Nightmare in Burgundy (Winemaker Detective Series #3)

Nightmare in Burgundy (Winemaker Detective Series #3)

by Jean-Pierre Alaux, Noël Balen, Sally Pane

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The Winemaker Detective leaves his native Bordeaux to go to Burgundy for a dream wine tasting trip to France's other key wine-making region. Between Beaune, Dijon and Nuits-Saint-Georges, it turns into a troubling nightmare when he stumbles upon a mystery revolving around messages from another era. What do they mean? What dark secrets from the deep past are haunting the Clos de Vougeot? Does blood need to be shed to sharpen people's memory? A made-for-TV series.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781939474278
Publisher: Le French Book
Publication date: 07/31/2014
Series: Winemaker Detective , #3
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Sales rank: 965,621
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

Jean-Pierre Alaux is a magazine, radio and television journalist when he is not writing novels in southwestern France. He is a genuine wine and food lover, and won the Antonin Carême prize for his cookbook La Truffe sur le Soufflé, which he wrote with the chef Alexis Pélissou. He is the grandson of a winemaker and exhibits a real passion for wine and winemaking. For him, there is no greater common denominator than wine.

Coauthor of the Winemaker Detective series, Noël Balen lives in Paris, where he shares his time between writing, making records, and lecturing on music. He plays bass, is a music critic and has authored a number of books about musicians in addition to his novel and short-story writing.

Sally Pane studied French at State University of New York Oswego and the Sorbonne before receiving her Masters Degree in French Literature from the University of Colorado where she wrote Camus and the Americas: A Thematic Analysis of Three Works Based on His Journaux de Voyage.  Her career includes more than twenty years of translating and teaching French and Italian at Berlitz and at Colorado University Boulder. She lives in Boulder, Colorado with her husband.
Jean-Pierre Alaux is a magazine, radio and television journalist when he is not writing novels in southwestern France. He is a genuine wine and food lover, and won the Antonin Carême prize for his cookbook La Truffe sur le Soufflé, which he wrote with the chef Alexis Pélissou. He is the grandson of a winemaker and exhibits a real passion for wine and winemaking. For him, there is no greater common denominator than wine.
Sally Pane studied French at State University of New York Oswego and the Sorbonne before receiving her Masters Degree in French Literature from the University of Colorado where she wrote Camus and the Americas: A Thematic Analysis of Three Works Based on His Journaux de Voyage. Her career includes more than twenty years of translating and teaching French and Italian at Berlitz and at Colorado University Boulder. She lives in Boulder, Colorado with her husband.

Read an Excerpt

Nightmare in Burgundy

A Winemaker Detective Novel

By Jean-Pierre Alaux, Noël Balen, Sally Pane

Le French Book

Copyright © 2004 Librairie Arthème Fayard
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-939474-27-8


His head was spinning. For three hours now, he had been sitting at the table between the wife of the ambassador to the Netherlands and a film star whose name he dared not ask for fear of offending her. He vaguely remembered having seen her in a period piece where she played the harpsichord in a château full of mirrors and china. He had to lean in a bit to exchange a few words with the guests across from him. Bunches of red and yellow tulips cluttered the tables. People smiled at each other between the stems.

The dinner was sumptuous, as elegant as it was generous. You could read the satisfaction on the faces of the guests. As the feast continued, attitudes relaxed, looks of collusion replaced polite nods, and witty remarks cut the air with great panache. After savoring a duck pâté accompanied by a Bourgogne Aligoté des Hautes Côtes, perch supreme served with a chilled and fragrant Meursault, and crown loin of veal sprinkled with green peppercorns, along with a 1979 Côte de Beaune Villages, the guests thought the meal was finished. But this was underestimating the hospitality of the venerable knights of the Confrérie des Chevaliers du Tastevin. A cockerel and morel fricassee seasoned with Chambolle-Musigny added to the feast, and no one had trouble finishing it. Meanwhile, the Cadets of Bourgogne, decked out in black caps and wine-merchant aprons, had accompanied the arrival of each dish with a great many wine songs, comical tales, and jovial melodies. Beaming, with sparkling eyes and gleaming whiskers, they bellowed verse after verse at the top of their lungs.

Always drinkers, never drunk,
They go along their way
And thumb their nose at fools who grump.

Always drinkers, never drunk,
They happily proclaim
Their credo without shame.

Always drinkers, never drunk,
They go along their way!

