Elusive Travel in France
Would you try a sip?
The vintage is 1472. It's the oldest white wine in a barrel in the world. We are in the cellars of the Hospice d’Strasbourg and I was curious, hoping we would be offered a rare opportunity. The gates had been unlocked, and the plug had been pulled from the top of the barrel…
Over the past month, I have visited the Northern Rhone, Lyon, Burgundy, Alsace, Nancy, Champagne, and Paris. It was a whirlwind of catching up on the latest with old friends, sharing older vintages with new friends, and days packed with my research (as well as my colleague’s suggestions!) taking me to new places.
In the Northern Rhône, I had the chance to visit two producers in Cote Rotie and Condrieu with one of our most innovative guides. Partially due to the small size of the appellations, these northern Rhone regions are often underappreciated in the North American market due to lack of presence of the wines in our stores. As a first-time visitor, the quality and presence of the wine was an outstanding introduction to both red and whites I have clearly been missing out on.
In Lyon I found a city that is easily approachable despite being the third biggest city in France. The downtown is compact, walkable, and full of treasures. Although well known for its gastronomy, Roman history, and confluence of rivers, there is so much more to explore in this amiable city. Some highlights included;
- Les Halles de Lyon markets, which were the highest quality I have seen in France.
- the Musée des Confluences with a wonderfully relevant exhibit on the history of poison.
- the marvelous Villa Florentine with commanding views over the city.
In Burgundy, I had the chance to undertake some serious wine tastings. First off, the Cote de Beaune started in Corton, then Chassagne-Montrachet. Our long-time local guide took me to a tiny bistro where local winemakers take their afternoon meal with old friends.
The following day we explored the Cote de Nuits and we had one of the most exclusive selections of Grand Cru wines at Marchand Tawse. Although I repeatedly read how independent travelers find the region to be difficult to navigate when you travel with our local guides, you are welcomed with such genuine hospitality it's hard not to find the region endearing. For me, Burgundy continues to be the epitome of wine!
In Alsace, there was the opportunity to visit landmark restaurants, admire what is one of the most outstanding cathedrals, and be invited backstage to appreciate the restoration work in the atelier. We were shown how the stonework is constantly being repaired and restored and also told of some secret passageways and platforms within the building's walls.
In Nancy, there was the exploration of Place Stanislas, recognized as one of the most beautiful squares in the world. And when you have special keys that unlock gates opening to a staircase that ends with a private view from the best vantage point, it is spectacular. From there we headed off to discover the intricacies of Art Nouveau which is sprinkled throughout the city.
In Champagne, it was time to visit some of the most famous houses. Champagne Taittinger is one of the select few whose Champagne cellars, in recent years, have been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Inside are extensive caves of chalk that house millions of bottles of bubbly and the chance to taste some wonderful vintage champagnes.
To me, all of this holds one key part to the essence of why we undertake travel – there are always gems when we venture outside of our daily realm. Things will be different, and that can be difficult. Time and energy will be spent on the move and if it is always spent searching, too often we look past what might be a great experience if we weren’t so focused on finding something elusive, or too tired to engage in what is right in front of us.
And when you find yourself in that spot, wondering how you got to the point of being offered wine from 1472, it’s up to you and how comfortable you are to try something new, even though that new experience might be five hundred and forty-six years old…
– Colin Simpson, Director