If you fancy a trip to France's wine country then why not head to Burgundy, writes Christine Austin. Susan Doyle, winner of The Yorkshire Post Fiendish Wine Quiz did just that.

‘The whole trip was a truly unique experience, everyone was really welcoming and I learnt so much about the wines of Chablis and Burgundy.’

This was Susan Doyle’s reaction to her trip to  William Fèvre in Chablis and Bouchard Père et Fils in Burgundy which was her prize for winning the 2018 Fiendish Wine Quiz. Never one to miss out on a trip to a wine region, I tagged along to find out more about these lovely wines.

We started out on Eurostar and after a quick change in Paris and a gentle ride through the French countryside, we arrived in the tiny town of Chablis.  By that time a glass of wine was essential, and so a sustaining glass of Grand cru Valmur 2013 was enjoyed in the evening sunshine, followed by dinner accompanied by 2016 Premier cru Les Lys – both from William Fèvre.

Next morning we were up early, ready to explore the vineyards, hosted by Alain Marcuello, hospitality manager at William Fèvre.  Chablis occupies a unique site, based on clay and limestone which was laid down millions of years.  We were shown the rocks in the soil, each one made up of shells of tiny oysters from long ago.  It is this soil which gives the wines of Chablis their unique character.

William Fèvre established the company in 1959.  His family had grown grapes for generations, and he acquired vineyards so that became one of the largest landowners in Chablis with substantial holdings of the top-rated Premier and Grand crus sites.  Twenty years ago the company was bought by family-owned Henriot Champagne which has allowed further investment and development.

Since then the style of William Fèvre wines has changed so that they are now some of the most vibrant, pure, complex Chablis wines on the shelves.  The vineyards are the key to quality and they are worked organically. Low yields, handpicking, and just the lightest touch of oak on the top wines gives these wines a refreshing balance of flavour that accompanies food brilliantly well.

A comprehensive tasting followed the vineyard tour, from a bright lively Petit Chablis, through Chablis, Premier cru Vaillons to Grand cru Chablis from the fabulous Bougros vineyard. William Fèvre Chablis wines are available at Roberts and Speight, Penistone Wine Cellars and Harvey Nichols.

From Chablis we were whisked to Beaune where possibly the grandest lunch I have ever eaten was waiting for us at Bouchard Père et Fils.  In a pavilion, perched on top of the bastion of a 15thcentury fortress, with panoramic views over the Bouchard gardens and the town of Beaune, we enjoyed a fabulous lunch accompanied by superb wines.  Hosted by Emeritus winemaker Philippe Prost we learnt more about the company and its wines.

Bouchard Père et Fils is also part of the Henriot Champagne company and so it was appropriate to start with a glass of their fine Blanc de Blancs champagne.

Established in 1731, Bouchard Père et Fils is one of the region’s oldest wine Houses.  In the aftermath of the French revolution the company moved to the 15thcentury fortress and since then has been storing wine in the 4 kilometres of cellars under the fortress.  It is here that the world’s largest collection of 19thcentury Burgundy is kept.

Just like at  William Fèvre, the real jewels in the crown of Bouchard Père et Fils are its extensive vineyard holdings.  With 130 hectares of top class Burgundy vineyards including Grands crus and Premiers crus, the fundamental quality of the wines is assured right from the start.  An impressive new winery, built on the outskirts of Beaune is remarkable for its ability to receive grapes from both large and small vineyards, keeping each parcel separate so it can be clearly linked to each plot.  ‘This allows us to keep the expression of fruit from each vineyard,’ said Prost.  Grapes can reach the winery within 30 minutes of being picked to ensure they are as fresh as possible.

Beaune is at the centre of the Cote d’Or,  the golden slope of Burgundy which was lifted up millions of years ago, forming a hillside where layers of soils are exposed.  This means that the soil in one vineyard can vary enormously from the next and so can determine the overall quality and classification of the wines.  Facing southeast, this long slope basks in sunshine, a sea of green, each plot discreetly but carefully marked to identify it.

Charles Régnier from Bouchard took us off to check out the region starting at the tiny plot of Beaune Grèves Vigne de l’Enfant Jésus, a vineyard exclusive to Bouchard Père et Fils, that was given its name to celebrate the birth of King Louis XIV in 1638.  This is the wine we had enjoyed at lunch.  We then visited several sites, each one with slightly different soils and aspect.

A comprehensive tasting of Bouchard wines followed, starting with the reds, from the light perfume of Monthélie 2016 through to the simply delicious Premier cru Volnay Les Caillerets 2016 and on to a magnificent Grand cru Le Corton 2016. We then moved on to the whites and I must admit that by the time we reached Chevalier Montrachet 2017 and Corton Charlemagne 2017 I had completely forgotten to spit.  These are wines to be savoured, not just tasted.

Next day we toured some of the cellars and were even allowed into the small circular cellar that was carefully hidden during the war years.  This houses ‘The Collection’ of wines dating back to 1846.  A single bottle from one tiny stash of wine was recently sold for 35,000 Euros. We didn’t taste that one.  Interestingly former US President Thomas Jefferson used to come here to buy his wine, a point which American–born Susan found fascinating.

‘I cannot thank the people at William Fèvre and Bouchard Père et Fils enough,’ said Susan, ‘this has been a unique experience and has given me so many memories of wonderful wines and vineyards.’

If you would like to taste some of the wines that Susan enjoyed, then Penistone Wine Cellars (01226 767310, www.pcwine.co.uk) has the largest collection of Bouchard Père et Fils wines in the county.  Check their website or just call in.

 

 

About The Author

Christine Austin

Christine is a wine writer, broadcaster and a wine judge for several international wine competitions. She has a technical background and spent five years as a buyer for a major supermarket before moving to wine writing.She writes for The Yorkshire Post Magazine and organises the York Festival of Food and Drink. She has won both the Lanson and the Roederer prizes for wine writing.

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