Written by Juliet Cullinan

Anthony Hanson, Master of Wine and Burgundy wine specialist shares secrets about the Hospices de Beaune – the world’s oldest and most famous charity wine auction.

Every year, during the 3rd weekend of November, wine lovers from around the globe visit the cobbled streets of Beaune. Situated in the very heart of France, Beaune is deemed the wine capital of  Burgundy. Crowds come to hold their paddle high at this renowned charity wine sale and to toast the new vintage.

The Duke of Burgundy’s Chancellor, Nicolas Rolin and his wife, Guigone de Salins, founded the Hospices in 1443 to care for the sick and destitute. They built the famous Hôtel-Dieu, with its adjoining flamboyant, Gothic courtyard. Today it is a museum and patients are cared for in modern buildings.

The Hospices de Beaune or Hôtel-Dieu de Beaune is one of the finest examples of 15th century Gothic architecture attracting over 400,000 visitors per year.

The interior courtyard has a half-timbered gallery, turrets and its distinctive glazed, polychrome roof-tiles of red, brown, yellow and green in interlaced designs. From the roofs of the great domaines of Burgundy, one can glimpse these tiles from afar.

The location of the Chapel was chosen to allow the bedridden to attend Mass from their beds. The famous polyptych is of the Last Judgement by the Flemish painter Rogier van der Weyden.

The original hospital and old people’s home rapidly became known for the warm gifts bestowed upon it. Guillemette Leverrier donated the first generous gift of Beaune vineyards in 1457. From then on, generous benefactors added vineyards from several of Burgundy’s most famous hillsides. The Domain today covers more than 60 hectares, making many of Burgundy’s greatest wines. 85% of the land is classified as 1st Growth and Great Growth vineyards, in Meursault, Volnay, Corton, Pommard, Beaune, Bâtard-Montrachet, Echezeaux, Mazis-Chambertin, Clos de la Roche and Corton-Charlemagne.

The wines are made specifically for this famed event. The debut auction was in 1859 and the barrels come under the hammer annually in November. Historically the sale was supported by the local winebuyers until 2005 when Christie’s opened up the bidding to 500 international wine enthusiasts and companies.

Three jovial days lead up to the sale. Domaines, producers and wine shops open their cellars and bottles to tempt the public. A half marathon, street performers, uncorking competitions and a funfair enhance the spirit of the sale.

Buying a barrel at the Hospices de Beaune sale starts by choosing a wine from the 47 different Cuvées created for the auction. There are 14 white wines, and 33 reds, of varying prices. After the auction, Christie’s will have your barrels carefully checked and bottled by one of Burgundy’s greatest merchants in 750 ml, magnums or even bigger bottles. A personalised label may also be chosen. All funds generated are donated to the modern hospital and old age home, to maintain the historic buildings, museum and vineyards.

Christie’s organises tastings around the world, notably in New York, Hong Kong, Paris and London to introduce the wines. There are plans to host a tasting in Monaco.

The auctioneer welcomes all bids in the saleroom prior to the sale, by telephone or internet while Christie’s Live, allows for bidding online. www.hospices-de-beaune.com

*Article from The Culinary Artist, Issue 2