26 May, 2010

Burgundy break.

There's nothing finer than a little rest and relaxation with some good friends. Top down, radio tuned to something Cuban-ish, I've just breezed in from a long weekend due north of Beaune, the endlessly charming little capital of Burgundy wine, smack dab in the pastoral Côte d’Or. In the time we had together, there was a lot of talking going on. Some low-speed swaying in a hammock. Even a moment of badminton, in the thinnest summer blouse hauled out of the back of the closet. But mostly, I was eating (with lunch winding down at 4.30 pm et cetera). There may have been some drinking of wine going on. In my own garden I always putter. Nod if you know what I mean. I can't help myself; there's always something. But in someone else's finely-manicured, sun-soaked garden, well, strain was not the order of the day.We didn't solve all the world's problems, but we did catch up on all the news closer to home. We swapped recipes. And visiting them reminded me of how much there is to do in Burgundy. Yes, there is wine. If you go, definitely treat yourself to the 60 kilometer long Route des Grands Crus, which wanders in and out of about forty of the most renowned wine villages of the fabled region--Puligny-Montrachet, Pommard, Volnay, Meursault, Nuits-Saint-Georges, and so on, from Dijon to Santenay. Beyond the tipple, Dijon and Beaune themselves are well worth visiting (outside of the high season!) And there is the twelfth century Cistercian Abbey de Fontenay, which I still haven't managed to visit though I really do want to see it, and its gardens. There are also heaps of gorgeous chateaux well worth a wander. I didn't do any of that, didn't actually do anything really touristic, although I did manage a visit to the rather sedate city of Gray (pictures to be posted next time, I think). I did have time to think about Burgundy and its exquisite pleasures--both the ephemeral and the ageless ones--as the weather kindly allowed for extensive lingering over glasses. One late night, after cheeses and Burgundy reds, I tried eau-de-vie de gentiane. This? Not for the faint-hearted. The roots of the flowering yellow gentian are laboriously ripped from the earth, cleaned and finely sliced; it takes 16 kilos of roots and rhizomes to make a single liter of eau-de-vie. These plant bits are fermented in oak barrels, and the resulting clear, powerfully scented liquid weighs in at about 55% alcohol, and can easily run to 75 euros per 3/4 liter bottle. Your head spins once you get a decent whiff of the radically earthy, pungent drink, considered a healthful after-dinner digestif. Take the smallest of sips the very first time. Give your head and senses time to adjust. You'll either be wildly for it or against it. No fence-sitting here. I've no photo, because I forgot to take one, but even if I had you'd be no more the wiser, as I drank an artisanal (read: illegally home-distilled) one--high-quality, with no added sugar--but no label either. If only blogs had a scratch and sniff application, then perhaps you'd have an idea. But yellow gentian is also in the French apéritif Suze, so if you've ever tasted that, you've a notion of what I was imbibing. (Yellow gentian's also one of the 56 herbs found in Jägermeister, but comparisons to that 70 proof, heavy metal hangover-in-a-bottle are probably neither alluring nor accurate...I mean, yikes.)


  1. In Aveyron, where my parents and my sister live (we are originally from the department of "la Nievre", they have special machines to pull the gentiane roots out of the ground. How I would love to be in France right now!

  2. Your photos are to die for. Must go find Suze. They have a drink called the "Florida" on their website. A sign from the universe? Must be.

  3. Hello Nadege, oh, I'm pretty sure you'd have been quite happy where I was: air filled to the brim with birdsong, baby foxes playing just a couple hundred meters away, the breeze sweet with the smell of freshly cut alfafa and roses...and of course, later, the eau-de-vie de gentiane on everyone's breath.

    Hi Rose, do tell me what you think of the Suze if you get your hands on some. One of those drinks you see beret-wearing guys dinking in the afternoon at the cafe, right up there with pastis. There are loads of ways to drink, so let me know and I'll give you some tips. In the meantime, a retro graphic to make you smile: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/18/Expo_1931_Suze.jpg

  4. Tammy, I look often at the photos from Olivier who live in the department of la Cote d'or (I think)
    It reminds me of home (Nievre). I love California but not LA anymore. Big cities are not for me and I miss the countryside so much.
    We rented a "gite" from old Monsier Salery (who must be dead by now) near Sumene years ago (between Sumene and St Hippolyte du fort). You live in a beautiful spot. You must miss the big city life from time to time, but count your blessing.

  5. Sorry for the typos : he lives and Monsieur

  6. Hello Nadege,
    So pleased to bring you a taste of the countryside in your home country, which I am certainly very much enjoying, especially in this gorgeous season!


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