Route des Grands Crus

Burgundy (in French, Bourgogne)… For whoever never heard of this region before, here is a short introduction. Burgundy is one of the most famous and successful wine-producing regions of France.

Burgundy has more than 80 AOC (in French, Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée), which ensures the wine comes from one specific place with controlled characteristics of production. Given that more than 80% of the grapes are Chardonnay (for white) or Pinot Noir (for red), in Burgundy, more than anywhere else, it becomes clear how much influence the soil, the weather, and the production methods affect the wine. Add the grapes to this combination and you have one very particular wine.

Get a car (and a designated driver)
As most destinations in France, at some point, it’s better to rent a car so you can “hop-on hop-off” on your own terms driving across the region. Just to give an idea, following the Route des Grands Crus, from Dijon to Santenay, you will pass by 33 villages, most of them with picturesque churches and other historical constructions surrounded by vineyards. If you are not already going by car, you will probably arrive in Dijon by train from Paris. The TGV takes you there in one hour and a half.

Vineyard in the Route des Grands Crus

Beaune is the wine capital of Burgundy, and that is not an overstatement. Centrally located on the Route des Grands Crus, Beaune offers plenty of options of accommodation, restaurants, and interesting sites. There you will find Michelin-starred restaurants, historical sites such as l’Hôtel Dieu, a local produce street market (don’t miss at Place de la Halle on Saturday mornings), and everything related to wine, from wine shop to wine bookshop.

Walking around Beaune
  • Loiseau des Vignes: one Michelin-star restaurant with delicious and surprisingly beautiful dishes… an extraordinary value for money on the lunch menu. As most good restaurants in France, you should make a reservation (you can do it online).
  • Jean-Luc & Paul Aegerter: this wine shop has great variety and an even better service. It offers shipping services if you don’t want to carry too many bottles around or already reached your limit (find out what are the rules for your country).
Jean-Luc & Paul Aegerter, wine shop in Beaune
  • Athenaeum: I have never seen anything like it. It is not only a small section in a bookshop. At Athenaeum, wine takes the stage… and it is more than books, there are utensils, pictures, games (Trivial Pursuit Wine Edition… I regret so much not buying it), and wine of course.
  • Moutarderie Fallot: you probably know Dijon Mustard… what you probably don’t know is that, unlike wine appellations, “Dijon” does not indicate the origin but assures the mustard is made following a specific production process. Yet, food is usually better near the source, and this is certainly the case of Fallot, a mustard producer in Beaune. There you can learn about the mustard-making process in a tour through the production plant (you don’t need to book it in advance), and buy as much mustard as you want. There are many combinations, mixed with herbs, fruits, nuts, and not surprisingly wine.

…et al.
If you search online, you will find so many places to visit in Burgundy that you may get lost. The good news is that there is something for almost everyone. I’ll stick to what I experienced firsthand.

Only 4 km out of Beaune, I arrived in Pommard where I visited the Château Pommard. This winery was founded in 1726 by Vivant Micault, secretary to King Louis XV. The property covers 20 out of 325 hectares of the Pommard Appellation, from which 80,000 bottles are produced every year. For this there is only one grape, Pinot Noir. Beyond Pommard, they also produce and sell other Appellations of Burgundy such as Chassagne-Montrachet (white, Premier Cru), Beaune (red, Premier Cru), and Gevrey-Chambertin. You can take three different kinds of tours that differ mostly on the number of wines you get to taste in the end. I tasted four amazing vintages. The winner: 2008. I won’t describe the wine here… you’ll need to go there and taste yourself… some things need to be a surprise, right? During or after the tour, you can wander through the property grounds: château, French garden, wine museum, inner court exhibiting Dali sculptures, cave, tasting rooms, vineyards and gift shop.

With vineyards on both sides, I drove to Puligny-Montrachet where I had made a reservation at Le Montrachet, another Michelin-star restaurant in the region. Unforgettable experience. Everything was just right, the nice weather invited us to dine outside in the garden under the shade of a tree… mise en bouches, entrée, main dish, dessert and a couple of glasses of later, I couldn’t ask for anything else. By the way, the wine I had, a white Santenay, is produced by the same family that runs the restaurant. You want more? There is a set lunch menu for 32 EUR. Don’t forget to make a reservation! Some other towns you might be interested: Dijon, Auxerre, Vézelay, Semur-en-Auxois, Noyers-sur-Serein, Flavigny-sur-Ozerain.

Le Montrachet in Puligny-Montrachet, Burgundy

Do you know the difference of Premier Cru and Grand Cru? It depends on which region the wine comes from. These terms are commonly used to designate the quality of wine from Burgundy or Bordeaux, each comprising a set of rules about place and production. In Burgundy, these terms indicate different levels of quality. The highest is Grand Cru, which usually comes from vineyards located close to the top of the hills. Premier Cru is lower, but still on the hill. Both Grand Cru and Premier Cru are wines of exceptional quality, with prices starting at approx. 40 EUR. But there is still a third denomination, Villages, used to distinguish wines produced from the vineyards in the lowest part of the hills. In Bordeaux, on the other hand, the same wine can be a Grand Cru and a Premier Cru. Wines from Bordeaux follow a classification system requested by Napoleon III in 1855 for the “Exposition Universelle”. In this system, the best wines were classified from 1st (Premier) to 5th (Cinquième) Cru, with Premier Cru being the highest quality possible. Any wine that earned the 1st, 2nd, up to 5th Cru denomination is considered a Grand Cru.

It is not always about wine in Burgundy though… yeah, right… only in movies. Noyers-sur-Serein, a medieval little town between Beaune and Chablis (a disconnected AOC, closer to Paris, that produces amazing whites), was the set for “Chocolat”, starring “only” Johnny Depp, Judi Dench, Juliette Binoche, and Alfred Molina. It is available on Netflix for selected countries. But if you insist on wine, I recommend “A Year in Burgundy“, a beautiful film that shows the work and traditions of wine making families throughout the year. It is available on Netflix.

Keep going
If you want to extend your trip somewhere else, you have a few options within a 2-hour radius by train from Burgundy: in France, you can go to Paris, Champagne, or Lyon. It is also an option to go to Switzerland. Geneva and Lausanne are the nearest options.

Originally published at on June 28, 2015.

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