Many people dream of wine tasting in Burgundy. Hopefully you are reading this page as you are either planning a holiday in Burgundy or passing through on the way south or to the Alps for a spot of skiing. Whatever, one of the most usual reasons for visiting Burgundy is the legendary wine. Although the wine is well known, what is not so well known is how to go about tasting this liquid treasure. Considering there are over 4000 wine producers, where on earth do you start? and it can be rather a daunting task to knock on a Frenchman's door and ask for a free taste of his wine!
One of the simplest ways of doing it is to go with an established wine guide, either as part of a small group or booking your own guide. A private guide will pick you up from your hotel, drive you into the vineyards, explain the principles of Burgundy wine, then take you directly to a producer or two, where you will taste a selection of wines. You will be given a thorough explanation of the region, the terroir and the classification system used exclusively in Burgundy, a good guide will also teach you the difference between 'tasting' and just 'swallowing' - as we Brits tend to do! Lunch in a recommended restaurant will follow, then another tasting in the afternoon before you are returned to your hotel, hopefully with a few bottles of wine on board. Best of all, you haven't had to drive so you have been free to indulge yourself in the tastings.
Prefer to do it yourself? Choose a producer from the list here, check out their information and if possible make an appointment. If you are calling on spec, it is better to avoid Sundays, Bank Holidays and lunchtimes. The reason for this is that the majority of winemakers in France are family concerns, so the wine tasting will be done by a member of the family. The times noted above are family times and very important to French families, it is these little things that make France so different to the UK and why we love living here so much.
When you have chosen the time and the place, courtesy is very important. Do not, go in and ask to simply taste wine, or worse, just say 'dégustation?' It's most important to say 'Bonjour', no matter what your grasp of the French language, then ask if they speak English (assuming you don't speak French). Once you have the language established, explain that you are looking for some local wine, do they have some to buy and would it be possible to taste it before you buy it. You will then probably be welcomed with open arms.
Too many foreigners just go in to the cellar, expecting to taste many wines for free and are then left wondering why they have not received a warm welcome. Remember, this is the winemaker's livelihood, if he is not wine tasting with you he would be out in the vineyard working, in the cuverie checking the wine, bottling his wine or doing the marketing or the accounts. It is only courteous to buy a bottle or two when the winemaker has interrupted his work time for you and lets face it, why on earth would you want to go wine tasting without actually buying any to enjoy later?
Note: I'll go over how to taste in a later post