The cheese course was announced. Platters arrived filled with creamy Epoisses washed in marc brandy and aged on rye straw, a soft farmhouse Soumaintrain cheese, mild Saint-Florentin that gave off the scent of raw milk, lightly salted and creamy Chaources, and supple La-Pierre-qui-Vire. Accompanying them were small rounds of goat's milk cheese, including an especially full-bodied tomme du Poiset. To top it off and honor this Chapter of the Tulips, the hosts had elegantly slipped in some soft Dutch cheese with amber and orange hues. Benjamin Cooker prepared a nice plate for himself, enhancing it with a 1972 Latricières-Chambertin that sensuously tickled his taste buds.

Here come the Cadets of Burgundy,
Sowers of life and of sun;
Lovers of water are mad.

Here come the Cadets of Burgundy,
A bottle in each hand!
Open the door to some fun
Here come the Cadets of Burgundy,
Sowers of life and of sun!

The chamberlain stepped to the podium. The association's slogan—Never whine! Always wine—was inscribed above it in gothic letters.

He tapped the microphone, waited for the brouhaha to subside, and greeted the assembly. He congratulated the chef for the excellent dinner and declared the meeting of the Chapter of Tulips open. Then, in a solemn voice, he briefly praised Benjamin Cooker, introducing him as the most recognized wine specialist in France and one of the most sought-after winemakers in the world. He spoke of the Cooker Guide, whose publication all vintners dreaded, and emphasized that the most recent edition had excellent evaluations of certain Vougeots. Finally, he invited the inductee to join him on the stage, next to the members of the association whose gold and red vestments shimmered in the spotlight.

There was a ripple of applause. Leaning on the edge of the table, Cooker rose slowly. He emptied his glass of water, discreetly loosened his bowtie, tugged down the jacket of his tuxedo, and made his way between the tables. He felt the weight of all the eyes turned toward him and slowed his pace a bit for fear of getting tangled in the train of an evening gown or tripping on a chair as he made his way to the dais. He was welcomed with a quotation recited with good-natured pomposity. The crudeness of its kitchen Latin made all the guests laugh.

Totus mundus trinquat cum illustro pinot
Imbecili soli
drink only water!
So, Brother Cellarer, fill our cup
Because, as the saying goes: in vino veritas

Cooker was handed a chalice. He emptied it and proceeded to the dubbing, which fell somewhere between schoolboy farce and ritual solemnity. He swore fidelity to the wines of France and Burgundy and then bowed his head while the grand master of the order tapped his shoulder with a vine shoot.

By Noah, father of the vine
By Bacchus, god of wine
By Saint Vincent, patron of vintners
We dub you Knight of the Tastevin!

Cooker was then invited to take the microphone. He looked over the assembly, and a silence as thick as a wine coulis filled the room. One last clearing of the throat, and his voice resounded under the enormous girders of the wine warehouse.

"Grand Chamberlain of the Order of the Knights of Tastevin, Grand Constable and all of you, knights of the brotherhood, ladies and gentlemen, good evening!"

"First, let me tell you right away how excited I am to be here among you tonight. Could I ever have imagined that I would be crowned with such laurels within the walls of this distinguished château that has so often inspired me? As a child romping in the vineyards of the Médoc and learning to swim in the water holes of the Hourtin pond, I could not see myself playing or living in any place other than that corner of the world, where vineyards were loved with so much passion. For a long time I thought that good wines were made only there, because you know that the natives of Bordeaux are a bit chauvinist, and my grandfather never drank anything other than his own wine. I found out later that his wine was far from the best, but I must admit that for me, it still has a particular bouquet. It seems that we often pattern our lives after those first impressions of childhood.

"I like to recall that it was a child of your land, a son of Burgundy with visionary talent, who contributed to protecting the Port de la Lune from English invasions. The shores of Bordeaux owe so much to the three fortresses built by Sébastien le Prestre de Vauban. That was another time. The world may never be at peace, but wine abolished our borders long ago. I have traveled extensively in lands even farther from my culture than Burgundy, and I have learned that wine is a universal language. Each time a man raises his glass and empties it, I know what cloth he is cut from, what stuff he is made of. I can guess his disposition, sometimes his sense of humor, his reserve, his impatience or his sense of moderation, his wit or lack of tact. No need to talk further: the drinker reveals himself and sometimes shows what he would like to hide. The older I get, the more I believe that this is one of the greatest revelations of wine.

