 days we had to be very selective. In the city itself, you can walk to any number of places selling Burgundy’s wares, from wine shops that promise that they can ship anywhere in the world (ha- I challenge them to try to ship to Georgia!) to wine bars where you can just have a glass. Outside the city, but very nearby, a number of caves await. But my mother and I did not begin there. Instead, we found a little shop that was offering classes that would teach you about the wines of Burgundy, and promptly signed up. We wanted to know what we were doing for our short 4 day tour of Bourgogne wine country!
Our instructor delivered the “lecture” in beautifully accented English- our fellow classmates, as it turned out, were Brazilian, and English was the common language. And in that short two hours, we learned quite a bit. One comment she made really stood out to me: “If you want to know French wines, you must know French geography. And if you know French geography, you know French wines.” When you consider that the plots of land considered worthy to grow grapes labeled “grand cru” or “premier cru” have been selected over the last thousand years, you can begin to understand how right she is, and truly, how connected the land and the wine are. And when you realize that the French don’t label their wines, as we Americans do, by the type of grape but by the region, or the village, or the exact plot that those exact grapes came from, that geography connection makes even more sense. And that is how it works, in a nutshell: To name a French wine, you name it by where it comes from. In fact, it would be silly to name Burgundy’s wines by the grape, since nearly every grape grown there for red wines is a pinot noir, and nearly every grape grown there for white wines is a chardonnay. (There are a few exceptions: the gamay grape and the aligote, but those grapes are very minor and they don’t do much with them besides using Aligote mixed with creme de cassis to make Kir. As for gamay, I believe it is what gives us Beaujolais. But these are relatively minor players.)
However, the only grapes that mattered that day were the ones that were waiting for us to taste there in their lovely bottles. We began by tasting the reds, and learned about color and what it means in a red wine. We also learned how to detect and describe the different aspects of each wine (whether it was acid or tannic or mellow) and the flavors (which are too numerous for me to even begin to remember). Then we did the same thing with five whites.
I have to say that it was the best school day for me ever.
No, I’m still far from being an expert, but that doesn’t matter. What mattered was that it was great fun, being there in that tiny shop with my mom and four lively Brazilians, with our teacher and her gorgeous accent, sipping wine and talking about the geography of France. Really, does it get much better than that? Wait, talking about and then tasting the geography of France. Because really, that is what you are doing. And that makes me smile.