A cloudless summit of Mont Blanc greets us on our final morning in Chamonix. After breakfast in a streetside café, we pack our car and head east, out of the Alps and into the Savoie. We drive past orchards, cows, and vineyards as the dense forest behind us fades into flower-filled meadows.
When it’s made well, Puligny-Montrachet is the most elegant of white Burgundies. Though long and rich like its neighbors from Chassagne and Meursault, Puligny shows an added minerality and tension, making it a combination of class and energy in the glass. As writer Jay McInerney once put it, Puligny is “the Grace Kelly of wines.”
For our last day in the Alps we board a cog railway up the south wall of the Mont Blanc Valley. The 20 minute ride brings us from the valley floor up to the base of the Mer de Glace glacier at 6100 feet. The giant “sea of ice” is 220 feet deep and over 4 miles long, snaking between towering jagged peaks. After a nerve racking gondola ride down the steep side of the gorge, we begin the 430 step clime down to the surface.
Croissants and coffee on the pedestrian street in Chamonix, then a stop at the local grocery for provisions. We drive west along the valley floor — another perfectly clear blue day. At the base of a winter-only chairlift we park the car, and hike towards the base of the slope.
We begin the morning with croissants (chocolat and natur), coffee, and the French Open. We pick up sandwiches, chocolate, fruit, saucisson, and comté. After a dizzying drive through Les Houches just south of Chamonix, we park the car and begin the hike.
We crossed the Alps from Italy to Switzerland yesterday via the Simplon Pass. The crossing is dotted with ancient stone houses that call to mind the Europe of thousands of years ago. It was yet another reminder from this trip of just how old these regions are.
We bid farewell to the sparkling Lake Como this morning, after a last minute coffee and some sugar cookies for the road. Our route took us south toward Milan, then northwest toward the mountains. We decided to cross the Alps via the Simplon Pass, a crossing in use since the Stone Age, but made famous during the reign of Napoleon
Began the morning driving through winding streets to the Sacri Monti of Ossuccio, a series of 17th century churches perched along an ancient cobblestone road. We climbed past all fourteen tiny chapels. each depicting a different scene in life-size wooden figures.
German Riesling reveals the power of terroir like few other wines. It can be as dry as a Muscadet or sweet as a Muscato, depending on where, when, and how it’s made. This astounding range of profiles makes it a darling of sommeliers and wine critics.
Started the morning in the tiny town grocery — speck, bread, sugar cookies, croissants, and a wedge of fresh, creamy, decadent talleggio, almost unrecognizable next to the States’ Whole Foods variety. A quick stop at a café in Tremezzo, then off on the winding road to Lugano. A roadside goat greets us as we pass into Switzerland.
Espresso doppio outside at our now regular bar-café under clear blue skies. Sunday appears to be a day for bicycle enthusiasts, who travel in colorful swarms along the roads, rivaling their motored companions for daring and speed.
Only two white wine terroirs in Burgundy hold the status of Grand Cru. Montrachet and its satellites, the more famous, are in the south of Burgundy, wedged between the towns of Chassagne and Puligny. The other is Corton-Charlemagne, perched on a large hill marking the midpoint of the Côte d’Or, named such as a gift from the Holy Roman Emperor.
Morning espressos in the bar up the street. A quick stop in the market for bread, cheese, and prosciutto, and we’re off in our car up the coast. After a tricky u-turn (for more cheese) and several near misses on the tiny streets, we pass through Tremezzo and begin our climb. Endless switchbacks and ever-narrowing roads lead us high into the hills above the lake, as each turn provides improved views and more dramatic vertigo.
Landed this morning in Milan; picked up our rented Renault, and headed north. Enormous, jagged white alpine peaks rise without warning, like the Rockies from the western planes. After some chocolate, espresso, and a hard-won lesson in the phrase di andare (“to go”), we pass from outskirts of Milan into lush green mountains.
Buying Burgundy is a tricky game. Many wines take years to mature, and early on it can be difficult to know what they’ll become. But tiny quantities often mean only one chance to buy each vintage. We swallow hard, make our best guesses, and then wait.