"To tell you that it is an honor to be named Chevalier du Tastevin in a setting as glorious as the Vougeot château would be a little banal and superficial. For me it's a sign of friendship more than an honorary distinction. I have too many good memories, between Côte de Nuits and Côte de Beaune, too many faithful readers and vigilant winemakers between Chalon and Mâcon, not to show my pleasure and my great joy in this moment. Finally, since I must conclude, and I promised not to talk too long, I will quote one of your own, Jean-François Bazin, who does honor to the Burgundian parlance and wrote this: 'The Confrérie des Chevaliers du Tastevin is like a ray of sunlight in the darkness of the cellars!' So this is what I say: I'm here in broad daylight, even if I incur the wrath of all my friends in Bordeaux."

* * *

The dining room of the Hôtel de Vougeot was still empty at this early-morning hour. With his mind still reeling from alcohol, excitement, songs, and laughter, Benjamin Cooker had slept little. A cool, almost cold shower had restored his calm, and he had stretched his legs walking among the rows of vines that bordered the establishment. In keeping with an old habit, the winemaker had taken a room in the hotel's annex behind the courtyard. He was pleased with room number nine, whose window with small panes of glass opened onto the vineyards of Vougeot.

"Did you sleep well, sir?" a waitress named Aurélie asked, dipping an Earl Grey teabag into a white porcelain teapot.

"Well, let's say I closed one eye from time to time, miss."

"Did you see what happened across the street? Some kids covered the whole café with graffiti."

Cooker went to the window, parted the lace curtains, and wiped the condensation from the glass. On the facade of the Rendez-vous des Touristes, black letters were clumsily scrawled in spray paint between a wall thermometer and some empty window boxes. He squinted.

Domine exaudi orationem meam et clamor meus ad te veniat

Cooker read the phrase in a whisper. He had studied Latin in his youth.

"It's such a shame to dirty everything that way," Aurélie grumbled, heating up the teapot. "Especially to write such nonsense."

Cooker sat down before his plate and observed the hotel employee. He had known her as a girl and suddenly realized that she had become a woman in the two years since he had last seen her. Her ruddy cheeks had become more defined, and mascara accentuated her long black eyelashes. Her hair was pulled back and showed off her forehead. The somewhat awkward and pudgy apprentice who used to hide her eyes behind long bangs was now a lovely waitress whose precise gestures and alluringly delicate nose added to her charm.

"I know it's those boys from Dijon who did it," she went on as she placed the teapot on the table.

"Are you sure?"

"Who else could it be? The neighborhoods over there are full of graffiti like that. You wouldn't believe what it's like near the train station. And what really kills me is that it's not even French. I don't understand a word of it."

"It's Latin."

"Ah, I was sure it wasn't French."

Cooker breathed in the aroma of bergamot and took several swallows, burning his tongue. He put his cup down and slipped his coat on.

"Have a nice day, Aurélie. I'll hold onto my key, because I might be getting back late."

He crossed the road and stood in front of the defaced wall of the café. The paint was dry, and only a few letters had dribbled down the yellowish stucco. He took out his notebook and wrote down the Latin phrase, taking care to translate it accurately.

Lord, hear my prayer. Let my cry for help to reach you.

As soon as he entered the café, all conversation stopped. Cooker sat down nonchalantly at the first table and ordered an espresso. The owner brought him a small cup of very bitter coffee, which Cooker tried to sweeten with three cubes of sugar. The café patrons started talking again, but quietly and warily. Three men who looked like retirees were filling out their trifecta sheets and muttering. At the end of the bar, two young sporty types with low foreheads and protruding lower lips sipped beer and whispered to each other. They were wearing similar royal-blue tracksuits. Next to Cooker, a homely couple sat across from each other in silence; the woman, whose triple chin spilled over the collar of a knitted vest, was shooting sidelong, slightly fearful glances across the room, while her husband was picking his nose with satisfactory results.

"May I borrow your newspaper?" Cooker asked.

"Go right ahead!"

He carefully pushed aside his cup and opened Le Bien Public on the table. The snowstorms in the Nuits-Saint-Georges were the lead story in the paper. Cooker perused an article on local sandblasters and the weather forecast for Easter week. On page three, he happened upon his picture, in black and white, which took up two columns. The slightly overexposed photo, taken during his speech, made him look like a jovial and cunning horse trader at a country fair. It did not at all resemble him and made him smile, as did the article's headline: "Winemaker Cooker gets toast, is spared roast at multicourse Vougeot fête."

The couple—farmers, Cooker presumed—watched him without uttering a word. The chatter at the bar grew livelier. "They're real bastards from the city pulling that shit." Gray coils of cigarette smoke floated upward in the harsh ceiling light.

"Worse than dogs lifting their legs!"

"What do you mean, René?"

