Burgundy is a thrilling destination for wine lovers. Unlike Bordeaux's Médoc, there are no glitzy châteaux vying for your attention. The region is dominated by a limestone ridge running in an approximately northeast–southwest direction, with vineyards cascading down its southeastern side – the Côte d'Or (golden slope) which is punctuated by quaint farm buildings, and occasional old walls enclosing notable vineyards (clos). The region carries its status and remarkable heritage lightly and, for me, this has always been part of its charm. Furthermore, the word Burgundy evokes the concept of good living, making the region even more tantalising.
Unlike other wine producing nations, the French have been slow to open their doors and actively welcome wine lovers. This has been a big mistake and may be a reason why it has failed to attract new consumers. Consider, for example, outgoing Californians and Australians who expertly court customers with cellar and vineyard tours and on-site restaurants. It's all part of marketing which, to date, French wine producers have overlooked (apart from Champenois, of course, who excel at it). Needs must and things are gradually changing in France.
In the village of Puligny-Montrachet, holy grail for Chardonnay lovers, La Maison Olivier Leflaive demonstrates how the tide is turning in France regarding wine tourism. The Leflaive family, owners of celebrated Domaine Leflaive have been making wine since the 17th century; Anne-Claude has been running the Domaine since 1994 when cousin Olivier left to concentrate on his own business producing wines from the Côte de Beaune and Côte Chalonnaise which now includes a hotel and restaurant.
During my recent visit to the region as a guest of the BIVB, after a scenic and appetising stroll around the vineyards of Puligny-Montrachet, we went to the town square for lunch at La Table Oliver Leflaive. The restaurant offers visitors the chance to taste a selection of the 82 wines produced by the company. The 25 Euro set lunch can be accompanied by one of three wine tasting options: Formule Initiation (15 Euros) comprises five wines, Formule Découverte (25 Euros) has 10 wines, as does the Formule Prestige (35 Euros) which includes more Premier Cru wines and a Grand Cru. More Grand Cru wines are available, but supplements are charged. This struck me as an affordable way of tasting a broad range of wines and experiencing the subtle differences between them. However, wines are also available by the bottle at reasonable prices.
Our meal started with light cheesy gougères (choux pastry puffs) and a glass of Bourgogne Sétilles 2009 (a 50/50 blend of Meursault and Puligny-Montrachet): fresh, creamy and easy to drink, with a slight savoury quality. This was followed by a mini-flight of village wines from 2008: Chassagne-Montrachet, Meursault and Puligny-Montrachet with persillé de thon au Chardonnay et saumon fumé served with a fromage blanc sauce. The Chassagne was mineral and lively, whereas the Puligny was fragrant and delicate; the Meursault was more overt with a creamy, buttery nose, good minerality and fresh acidity on the palate. I'd like to taste the Puligny in a few years' time as it was a little dumb, but, nevertheless, focused and complex. The flavoursome Meursault worked well with the tuna, although not as well with the salmon which was better complimented by the other wines. All the wines were delicious with the slightly tangy, creamy sauce.
We moved on to main course poulet farci à la tapenade et sa sauce coco flan de légumes and Premier Cru wines from 2007. This dish worked brilliantly with such fine examples of Chardonnay – the coconut sauce highlighting and gently complimenting the vanilla oak aromas (Chassagne-Montrachet Abbey de Morgeot, Meursault Charmes and Puligny-Montrachet Champ-Gain). An inspired choice. Again, the Meursault was a little more advanced than the other wines, although I loved the restraint and balance of the Puligny which had delicate peacock's tail finish.
Cheeses followed perfectly complimented by a magnificently mineral, complex and savoury Corton-Charlemagne 2006 and a couple of impressive reds Pommard 2007 (supple and pure) and Volnay 1er Cru Mitans 2007 (supple lush red fruit, mineral and savoury – another excellent choice for the cheese).
We finished our lunch with chocolate mousse and coffee before returning to Beaune for our next appointment. Next time I'd be tempted to go for an evening meal and enjoy a relaxing stay overnight to prolong the pilgrimage.
La Table d'Olivier Leflaive and La Maison Olivier Leflaive
Place du Monument
Tel +33 (0)3 80 21 37 65