The picturesque French town of Beaune is located in the center of Burgundy, surrounded by villages bearing world famous names prized by wine lovers such as Volnay, Pommard, Puligny-Montrachet and Vosne-Romanee. These fabled names also adorn the labels of the wines that line the numerous shops, tasting rooms and wine bars occupying Beaune’s tiny streets.
Burgundy is one of France’s most highly touted wine regions, full of collectable wines from ancient estates. Centrally located Beaune is the perfect place to immerse yourself in an exploration of these legendary wines, which are predominantly made with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, along with a smattering other grapes such as Gamay (in Beaujolais) and Aligoté.
Housed in a former Franciscan church that still uses some of the original cellars, Marche Aux Vins (2 Rue Nicolas Roulin, website) is the perfect place to get an introduction to the area’s famed wine producing villages. The self-guided tour takes you through dark, atmospheric cellars and up into the former church. At the start, you’re handed a small metal “tastevin,” a shallow silver tasting cup with which you can taste 15 wines at stops during the tour, each from a famous village or AOC such as Meursault, Santernay, Savigny-Les-Beaune, Mercurey, Chassagne-Montrachet, Vosne-Romanee and Chambolle-Musigny. The tastings also include selections from the extensive vineyards of the Hospices de Beaune, housed across the street at the Hotel Dieu. Best of all, the wines are available for purchase and they will ship them to the U.S. for a little above retail price (taxes and home delivery included, one case minimum, not available to PA, MD, MA, AK, UT).
Marche Aux Vins is open daily 9:30am – 5:30pm (July & August), 9am- 11:30pm & 2pm – 5:30pm (September – June). Admission, including wine tasting, is €10. No reservations required except for large groups.
The Hotel Dieu (2 Rue de l’Hotel Dieu, website) is a stunning building, most famous for its elaborate tiled roofs. It housed the original Hospices de Beaune, a hospital for the indigent, from 1452 until recently when it was converted to the present-day museum.
Today, you can walk through the former hospital and marvel at the sensitivity and attention afforded patients who often possessed little more than the clothes on their backs. Cared for by an order of nuns, the patients lived in large halls that still afforded them privacy and dignity.
Walk through open courtyard to view the beautiful roofs, then visit the Hall of the Poor and the restored kitchen. At the end of the tour, the splendid Polyptych of The Last Judgment, by the Flemish painter Rogier Van Der Weyden is on display.
Every November on the third Sunday, the Hospices de Beaune holds a wine auction of wines grown on vineyards it owns in prestigious appellations, the result of donations from grateful families throughout the previous six centuries.
Hotel Dieu is open daily from March 20 – Nov 21 from 9am – 6:30pm; Nov 22 – March 19 from 9 – 11:30am and 2 – 5:30pm. Admission is €6.50 for adults, Students €4.80, Kids 10 – 18 €2.80, Under 10 free.
The Musee du Vin de Bourgogne (Museum of Wine, Rue d’Enfer) is housed in the historic former palace of the Dukes of Burgundy and focuses on the history of winemaking from ancient times up to the present day. The comprehensive museum exhibits cover everything from the region’s terroir and grapes to the history of selling Burgundy wine. The large fermenting room, which dates to the 14th Century, contains a number of grape presses from the 16th to 19th centuries.
Open from 9:30pm – 5pm (Until 6pm April – November), closed Tuesdays in winter, 12/25 and 1/1. Admission is €5.50 for adults, €3.50 for students.
Exploring the Region’s Wines
Throughout the city, there are numerous places to taste Burgundy’s famous wines, including in several wine stores. Domaine des Vins is a large shop at 16 – 18 Place de la Halle with a number of wines available by the glass starting at €6. Denis Perret (Place Carnot, website), formerly a grocery, is now run by five owners who have compiled a comprehensive list of Burgundian producers, including local houses such as Bouchard Pere et Fils, Louis Jadot and Joseph Drouhin. Another option is the Magnum Bar a Vin (15 Rue Monge, website) on a bustling pedestrian street. You can try a glass of local wine while sitting outside on the busy pedestrian street or buy a bottle from the shop inside.
Cellars are open to the public throughout the town, often in historic or ancient quarters. Bouchard Aine & Fils, located in the 18th Century Hotel du Conseiller du Roy, offers a tour of its cellars and tastings for €9.50 (tours 10:30, 11:30, 2:30, 4, 5:30pm – reserve online). Maison Bouchard Pere et Fils (15 rue du Chateau) occupies a fortress dating back to the 15th Century, which it has called home since 1820. You can visit the cellar Monday – Friday at 10am or by appointment. A shop on site is open Monday – Saturday (closed mid-day).
The Caves du Couvent des Cordeliers is located next to the Hotel Dieu (6 rue de l’Hotel-Dieu) in the cellars of a former cloister. Tasting of five wines is free with purchase of at tasting glass €7. Open daily March – December, closed Wednesday and Thursday January – March, mid-days year round.
Another regional specialty is Crème de Cassis, a liqueur made from blackcurrants, which can be bought around town. One shop to buy authentic cassis is Vedrenne (Rue Carnot, website),which has been making a range of products in the nearby town of Nuits-Saint-Georges since 1923.