By: MAURICE LEE
Maurice Lee has lived in the Algarve for five years but has been visiting for 20 years. He is a retired Cellar Master and is part of a local wine society. He is often invited to be a guest speaker to discuss wines and regularly holds tastings.
ONCE UPON a time in 1443, a hospital was built in Burgundy, France. It became famous all over the world, especially to wine lovers, and is called the Hospices de Beaune.
The building was financed by Nicolas Rolin who was King Louis XI’s tax collector. The king once said of him. “He has ruined the people with his taxes, so it is only fitting that he should provide them with an alms house”. Instead he provided them with a charity hospital.
The original building is now a museum and a new hospice was built for the people of Beaune. They still have the same benefits. If you were born in Beaune, you are entitled to free medical care as an outpatient. You are also entitled to free drugs, medication, hospitalisation and surgery, and there is no waiting list. This is not a fairy tale. This is a true story.
It is now over 560 years since the first hospital was built and instead of deteriorating, the system improves every year. This is made possible by the generosity of its patrons. When a Burgundian vineyard owner dies he/she bequeaths some of his vineyard(s) to the Hospices. The wines produced from these vineyards are auctioned every year on the third Sunday in November.
The occasion is known as the ‘Glorious Three Days’, the weekend during which the auction takes place. The whole town of Beaune celebrates as church bells ring, and crowds sing and dance in the streets. For a few euros, they can visit the cellars and sample the new vintage. It sounds more like ‘The Lost Weekend’.
The Confrérie des Chevaliers du Tastevin (Brotherhood of the Knights of the Wine-taster’s Cup) hold several banquets every year to promote their wines. The most jovial one is the banquet held the night before the auction. On this night, the Brotherhood meet to welcome new members. There is always a good party atmosphere as they all listen to the musicians, sing Burgundy’s praises and sample the new wine, although not necessarily in that order. Somehow they always manage to be in a fit state the next day to attend the auction.
On the Sunday, merchants from France, England, America and other countries arrive and bid for the wine. The auction is conducted in traditional fashion by lighting two candles and when the second candle burns out, the bidding stops. The entire proceeds are given to the Hospices.
So what are the wines from Beaune like? They are excellent wines but do not come cheap. The Cotê-d’Or (golden slopes) comprises of Cotê de Beaune and Cotê de Nuits. Many Burgundy drinkers say Cotê de Nuits produce the best wines but, of course, the jury is still out trying to agree on that, and I guess they always will be.
Some of the most famous wines from Beaune are Aloxe-Corton, Pommard, Volnay, Meursault, Puligny-Montrachet and Chassagne Montracet.
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