Old, New, Auctioned and Cru

Fashion designer and former top model Inès de la Fressange presides over this year’s Beaune wine auction

Banish the winter blues with a glass of something red recommended by Alex Hewetson

Above the low, grey swirling clouds of November, devotees of Beaujolais Nouveau are scuttling across the English Channel and the Atlantic Ocean, in aircraft of various sizes, giving themselves hernias trying to be the first to land the new red stuff in restaurants and wine bars. It is, let’s face it, very clever marketing: this red juice has been sloshing around, mostly in steel tanks, for around two months. At best, it is light, fruity and jammy; at worst, acidic and metallic – no respectable battery would want it as a power source. However, it is incredibly popular, and no amount of disdain from wine aficionados will make it disappear. In fact, if you want to try a new, very young wine before Christmas, this year’s Cote du Rhone Noveau is considerably better, although I have tried both and remain unimpressed.



The first, in Beaune, is entering its 151st year and takes place at Les Hospices de Beaune, a beautiful edifice built circa 1450, the brainchild of Nicolas Rolin and his wife, who had a great desire to build a hospital for the poor. Every year, hundreds of barrels of wine are auctioned on the third Sunday of November in aid of the hospital. Anyone can apply for a ticket to the auction and bid for something, bearing in mind the outcome is a barrel that gushes out about 300 bottles. In addition to the auction price is VAT plus a fee for bottling and storage. This and a lot of other useful information can be found on the website www.hospices-de-beaune.com

The famous hospice at Beaune, France
The famous hospice at Beaune, France

Beaune is about a five hour drive from Brussels; anyone planning to experience this great event and stay for a night or two should book early and expect to be staying outside the city centre. Even without attending the auction, there are many wine tastings with tasting tents set up in Place Carnot, the main square. My recommendation would be the tasting on Saturday afternoon at the Marché Aux Vins in Rue Nicolas Rolin, just across from the Hospice. Last time I went, in 2009, it was €25 for about eight wines, the last of which was a Savigny Les Beaunes 1964…sublime. Book via the website www.marcheauxvins.com



Some 500 kilometres to the north in Lille, alas on the very same weekend this year, there is the Salon des Vignerons Indépendents in the Grand Palais where around 700 producers of French wine gather to sell their wares. It is a truly remarkable experience and needs careful management if tasters opt to swallow instead of spitting the wine out. Wines can be bought directly from each stall and it is best to bring a little trolley, or buy one on the spot. For the hungry there are wonderful stalls selling sandwiches made from monster slices of bread, or there’s the option of a dozen oysters with a glass of white wine for about €14. This is a tremendous occasion and I have bought some great wines here – it is simply a matter of trying them out at various stalls. But one thing I must stress, if making the journey from Brussels by car, designate a non-taster to drive – the police in Lille are strict.

So whether it is the young fermented juice of the Gamay, the venerable joys of the Hospice, or the cornucopia of Lille, November in the world of wine is anything but grey and dull. A votre santé!