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Exploring Burgundy, France

Place Carnot, Beaune's main square.

Photo: Andrea Fazzari

At the top, we turn around. On a clear day, Mont Blanc is visible. We stand and contemplate the viticultural history before us, land that has looked the same for 500 years. Unlike America, where we grow up knowing that we can literally alter the world we see, much of Europe doesn’t change in one lifespan, or even 10. It’s a calming concept, removing as it does the need to accomplish anything more than preservation.

Other producers who own bits of Les Petits Monts—Forey and Mongeard-Mugneret and more—make wines that are appealing but not exceptional. But a bottle of Romanée-Conti—a single bottle!—is valued at as much as $5,000. The Drouhin Les Petits Monts costs $200 (though prices are rising), and in a superior vintage such as 1999 or 2005 it contains more than a hint of the same magic, that unquantifiable combination of essences that makes the best Burgundy so exquisite. Below us, we see cars stop and camera-carrying wine pilgrims race to Richebourg or Romanée-Conti or La Tâche. Véronique and I look at each other as coconspirators, comforted somehow that we know something they don’t.

My last night in Burgundy, I meet the Boss family at Le Jardin des Remparts, Beaune’s most ambitious restaurant. It’s set in an old house with walls the color of olive oil. Véronique and her husband, Michel, and their bright-eyed daughters, Laurène and Louise, are seated around a table when I arrive. (Arthur, a teenager, is home with friends making plans to start a rock band.) With imaginative amuses-bouches—escargot puffs and mustard ice cream and candied melon with caramel—and a first course of oysters atop beef tartare, I drink Drouhin Montrachet 2000. It’s lovely, but I’m primed for the main event: the 2002 Les Petits Monts, which I’ve had just once before.

When it comes, it is the color of a drop of water on the skin of a wild cherry. Les Petits Monts is typically a shy wine, and this 2002 spends several minutes in our glasses all rolled up in a ball. “In an ideal world, if I’m going to live for a very long time,” Michel says, “I’d start to drink this in 30 years.” As I make my way through my entrée of suckling pig with blood sausage and quince sauce, the wine begins to unwind. It moves slowly, like it may take those 30 years to get fully unencumbered. And then, at once, its splendor shines through like a beam of light, and with a sip I know exactly why I have come.

There is no wine as pleasurable as Burgundy when it is great. Weightless in your mouth, intoxicatingly aromatic, when it turns on its charm you can’t suppress a smile. And when you’ve been hiking the rows of the vineyard that afternoon with the winemaker herself, and you can feel the presence of both the place and the person in the wine, well, it’s an extraordinary moment. It makes me fall in love with Burgundy all over again.

Later that night, I walk through the center of town to my hotel. It’s only a few blocks, but I take a circuitous route that puts me on the edge of Place Carnot, the main square. It’s past midnight, and the town is quiet, and the square looks as beautiful as ever in the light of a half-moon. But those buildings, so unreal and stylized to me before, now strike me as warm and inviting. It seems remarkable that a few glasses of wine should have done this, but such is the power that place exerts on wine and that wine exerts on place. I clatter over the cobblestones, past the shuttered cheese shop and the charcuterie, keenly aware of a sensation very much like feeling at home.

Bruce Schoenfeld is Travel + Leisure’s wine and spirits editor.

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