Good Tastes, Great Sips, in Burgundy

Pernand Vergelesses, France – It’s the dream of any wine-loving traveler to rest à table in a famed wine village, overlooking the mythic vineyards in their peak of health, sipping that wine.

And if that’s your dream, then the pleasant little family restaurant, La Charlemagne in the Burgundian village of Pernand Vergelesses, is for you. Here, the youthful Burgundian chef-owner, Laurent Peugeot, and his Japanese wife Hiroko, have created a cheery modern oasis, offering well-priced, clean and modern fare, with a selection of local wines that will more than satisfy one’s cravings.

We sampled the bargain 22 € menu, that included a sparkling fresh, delightfully creative starter of cubed herring and cubed avocado, set in a small glass and tossed with a brilliant red beet mousse. The colors were as alive as the flavors, a fine play of textures, of salty and sweet. A main course “millefeuille” of salmon was in fact very lightly smoked strips of salmon filled with a soothing, warm creation of ultra-thinly sliced leeks that had been cooked long and slow to a melting tenderness.

The bread was truly crusty and delicious, and the giant crock of local Fromage fort – a fiery, spicy, devilish mixture of fresh cheese, black pepper and white wine – made the palate tingle. Here I discovered winemaker Philippe Delarche’s stunning 2002 white Burgundy, Pernand-Vergelesses, deliciously priced at 31 euros. (A visit to the winemaker’s cellar later in the day found that the 2002 had all been sold, so if you want some, you’ll have to hunt.) The wine was textbook perfect, pure chardonnay, a brilliant balance of fruit, acid, and alcohol, aromatic and soulfully satisfying.

Sushi lovers will be happy to know that the couple has installed a Japanese chef in a brand new sushi bar in Beaune (Sushi-kai, 50 Faubourg Saint Nicolas, Beaune, Telephone 03 80 24 02 87.)

I wish that more winemakers would look at what Olivier Leflaive and family have been doing for the past 10 years: In the center of the charming village of Puligny-Montrachet they run a down-to-earth little restaurant/tasting room – lunch only from March to the end of November – where everyone is put into a good mood by the outgoing and informative host and hostess, Pascal Wagner and Marie-Chantal Dubois. You can’t not love a place where they serve you tastes of everything from Chassagne-Montrachet to Meursault 1er Cru, on to Volnay and Pommard.

By 1 pm each afternoon the small rectangular dining room with ochre walls, bared oak-topped tables and modern tile floors rings with the sounds of good times. At one table a group of Australians discuss their annual tour of French vineyards, while at another a group well-dressed Englishmen are all seriousness, tasting with care and attention, all the while discussing the merits and demerits of current cult wine films Sideways and Mondovino.

English, in fact, seems to be the favored language here, and both Pascal and Marie-Chantal can not only carefully explain – in English – the merits of each and every wine, but also the gorgeous selection of cheeses offered at the end of the meal. The fare may well include soothing chicken cooked in “yesterday’s” white wine (“No cream, no eggs, no milk”, Marie will tell you), served with an avalanche of vegetables. The bread is outstanding and it’s hard to keep your hands off the fresh and crusty morsels.

The Hostellerie de Levernois, in the center of a four-hectare park lush with willows, ash trees and giant cedars, is a little slice of paradise. The birds are so chirpy you think you might be hearing a canned recording. The air is so still you want to hold your breath.

We arrived on a sunny evening just in time for a champagne on the terrace, surrounded by those sturdy trees and a bevy of well-schooled wait staff that seemed to be there Just For You.

The establishment has recently been taken over by Susanne and Jean-Louis Bottigiero, and a new chef, Vincent Maillard, who attained Michelin star status while chef at Alain Ducasse’s Bastide de Moustier.

In short, everything here should make it a perfect experience. I have absolutely no complaint about the service, wine, bread, or cheese course, all excellent, but the food, ingredient after ingredient lacked luster, freshness, flavor, verve. I hope it was just an off night in the kitchen, but it’s rare for a place on which so much care and attention have been showered for the food to take a back seat.

We sample two outstanding wines here, including Domaine Joseph Drouhin’s 2001 Beaune Clos des Mouches, 51 euros, an lush, rich Chardonnay that is so full of minerals you want to just stop, sniff, and sip. Equally thrilling was Domaine Hubert Lamy’s 2003 Saint Aubin, Clos de la Chatenaire, 69 euros, also full of tasty mineral flavors and a nose of ripened pears.

The restaurant – two bright dining rooms that are clean and classic but could use a bit of an overhaul – is spacious and lovely, and worth a visit if only for the wine list, bread, and the outstanding cheese tray. You have to stop yourself to not sample one of each cheese, and as we found all over Burgundy detailed information is offered with each and every one. Two new cheese to sample include young goat cheese from Nuits Saint George, one soft and creamy and aged in a saumure, or salt bring, another aged in the fiery marc, the clear alcohol of Burgundy.

Le Charlemagne
Route de Vergelesses
21240 Pernand Vergelesses
Telephone : 03 80 21 51 45

Closed Tuesday and Wednesday. 22 € weekday lunch menu. Other menus at 34, 41, 54, and 70 euros. A la carte, 60 to 70 euros.

Olivier Leflaive Freres
Place du Monument
21190 Puligny-Montrachet
Telephone: 03 80 21 37 65
Fax: 03 80 21 33 94

Open for lunch only, Monday through Saturday, from March 1st to November 30th. 38 € menu with 10 € supplement from 1er Cru tasting.

Hostellerie de Levernois
Route de Verdun sur le Doubs, Levernois
21200 Beaune
Telephone: 03 80 24 73 58
Fax: 03 80 22 78 00

Menus at 65, 80, and 98 euros. A la carte, 85 euros.