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OK, so you FINALLY made it over to France. Perhaps you’re visiting Paris or are in the South of France somewhere on a beach. You’ve heard folks talking about French Burgundy and Bordeaux and all about the fancy villages and chateaus. But you don’t speak French, are a bit intimidated by all the fanfare, and generally just are not ready to mosey on up to a fancy place to taste some French wine. Well, not to worry! There is an option for regular folk to get their feet wet.

We were on vacation in France and started out north in Paris, traveled south to Burgundy for a couple of days, and then ended up on the southern coast in Nice. Roughing it for sure. After a few awesome days in Paris, we took the train and headed south to the city of Dijon. I absolutely loved it there! And yes, this is the town for which the mustard is named. Now go get some Dijon mustard and embrace your inner Frenchman. Dijon is quaint, easy to walk around, and is known for its gastronomy (yeah, good gourmet food here). Beautiful old buildings and stunning landscaping was everywhere you looked. There was also some nice shopping and I bought myself a couple of art prints and some Christmas ornaments to take home.

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Being in the heart of Burgundy (or Bourgogne in French) I knew I had to taste some wine SOMEWHERE. I mean this is where my beloved Pinot Noir was born! This wasn’t really a wine trip, but there was no way I was going home without doing some wine tasting in Burgundy. We wanted to be totally independent and were relying on public transportation, so after a bit of research I found out about Marché Aux Vins, which translates to Wine Market. As luck had it, there was a train that would take us from Dijon to Beaune where Marché Aux Vins was located. The train runs back and forth several times a day. As luck would have it again, the day we actually decided to go, the workers were striking so no trains were going anywhere. After a slight meltdown (OK I was pissed off) I looked at my handy guide book and came up with Plan B. No need coming this far and throwing in the towel. In my lovely book, there was information about a bus that would also take you from Dijon to Beaune. A bus! So off we went and got ourselves some bus tickets to head to Beaune. We were just crossing our fingers that the bus went where they told us and we didn’t get completely lost. And truth be told, taking the bus actually ended up being a blessing in disguise. The bus route went through Burgundy wine country through such villages as Gevrey-Chambertin, Nuits-Saint-Georges, and Vosne-Romanée to name a few. Talk about the holy grail! It really ended up being a lovely ride and took a little over an hour.

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After getting off the bus, it was easy to see that Beaune was quite small and that it would really be difficult to get lost. We had no problem finding Marché Aux Vins. Marché Aux Vins is a wine store (and part art gallery) that was formerly an old church. I must admit it didn’t look like much from the outside.

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But once we stepped inside it was quite impressive.

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For a few euros, we were given a tastevin and told we could go on down to the caves by ourselves to taste the wines.

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For a bit of reference, the tastevin was developed by cellarmasters in Burgundy to sample wine while down in the cellar. It’s often worn around the neck and was traditionally made of solid silver or was silver-plated. The cup itself has a raised design so that the cellarmaster could see the appearance and color of the wine with whatever light was reflected off the candlelight in the dimly lit cellar. So it seems that the folks at Marché Aux Vins are simply trying to keep with tradition.

Tastevins in hand, we went on down to the caves and found we had the place to ourselves. The caves were sort of a maze and you just went from station to station tasting the various wines. I think we had about seven or eight wines all told. You just walked up to a barrel with wine on it, poured wine in your tastevin, and tasted the wine. Simple as that. There were some written notes that gave information about the wines and the building itself. There really was no limit on the amount of wine you served yourself, so if you liked something you could certainly re-taste it. And some of the wines were quite good to this American girl’s palate. Now these were not Premier Cru wines that cost hundreds of dollars by the bottle, but wines that provided a simple introduction to Burgundy. While we obviously enjoyed tasting the wine, we absolutely loved the dark, damp cave with its earthy smells. It was quite a setting being surrounded by the cave walls with dimly lit stacks of barrels and wine bottles. A wonderful experience indeed.

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After you’re done walking the caves and tasting the wines, you can pop back upstairs to purchase any that you liked and want to take home. We ended up buying a few bottles and I’m happy to say that they all made it through Customs and home in tact. Now people complain that this place is too touristy or that the wines are not high quality. This just drives me crazy! I’m a tourist! I’m there to see the things that tourists come there to see. And did you really expect the best that Burgundy has to offer for a few euros?! Just go see it! It’s a fun experience. It’s self-guided, unpretentious, and you don’t have to worry about not doing something right while tasting your wine. I would certainly do it again.

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