No place like Beaune

A brief introduction to the wines of Beaune…

If you’re new to Burgundy, the handsome city of Beaune is the perfect base from which to explore. This ancient citadel sits proudly at the centre of the region, in the foremost quality zone known as the Côte d’Or. It is surrounded by a sea of vines, spreading out like green ripples along the hillsides, radiating from its stone ramparts.

There are no Grand Cru vineyards in Beaune. Its Pinot Noirs lack the baroque drama of the reds to the north and its Chardonnays rarely hit the opulent heights of the whites to the south. But the carefully groomed vineyards that surround the city are the source of its historic wealth: its polished reds and fine whites remain as self-assured today as they have been since Roman times.

The wines of Beaune are unshowy but refined. Like a well-loved, ageing Jaguar, they are quietly luxurious, they purr softly. They may not turn heads like deluxe models, but the quality is undeniable.

The Pinot Noirs in particular are soft, brightly fruity and elegant. They start life tasting of wild strawberries and raspberries, gradually taking on flavours of beetroot, mushroom and autumn leaves as they age. They don’t last as long as some red Burgundies; but you don’t have to wait as long for them to mature. Both the reds and whites are medium-bodied, food friendly, the best displaying a supreme textural finesse.

In Burgundy, the finest quality wines are usually produced by small growers. For top quality Beaune, try Domaine de Bellene, Domaine Tollot-Beaut and Domaine Rossignol-Trapet. But here, most of the Premier Cru vineyards are owned by the big wine merchants based in the city. Four names to look out for are Bouchard Aîné & Fils, Chanson Père & Fils, Joseph Drouhin, and Louis Jadot.

Due to the huge breadth of different wines they produce, their ranges are bound to have the odd weak link, but broadly speaking their output is reliable. In fact they are responsible for Beaune’s very best bottlings, such as Drouhin’s Premier Cru ‘Clos des Mouches’ Rouge, Chanson’s Premier Cru ‘Clos des Mouches’ Blanc, Bouchard’s Premier Cru ‘Le Vigne de l’Enfant Jésus’ Rouge and Jadot’s Premier Cru ‘Clos des Ursules’ Rouge. In good vintages such as 2002, 2005 and 2009, they demonstrate why Beaune remains the spiritual home of Burgundy.

First published in Living France magazine.