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The Clay County Advocate - Press-Flora, IL
  • Wine Talk: When in Beaune

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  • Inside the largely intact ramparts of this relatively sleepy village of 20,000, there are four restaurants with at least one Michelin star. Outside the city walls there are several more.
    The center of the village, around Place Carnot, is lined with shops pedaling gourmet food products, as well as the latest fashions from Paris, a couple of hours to the north.
    From early spring through the annual Hospices de Beaune wine auction in late November, the cobblestone streets are clogged with tourists, particularly on Saturday, which is market day. On most weekends in the high season, hotel and restaurant reservations are a must.
    Once the bastion of the Dukes of Burgundy, Beaune is now the center of the wine universe for some, particularly wine aficionados with a taste for the most sought-after chardonnay and pinot noir in the world.
    Surrounded by some of the most famous wine villages in France, Beaune is more than the commercial center of Burgundy; it is its heart and soul.
    When in Beaune, this is what I do.
    I arrive at Hotel le Cep, a four-star hotel near the village center, and immediately celebrate with a glass of Cremant de Bourgogne or Laurent-Perrier brut rose Champagne, usually by the grand fireplace just off the lobby, especially if there is a chill in the air.
    Beaune has other superb hotels, including the elegant and relatively new Le Cedre and the conveniently located Hotel de la Poste. Le Cep, however, is eclectic and charming, an Old World period piece, with a warm and friendly staff; and it’s an easy walk to my favorite haunts.
    None easier than the few steps to Loiseau des Vignes, a Michelin one-star next door to Le Cep. A diner could easily spend $300 in one sitting at Loiseau, but on a recent visit I ordered the four-course menu decouverte for 59 euros, which is about $80, including tax and tip.
    Dinner was, as expected, innovative and spectacular, but the greatest attraction for me is the Loiseau approach to wine. It is one of the few restaurants or wine bars in France where it is possible to enjoy grand cru Burgundy by the glass. I indulged and ordered a magnificent 2009 Armand Rousseau Charmes Chambertin Grand Cru for 20 euros. I also took the wine pairings for each course, chosen by the sommelier, for an additional 45 euros.
    On the same visit, I had dinner one evening at Le Beneton, another Michelin one-star, and ordered a la carte. Le Beneton was equally innovative and dazzling, but twice the price.
    Michelin stars aside, my favorite restaurant in Beaune is Caveau des Arches. It is listed in the Michelin guide without a star, but the cuisine, perhaps a bit more traditional than Loiseau and Le Beneton, is exceptional and the wine list one of the finest in the village (though that distinction may be held by the small, charming Ma Cuisine).
    Page 2 of 3 - Caveau des Arches recently added a casual dining space upstairs from the main dining room in the “cave.” The menu is limited, and reservations are not required, but it is well worth a visit.
    If budget is of concern, the modest but well appointed La Grilladine, a half-block from Le Cep, offers several menu options that are attractive. I recently chose its 23-euro dinner that included salmon tartare, beef bourguignon and a cheese plate. With a half-bottle of Pernand Vergelesses Premier Cru I got out for less than 50 euros, including tax and tip.
    I’ve also had similar experiences at the modest Le Conty, which, like the others, is mere steps from Place Carnot in the center of the village. And a bit further from the center of the village on Rue Faubourg Madelaine is Cave Madelaine, serving up the ultimate in Burgundian comfort food paired with an extensive selection of wines from Burgundy and the rest of France.
    Of course, no visit to Beaune would be complete without a stop at one of its better wine bars.
    My favorite for many years has been Le Bistrot Bourguignon, near Place Carnot. This homey wine bar, which serves excellent bistro faire, offers more than 20 Burgundies by the glass, most of them village wines, ranging anywhere from 4 to 12 euros per glass, which is a four-to-five ounce pour. On a recent visit I also enjoyed a 1972 Armagnac for 10 euros.
    On the other side of Place Carnot you will find the hip, modern La Part des Anges (the Angel’s share) with equally good prices on the wines by the glass, and an array of tapas that pair nicely with the wines. La Part des Anges also steps outside the Burgundy box occasionally. The bar was pouring a South African Sauvignon Blanc and a dry red blend from Portugal on my last visit.
    So, when in Beaune, do as I do, and you will neither starve nor go thirsty.
    Best Value
    Wines are rated on a 100-point scale. Wines are chosen for review because they represent outstanding quality or value, and the scores are simply a measure of this reviewer’s enthusiasm for the recommended wine.
    Luca Bosio 2009 Barbera d’Alba, Piedmont, Italy ($20) -- Barbera is a tricky grape variety that can produce unpleasant results because of its naturally high acidity. No such luck with this effort from Luca Bosio. The 2009 Barbera d’Alba is packed with juicy red and black fruits, complex notes of mocha, anise and dried herbs, all supported by smooth, supple tannins. This is an outstanding effort and a steal at the price. Rating: 92.
    Tasting Notes
    Calera 2011 Pinot Noir, Jensen Vineyard, Mt. Harlan ($80) -- Calera’s Jensen Vineyard pinot from the much-maligned 2011 vintage is another example of a top-notch producer overcoming the challenges of a difficult growing season to make an outstanding wine. While lighter in color than you might ordinarily expect for a California pinot, the 2011 Jensen delivers intense strawberry and red berry aromas, supported by firm acidity. As with all of the Calera pinots, it also shows an attractive and distinctive minerality. Good now, but will improve in the cellar over the next five to seven years. Rating: 93.
    Page 3 of 3 - Nickel & Nickel 2012 Chardonnay, Stiling Vineyard, Russian River Valley ($55) -- Nickel & Nickel’s Stiling Vineyard chardonnay is a new one on me, but the elegance and sophistication are old hat for this remarkable winery situated in the heart of the Napa Valley. The Stiling chardonnay is rich and creamy, yet delivers beautiful structure, with mouth-watering acidity and layered, complex aromas of lemon creme, apple and spice. Ho, hum, just another work of art from winemaker Darice Spinelli. Rating: 93.
    Merry Edwards 2011 Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley ($45) -- Merry’s basic Russian River Valley pinot noir is made in the same rich, full-throated style as her vineyard-designate wines, but the price is less painful and they are ready to drink upon release. The 2011 delivers juicy red-fruited aromas of raspberry and strawberry, with an intriguing earthiness. Rating: 90.
    MacMurray Ranch 2012 Pinot Noir, Central Coast ($23) -- Not every decent California pinot must cost $50, at least that’s the message from MacMurray Ranch with its 2012 Central Coast pinot noir that has plenty of attractive strawberry flavor, with supple tannins and a smooth finish. This wine is slightly light and fruity, but nicely balanced and delicious with casual cuisine. Most of all, the price is right. Rating: 87.
    Follow Robert on Twitter at @wineguru.

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