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Storm light in the vineyards

Storm Light, Vineyards, Beaune, FranceStorm Light, Vineyards, Beaune, France, 9th September 2017 19:43
Pentax K-x, 18-125mm lens @ 18mm, 1/320 sec, f/8.0, ISO 400. Panorama created using Lightroom.

Late summer, at the tipping point of autumn. Harvest ahead. Cycling back to Meursault in the early evening. Rain hanging around, spitting, threatening. Grey clouds glowering overhead. As the sun disappears, the clouds relent & turn golden with the dusk; bluegrey & gold, like slate and fire, iron and gold. However the day seemed prior to this, it is a benediction; it is like the threat inherent in those splattered rain drops has passed and been forgotten.

But I was heading back to Meursault. Still in Beaune, not yet in Pommard, & needing to be back before the light faded for the evening. But I couldn’t move on: the light changed from gold to galah pink, the clouds still glowering slate grey above the vineyards.

Sunset, Vineyards, Beaune, FranceSunset, Vineyards, Beaune, France, 9th September 2017 19:59
Pentax K-x, 10-24mm lens @ 10mm, 1/60 sec, f/8.0, ISO 400. Panorama created using Lightroom.

Eventually, I got back to Meursault. Late, I struggled to find a restaurant open. Luckily, the Hôtel du Centre was still open, just. The dinning room was starting to empty. A couple, a businessman polishing off the last of a bottle of wine. I had magret du canard and a glass of red burgundy. My luck was still with me: the duck was beautiful, rich, flavoursome, seared outside and bloodily red inside. The sole mishap, that I was given a glass of Côtes-du-Rhône instead of the requested Santenay, was no mishap in that it was an excuse for two glasses of wine rather than one. What had been a desperate attempt to get something, anything, to eat, was anything but. What was to be a simple meal, an unexpected pleasure. Serendipity! The meal finished with a glass of an armagnac older than me, and a petit café.

Walking back afterwards, the sky was perfectly dark. Sodium lights lit the village, and the edges of vineyards. I walked past a clos, and looked in through wroughtiron gates at the vines, sleeping before the harvest, unworldly under the orange light. Gold to pink to orange.

Vineyard on the edge of Meursault at NightVineyard on the edge of Meursault at Night, 9th September 2017 21:46
iPhone 4s, builtin 4.28mm (~35mm) lens, 1 sec, f/2.4, ISO 800. Shot using Camera+ 9.1.

Revisiting 2010 Burgundy

2010 Bernard Delagrange Volnay 1er cru
2010 Bernard Delagrange Volnay 1er cru

2010 was the first year I visited Burgundy. By coincidence, it was a catastrophically good year across the region — more classical and less rich than 2009, but refined and built for ageing.  I barely knew a grand cru from a premier cru — and, with Burgundy, there is such a lot to learn. I visited Pommard, Volnay, and Meursault for the first time, and took a bus north to see a glimpse of the Côte de Nuits. I walked around Beaune. I tried Burgundian cuisine for the first time. I visited the Hotel de Dieu. Burgundy is such a remarkable place.

I was there during the harvest, and would have seen the grapes being picked. I didn’t actually get to work a harvest till 2011, the way things worked out, but it was a good introduction.

Now, seven years on, a lot has changed. Visiting Burgundy again, too briefly, I feel lucky to be able to sample a 2010 from Volnay. Volnay was a village I didn’t immediately ‘get’. Initially, I far preferred the wines of Pommard, which are richer and more full bodied. Volnay, elegant, light, ethereal, escaped me. Over the years, I’ve drifted from preferring Pommard to preferring Volnay. Seven years. A lot has changed.

This particular Volnay — Bernard Delagrange’s 2010 Volnay 1er cru, presumably a blend of premier cru vineyards, is a perfect example. At seven year’s of age, it still seems very young. It’s fresh, and lively, and full of primary fruit. It hasn’t yet developed any aged characters. It has plenty of cherry, with a touch of pomegranate and perhaps cassis, with lots of sweet spice, and is elegant and light. I love the way the light refracts through it — still supple cherry red, translucent.  Elegant. It’ll keep a good few years more. It’s a vintage — and a region — I hope to keep returning to.

Tasting note

Colour: light cherry
Nose: cherry, pomegranate, cassis. Dark chocolate. Sweet spice. Old oak, vanilla.
Palate: still seems v.young. Lots of red fruit — cherry, raspberry, pomegranate. Perhaps a touch of cassis. Sweet spice. Fine grained, slightly drying tannins. Moderate, berry-like acidity. Smooth, subtle/supple and medium bodied, elegant. Not the most complex Volnay, but very pleasant and typical of the village nonetheless. Very nice. 13% alcohol.

