The Noble Rot guide to Burgundy
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In 2012, before I became a wine importer and restaurateur, I visited Burgundy with my dad. I’d been getting into wine while working in music – I was head of A&R at Parlophone and MD of Island Records – and seeing these famous vineyards and villages up close was so exciting.
I always get the train to Burgundy – it’s so much nicer than flying. I take the Eurostar from London to Paris, then the train from Gare de Lyon to Dijon. Finally I hire a car in Dijon and drive down through Marsannay, Fixin, Gevrey-Chambertin. You end up in Nuits-St-George and Beaune. The route is like a greatest hits of red wines.
When I used to sign bands, I’d make a judgement on the music but also on the person, their energy and their passion. It’s the same with winemakers. For some they’re doing it because they inherited a wine estate, and it’s just a job. But there’s a new generation coming through in Burgundy that is very passionate: winemakers such as Charles Lachaux – a real superstar in Burgundy at the moment – and Lamy-Caillat, a tiny domaine in Chassagne-Montrachet that makes wines that are rich but really fresh. When Mark [Andrew, Noble Rot co-founder] and I first tasted them, they raised the hairs on the back of our necks.
We launched Noble Rot magazine because we wanted to talk about wine in a different way; to join the dots with other creative things such as the arts, music, food. One of the catalysts was interviewing Mike D from Beastie Boys after finding out he was a fellow Burgundy lover. Ten years later he still contributes to the magazine.
The commune of Vosne-Romanée is the epicentre for red wines of Burgundy – it’s home to big names like Romanée-Conti and Leroy. Mugneret-Gibourg has a little hotel there called La Maison de Jacqueline that’s absolutely lovely; just five rooms done in a modern, elegant style. Domaine du Comte Liger-Belair also recently opened a wine bar and shop in the village, La Cuverie, which overlooks the pretty Clos du Château vineyard.
One of my favourite wine bars in Beaune is a cute little place called Caves Madeleine. It’s got one big communal table, so you always get talking to people, and it’s popular with the young vignerons. There’s a really good wine list, and the food is great too – traditional dishes such as roasted chicken in a vin jaune sauce with pike quenelles. Honest French food done simply and well, which is what I want to eat when I’m drinking Burgundy. Nearby there’s also La Dilettante, which serves charcuterie, terrines and cheese. The wine list is absolutely killer, a bit more natural than some, with lots of great vin jaune from the Jura and hard-to-get-hold-of Burgundy.
There’s long been a gap in the market for a high-end hotel in Beaune, but Maison 1896 – which opens this summer – looks like it could be a game-changer. It’s a collaboration between Maison Joseph Drouhin, San Francisco chef Charles Phan and Saison Hospitality’s co-founder and wine director Mark Bright.
I had a wonderful stay with my wife and kids at The Hungry Cyclist Lodge in Auxey-Duresses – it’s a converted 17th-century water mill run by an English guy called Tom Kevill-Davies. It’s set in lovely grounds with orchards, meadows, a pond and a pool. You can cook for yourself or Tom will cook for you. And he hires out bikes as well, which is a great way to explore Burgundy. It’s just next door to Meursault – which is very pretty – and only a 15-minute drive from Beaune.
Beaune itself is nice to walk around, with its pale limestone buildings and cobbled squares. In the centre you’ve got the famous Hospices de Beaune, which dates from the Middle Ages. It’s where the annual Hospices de Beaune wine auction takes place. There’s also the bookshop Athenaeum, which has a huge selection of food and wine titles as well as vinous paraphernalia. And it has a wine shop that showcases interesting new producers – we’ve found several for our business through there. The cellars of Drouhin, which date back to the 13th century, are also worth a visit – they’re wonderfully atmospheric.
I visit Burgundy three or four times a year and I almost always go in June around my birthday – it’s lovely then because the vineyards are all lush and green. Even now, every time I arrive it feels as exciting as Christmas morning.
Noble Rot’s third restaurant will open in London’s Shepherd Market this month