Bourgogne, WSET

Travels in a glass

Wine tasting and WSET in pretty Pommard

I sometimes wonder if what I love most about wine is not the wine itself but the dreams it inspires, the journeys it can take you on. Such as travelling to foreign lands, hearing foreign voices, reading foreign signs. On a recent trip to Pommard I drove 2.5 hours to travel the world – in a glass. Make that several glasses…60 in fact. And after all that, I can’t even tell you very much about Pommard wines.

I can, however, tell you a little bit about a Semillon from the Hunter Valley, or a Pinot Noir from Walker Bay, a Tokaj Aszu from Hungary, a Soave Classico from Italy, an Albarino from Riax Baixas in Spain…Because I was in Pommard to undertake the mammoth WSET 3 wine course, a hefty expedition through time and across umpteen countries to get a better understanding of wines of the world.

It was certainly a rich experience, not just the 60 wines and hours of theory, but precious moments such as when the communal spittoon overflowed and spat-out wine seeped stealthily across the classroom floor; the unveiling of a wine turned orange that tasted of vinegar; the noise of the tractors outside reminding us where we really were: on a living, breathing winery, in Pommard….

Let’s talk about Pommard. Sitting between Beaune and Volnay in the Côte de Beaune wine region, this somewhat prestigious tiny village has but a handful of houses and oceans of vines. Some 341 hectares of grapes surround the town, with 84 different appellations that include 28 Premier Crus. It is, in short, classy stuff.

Like most of Burgundy, the vast majority of the grape varieties you’ll find here are Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, yet to be labelled a Pommard only Pinot Noir is allowed. So, you’ll happily find some chardonnays (and pinots) labelled under other appellations such as Cote de Beaune or Bourgogne if they don’t meet all the criteria required to be called a Pommard.

Also typical of many Burgundy wine villages, Pommard is a complex patchwork of ‘parcelles’ and ‘lieu dits’, or plots of land owned by one or a number of wineries and divided up based on a number of factors that include the soil and climate specificities, and probably some historical factors thrown in there too.

Where I stayed, in the dead centre of Pommard, was actually a wine domain, though the vines were elsewhere. I can’t tell you whereas the owners were on holiday. In prime tourist season this felt surprising, as did the fact that every one of the not many restaurants were also shut for the holidays, even the local bakery. The reason, we were told, is that tourist season is all year round in Pommard, it’s never quiet, so the locals may as well pop off for a break when the weather is good.

And as for Pommard wine, well, I did get a sneaky taste of some of those from Chateau Pommard where the course was held, an impressive castle now owned by an American and currently being renovated into a five-star hotel.

Their marketing is slick, their wine tourism offering is impressive, if ‘international’ and impersonal, and I have no idea what type of tasting we undertook but each wine tasted seemed to represent one of the seven distinct ‘terroirs’ that make up their domain. We tasted examples of two wines made using the same grape variety and vinification methods but both from a different terroir. The difference in taste was rather extraordinary, providing a stunning example of the contribution the soil and exposure can really make.

The wines were good, expensive as you’d expect, complex as they should be for the price, and definitely not for quaffing. In saying that, I didn’t fall in love with any, but I did have a very pleasant experience with the Volnay (2017) from Domaine Cyrot-Buthiau, the winery I stayed on (a gift they left in the room). Smooth and round, this pinot noir speaks of soft cherries and subtle spices, an earthy tone but largely fruity, mouth-filling but not heavy. A nice gift!

As for the room, it was a well-equipped studio with lots of old worldly charm, in what felt like a centuries-old building and right in the centre of town. It was just a shame the owners weren’t around.

Where I stayed:

2 Ruelle Richebourg, 21630 Pommard, Côte d’Or, France. Around EUR125 per night.

A thing to do

Visit wineries! There are a heap within walking distance. One that was particularly recommended by fellow classmates was Maison Balthazard based at the hotel Le Colombier. Chateau de Pommard is also worth a visit, if the budget allows.