Departing to arrive

Train, Milan to Lyon, 25th August 2017

A train through (and under) the mountains. Brief glimpses of alpine streams, cold and fast flowing. A person walking through a small village. What is the connection that you could possibly have with them in this brief moment — if any?

Later, glimpses of limestone cliffs amongst oak trees. Vegetation so luxuriant it’s almost tropical. Lakes and steep drop-offs to gullies.

I am still unsure what any of this means.

(Vinous) Complexity and Paradox in Burgundy

Pommard from the vineyards, 27th September 2013 Pommard from the vineyards, 27th September 2013
Pentax K-x, 18-125 mm lens @ 73 mm, 1/125 sec, f/8.0, ISO 200.

Some places you can’t forget. They bury themselves deep within you, and refuse to leave. Everything else is seen in relation to them – for better, or worse. I grew up in London, and the brilliant blue of a clear winter’s day, or the oppressively leaden sky of a dismal summer day, is always with me.

One such place, for me, has been Burgundy. For one reason or another, I have always visited in late August or early September. Arriving by train, from London via Paris, you first notice how Burgundy still clings to summer, even as London sidles towards the grey drizzle of winter. Changing trains in Dijon, the local train to Beaune – historically, the wine producing capital of the region, where the major wineries had their bases – local stations and vineyards flash by, as well as woodland and cornfields.

Once in Beaune, it’s hard to know what to do. Most of the famous wineries require appointments, or are outside Beaune itself, in the smaller villages, in the cellars of medieval houses, or in concrete warehouses on the edge of the vineyards. Still, as Mike Steinberger said, “there may be different paths to wine geekdom, but they ultimately all converge in the same place—Place Carnot” – so you may as well head straight there. Place Carnot is, more or less, the main square of Beaune: its heart, and its centre. If nothing else, there are bistros and restaurants, and beautiful cakes at Dix Carnot.

This little square surrounds a small park; the tall buildings seem quintessentially French. Just a street off to one side is the Hospice de Beaune, often also called the Hôtel Dieu, with its elaborately decorated roofs made from coloured tiles. Once I’m sat outside Dix Carnot with some improbably elaborate cake, I know I’ve arrived. I can plan: what wineries to visit? Hire a car? A bike? (Yes, many of the villages south of Beaune are within comfortable cycling distance; to branch out further afield and see forests and monasteries, or even just the villages north of Beaune, a car is essential).

Frankly, Burgundy is a maze, and it will take you time to get your bearings. Take the time. Visit again. You will. I feel I am, slowly. For whatever reason, I have only visited in late summer or early autumn. I would love to see the Côte d’Or blanketed under drifts of snow, or with the first buds of spring just breaking. It is a tapestry of ancient villages and tiny vineyards, each with its own subtly different aspect on the hillside, its own soil, its own climate. Vineyards just next to each other can produce profoundly different wines.

The whole region itself teeters on the edge of several climatic zones: it is part continental, part oceanic, with warm weather sometimes coming up from Provence in the south, and cold from Germany or Switzerland in the north. Even the buildings, and the towns, can start to look Provençal at times, at others, they seem northern. Burgundy is a paradox, but a delightfully vinous one.

Cycling south out of Beaune, there are small roads that wind through the vineyards towards the village of Pommard. These roads are shared only with vineyard traffic, they are ideal for cycling. You cycle past stone-wall circled vineyards, the roadside edged with wildflowers. The track meanders on towards Volnay, then Meursault, and onwards towards Chassagne-Montrachet. I have never made it further south than Meursault, so far.

If you know something about French wines, these are names to conjure with. Pommard is known for robust, tannic Pinot Noir, its neighbour Volnay conversely for ethereal, light, perfumed Pinot. Meursault is known for its Chardonnay. Even without an appointment there are small wineries with cellar doors you can visit. Most will have wines from a range of villages, and it is instructive to taste a couple. Even where winemaking techniques are the same, the flavours and aromas differ dramatically between villages.

A place like Burgundy leaves you with many impressions, as you encounter different faces at different times. Looking back through my notes, I encounter everything from pages and pages of detail on viticultural techniques, to gripes about the weather, plans that have gone wrong, or meals that were more than memorable. Like, being forced into a small restaurant on the edge of Pommard for an unplanned lunch by unexpected rain: an inconvenience at the time, particularly since I was counting my pennies, but the sort of thing I would normally dream of. Or a meal at a small restaurant just outside the city centre of Beaune, with a shared, long table, where I ended up in deep discussion with several other diners, and did not stumble out the door until eleven pm. There were people from Japan, from Brazil, from Switzerland, from Holland, from America – and me, from Australia, via Britain. The Brazilians thought that the Europeans worked too hard, and didn’t live enough – something the Europeans objected to.

The conversation spilled out onto the street outside, and, in my head at least, followed me home. What does it say when you meet people you feel you’ve known all your life, but know you won’t meet them again? Such is travel, I guess.

