I thought I’d finish off my articles from my visit to Arbois at the end of last year with a short update which might be of use to anyone planning a visit to the town in 2019. I appreciate that this may be of limited interest to some readers, but I know that my pieces written about Arbois have been of use to many people in recent years. If you want to find more information, for example on walks, restaurants, wine (and other) shops and excursions, those articles are searchable via the box in the top right hand corner.
Arbois might just be a pleasant antidote to this month’s scrum of Burgundy Tastings here in the UK. What could be nicer than a quiet town with plenty of excellent places to eat, a wonderful and unique wine culture, and surrounded by some of the biggest forests in France. Franche-Comté is actually increasing its forests by around 500 hectares each year, and is the perfect place to take part in what the Japanese so rightly term “forest bathing”, using the fresh air and ozone of the forest to restore calm to our hectic lives.
I can tell you, on a frosty, sub-zero, afternoon high above the town, it was one beautiful icy silence, save for the occasional flock of small birds and the rustle of my six layers of clothing.
What’s more, from Arbois you can be outside the Hôtel-Dieu in the centre of Beaune within an hour-and-a-quarter, if you must, assuming you can find a space to park.
As so often when we get to Arbois, our first meal will be at La Balance, just a short walk from the central Place de la Liberté (at 47 rue de Courcelles). Under new ownership for a few years now, some people have said they don’t think it’s as good. But they do cook the most substantial and satisfying poulet au vin jaune in Arbois, and the drive from England, always begun with a pre-5am start, makes me very hungry.
The wine list is still pretty good, and this year we drank a brilliant Ploussard from Tony Bornard. Tony has kept his own label as well as now fully taking over the vines and business of his father, Philippe, in Pupillin. I think he’s right to do so. His own label does have its own identity, the wines being light, fresh, and the essence of glou’. He’s proved he can do it, so the reputation of what is now one of Pupillin’s finest domaines is assuredly in safe hands.
I’ve not dined in every local restaurant, but I do know most. However, when friends suggested we head out to the hamlet of Les Planches for dinner at the Castel Damandre I jumped at the chance, especially as a lift was on offer. Naturally I’ve been out to the magical Cascade des Tufs, a ten to fifteen minute drive from Arbois, and the circular walk there takes you past a large and ancient building, obviously now an hotel. But I didn’t know it had a restaurant worth visiting. Our friends had only been there for the first time a few weeks before.
I can now vouch for it as worth the trip if you don’t mind driving. The restaurant was quite quiet (only three tables occupied), but then it was extremely cold outside. The food was good, and we drank a very nice Arbois Tradition 2016 (a 30:70 Savagnin/Chardonnay, blend) from Raphaël Fumey and Adeline Chatelain. This couple revitalised the family domaine in Montigny-les-Arsures, and every wine I try from them shows a steady improvement.
Another pleasant surprise was to find the former front of house from La Balance taking charge of the floor at Castel Damandre. A very friendly welcome added to the pleasure of dining there. I’m sure the hotel would be a relaxing place to stay if you don’t mind being away from the town.
One final restaurant recommendation, though in Poligny this time. When we left La Pinte and told Laura Seibel where we were heading, she told us about a new place, La Muse Bouche (60 Grande Rue). It’s directly opposite the Town Hall, on the right, about a hundred metres or so before you reach the central place as you drive into the town. The food is reasonably simple, but well presented and fairly inexpensive. The wine list is short, but they score well for having a good selection of wines from Domaine de la Touraize.
When in Poligny, as I say every year, a visit to Epicurea is essential, both for wine and cheese. It’s one shop you can almost guarantee to pick up some Ganevat negoce cuvées, and the prices are pretty good. It’s also one of the best shops in the region to pick up some good Morbier, with a choice of “fermier” or “artisan”, both different in texture.
Someone asked me about Epicurea’s shop in Arbois, which is just by the Place de la Liberté, a few doors from Hirsinger. Well, it’s true that they continue to offer a good cheese selection, local beers, cidre (they usually have the Freibourgeoise artisan ciders of the Cidrerie du Vulcain which, if you don’t know them, are sensational), and wine too, of course, but they can’t stock the large range of wines (Jura and otherwise) that they hold in Poligny.
The best news for wine buyers in Arbois is that Les Jardins de St-Vincent now appears to be open regularly, on Fridays and Saturdays. JSV is owned by the former Jeunet wine director, Stéphane Planche. Stéphane is possibly the most knowledgeable wine professional in Arbois, and his years at the town’s two-star restaurant were put to good use – he knows all the young growers, and has his finger on the pulse of what is happening in the region.
This makes the Jardins the place to go to discover a few labels you’ve not seen before. Definitely take a punt on some of them. Every year the amazing vibe generated by the region’s success is throwing out new producers. But you’ll also notice some hard to find older names. Sadly, no Miroirs this year, but a few new labels from L’Octavin were on the shelves, and in the section for wines from outside of the region I found a few cuvées from Yann Durieux, so perhaps you can get well “piffed” on one of Burgundy’s finest Aligoté as well.
The shop is at 49 Grande Rue, almost opposite to Epicuria, and close to the small Spar supermarket.
Finally, well almost, although I mentioned this in my article on La Pinte, it is worth repeating. The annual tasting, Le Nez dans le Vert, usually takes place at Domaine de la Pinte every second year. Laura said that after having two-thousand visitors per day at the domaine last time it was held there, it has just got too big for a single domaine to handle. As a consequence, the tasting due to be held this March will take place at Arc-et-Senans. I can’t confirm this as the web site of Le Nez appears only to be showing the details for the 2018 Salon, which was held at the Château de Gevigny, south of Lons-le-Saunier.
Truly finally, we had some sad news at the end of the year. The house we have stayed at in Arbois for far longer than I have been writing this blog is being sold, so is no longer available to rent. I know I’m not the only person to be truly gutted by this, as at least a couple of readers also stay there, one like me, every year for a long time (and both of us considered, albeit fancifully, putting in an offer). If anyone has any recommendations, preferably a small house or apartment within walking distance of Arbois centre (more specifically, walking home from a restaurant after a bottle or two distance!), do let me know.
We began in the 1990s staying up at Vauxelle once Arbois became the destination rather than a mere day trip from Burgundy. It was very convenient in getting to know Montigny-les-Arsures and the best vineyards, but too far for a midnight stroll home. We have looked forward to our annual Arbois visits even more knowing we had the perfect place to stay, so close to the centre of town, and yet quietly tucked away in a row of old vignerons’ cottages. But a new era must begin.