From his vantage point, Cooker could see a fine foam moustache under the nose of one of the beer drinkers.

"They write their crap like they piss against a wall!"

"Ah, I get it now."

The café owner turned on the radio. It was a nostalgic channel that seemed to crackle from beyond the grave. A duo from the seventies chirped with optimism in the sputtering of the radio.

"It's taking the cops long enough to get here, as if they had anything else to do."

Then they took out a game of dice and a green felt cloth.

"All the same, if I catch those little shits—"

Everyone counted their tokens without paying attention to the refrain, in which "Venice" rhymed with "Paris." The barely snuffed-out cigarette butts continued to smolder in the ashtrays.

"The cops?"

"Hell no. The little shits who wrote all this trash—we're gonna smash their faces in, believe me!"

Cooker turned to the couple and said, "Excuse me for interrupting. Did that happen last night?"

"The scribblings?" grumbled the old woman. "We saw them this morning. Definitely weren't there yesterday, were they, Emile?"

"Can you tell me where Vougeot's priest lives?"

"There ain't no priest in Vougeot and no church, neither."

"As a matter of fact, now that you mention it, I can't remember seeing a bell tower," Cooker said, pursing his lips. "I hadn't even paid attention."

The woman rubbed her triple chin and looked at him intently. "In Vougeot, you don't get married, and you don't die."

"That seems rather reasonable to me," Cooker smiled as he stood up. He left two euros on the table, nodded politely, and took his leave.

He walked back up the main street toward the river. Slabs of frozen snow edged the road. On the parapet of the bridge that spanned the Vouge, the same black writing ran across the cement.

Non abscondas faciem tuam a me; in quacunque die tribulor

Cooker took out his fountain pen and jotted down the phrase before translating it.

Do not turn your face from me In my day of trouble.

He continued walking to the small locks that constricted the river, abruptly transforming it into a narrow channel. He stopped for a moment to look at the walls on the water's edge, which were covered with thick patches of moss. Then he turned around to go to the grocery store. He bought the paper, a box of cashews, and a postcard. It was only upon leaving the store that he noticed the graffiti running the length of a low wall near the ancient washhouse.

Inclina ad me aurem tuam: in quacunque die invocavero te, volciter exaudi me.

Again he reached for his notebook and transcribed the phrase diligently, despite the biting cold, which was numbing his fingers.

Incline your ear to listen When I call, be quick to answer

A gust of wind stung his face, and he pulled his collar up to his ears. In the distance, crows squawked in the vines. Their stricken cawing dissolved in a milky sky that was so low it merged with the snow-powdered earth.

Cooker shivered.


The tasting had already begun when he arrived, out of breath, in the large room of Vougeot's ancient wine and spirits storehouse. The experts were seated in groups of six and moving glasses around on the tablecloths in a slow and formal ballet that seemed almost contrived. Cooker greeted everyone, apologizing for his tardiness, and went to the seat reserved for him as the Tastevinage guest of honor. He went to work immediately.

Dozens of bottles were wrapped in orange silk paper and displayed on the table between stainless-steel spittoons and wicker baskets full of rolls. Each taster had a notebook for comments. There was barely any talking. Wet swishing, tongue-clicking, and elegant gurgling were the predominant sounds rising in the crisp air of the wine warehouse.


Excerpted from Nightmare in Burgundy by Jean-Pierre Alaux, Noël Balen, Sally Pane. Copyright © 2004 Librairie Arthème Fayard. Excerpted by permission of Le French Book.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Nightmare in Burgundy 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
nhr3bookcrazyNR More than 1 year ago
There is a lot to like in this book - especially if you want a lesson in French wines, and the French wine area around Burgundy, and French food. I have not read the first two books in this series - but I will give them a try.
Nikki_Mansfield More than 1 year ago
The third book in this charming series is not quite up to par with the previous mystery but still brings plenty of murder, mayhem and wine to the table. There is a puzzle, along with two deaths, that must be unravelled; and Benjamin Cooker finds himself calling upon an old dying friend, a monk to help him decipher the Latin clues. I really enjoyed the Catholic aspect of this particular story. The relationship between Cook and Virgile is a warm strong bond between a Catholic and an unbeliever bringing about many interesting discussions. I highly enjoy this duo who casually stumble upon mysteries on their travels as wine critics/tasters. This book, the third, does take some assumption that you will know who the characters are so there is little to no introduction or background on them. Which in my opinion would make this one not suitable as a starting point for the series. A quaint cozy set in the wine country that will please both cozy mystery readers and wine enthusiasts. Looking forward to the next book!