The next morning, Beaune was as quiet as ever. That morning, I drove to Château-Chalon, leaving Burgundy behind for the foothills of the Alps. But, as always, I knew I’d be back.


Clos de Lambray, Morey-Saint-Denis, Côte de Nuits, 27th September 2013Clos de Lambray, Morey-Saint-Denis, Côte de Nuits, 27th September 2013
Pentax K-x, 18-125 mm lens @ 40 mm, 1/100 sec, f/8.0, ISO 100.


This is a longer form of an essay I wrote for a travel writing competition (which I didn’t win!), organised by travel insurance company World Nomads. The version submitted can be seen here.

Andouillette in Australia?

Andouillette isn’t really known in Australia. It’s a coarse-grained sausage made from tripe (particularly the small intestines, generally of pork, though veal used to be used prior to the BSE crisis); most sources at least comment on its strong odour. Tripe isn’t popular in Australia to begin with, any unusual or repellent aromas guarantee that it won’t make friends.

I first tasted in in Troyes — one of its spiritual homelands, the Andouillette de Troyes being particularly noted and admired by devotees. I had a plan to work in a small domaine on the Côtes de Bars, in the very south of Champagne. It didn’t work out, for various reasons, but we had a meal at Aux Crieurs de Vin. I had no idea what it was, but I loved the rich, gamey, porky flavour, and the soft, gorgeous, coarse-cut texture.

I encountered it again in a small café on Place Carnot, Beaune, whilst working for a mid-sized negociant there. This time I knew what it was, and a bit about its reputation. I have to admit, if it has a disagreeable aroma, I’ve not noticed — but then, I’ve never encountered it raw. And I’ve heard of people being so horrified by the smell, that they refuse to sit in the same room as someone else eating it. Honestly, I’m not sure why. Maybe they have particularly ultra-sensitive smell?

But all this adds up to a sausage unlikely to be found in Australia. I looked on the internet after coming back to Queensland from Beaune. A passing mention on a market trader’s website suggested I could get hold of it at one of the Brisbane markets … but they’d stopped making it years ago, due to lack of demand. Every now and then, I’d look again and find nothing.

Just last year, though, I had some more luck. Two restaurants in Melbourne seemed to have it, including France-Soir in South Yarra, and Paris Go in Carlton, albeit both as entrées, not as plats principaux. Presumably a butcher somewhere there was making andouillette for both places. But I’m not in Melbourne, and don’t often get there. Close, but still 1730 km too far!

Further searching found a place in Brisbane that specialised in Louisiana style cooking. Andouillette at some point made the long voyage to Louisiana, and became andouille, a smoked, spicey tripe sausage popular in Cajun dishes such a Gumbo. (Andouillette just means ‘little andouille‘, so the name change is completely explicable). French Andouillette it ain’t, but it’s a close relative, at least.

On a rare trip into Brisbane, I finally got to Creole Soul Kitchen on Boundary Street, Spring Hill. I wanted to try a dish which featured andouille, and I was also keen to try the Cajun style Po’ Boy sandwiches I’d heard of, but never previously eaten. Luckily I found I could order an andouille Po’ Boy with a side of gumbo. I ordered a beer, too, and waited for my meal.

It wasn’t an ideal day. November in Queensland is already hot and muggy, and with the full brunt of the wet season ahead, you know it can only get worse. As I waited, the results of the US presidential election were just trickling through, and a Trump presidency was rapidly shifting from being an absurd improbability to a terrifying inevitability. We live in interesting times indeed.

Creole Soul Kitchen, Spring Hill, Brisbane, Qld, AustraliaCreole Soul Kitchen, Boundary Road, Spring Hill, Brisbane.
iPhone 4s, builtin 4.28mm (~35mm) lens, 1/250 sec, f/2.4, ISO 50.

As predicted, andouille wasn’t quite like andouillette. This is no criticism, really, they’re different sausages, from different cuisines. It had some of the meaty, earthiness of the French andouillette, but seemed more domesticated, less sauvage. Still incredibly tasty though: worth the trip. The Po’  Boy itself I was a little disappointed with, being a touch on the bland side, but the Gumbo was beautiful: rich, earthy, spicy. Next time I might just have that. Or I might try one of the other Po’ Boys, too, but with a full serving of Gumbo. The beer, Blue Moon, brewed with coriander and oats, was beautiful, and perfect on a hot day. Billed as an imported beer, the bottle suggested it was in fact brewed ‘under licence’ in Australia. Not exactly a craft beer, but good nonetheless.

Lunch gradually dawdled to a conclusion, and I paid the bill, and left. I walked back towards Roma Street station. It was still hot and muggy, but at least I had been fortified with good food.

I’m still waiting till my next chance to try andouillette again, however …