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02.08.2008

La Paulee Grand Burgundy Tasting: March 1st, San Francisco

Every budding wine lover faces what can often seem like a daunting mountain to climb. There are so many wines in the world to learn about and experience, it's not hard to feel overwhelmed. It's also quite common to feel a certain sense of frustration, the kind characterized by an ambition that far outstrips our own means to fulfill it. Many of the wines that passionate wine lovers wish they could taste are simply out of reach -- too rare, too popular, and too expensive.

When I was first starting out in my journey down the roads of wine, the most mysterious and inaccessible wines for me were from Burgundy. My budget allowed for spending $20 to $30 on a bottle, and when it lapaulee.jpgcame time to try some French Pinot Noir, that didn't really (and still doesn't) buy me very much. I heard people talk about the magic of Burgundy, heard them whisper exotic names in hushed tones, and I so desperately wanted to know what they were talking about. But as a twenty-something kid with only so much disposable income, I had no way of unlocking that box.

It's taken me a long time to begin to become familiar with great Burgundy (both red and white), in part because that experience has been hard won -- built out of a lot of single bottles, the generosity of friends, and the increasing opportunities to taste larger groups of Burgundy that my writing and my involvement in the wine world have opened up.

What I didn't have for so many years, but so desperately wanted, was an opportunity to taste some of Burgundy's greatest producers, side-by-side. What I really wanted ten years ago, was La Paulée.

Often referred to as the greatest Burgundy tasting held outside of France, La Paulée is an annual event started in 2000 by sommelier Daniel Johnnes in the spirit of an event known as La Paulée de Meursault, which has been held, in some form or another since 1923 in and around the commune of Meursault in Burgundy, France.

The French version began as a communal dinner among wine producers, and evolved into its modern incarnation as an extravagant lunch that follows the Hospices de Beaune wine auction every year. This luncheon (to which I have never been) is really more of a feast of wine that begins in the early afternoon and lasts well into the evening. It is marked by good food and in particular, by incredible old Burgundies brought from the personal cellars of all who attend.

It was this spirit of conviviality, as well as this passionate consumption of what he considers to be the world's greatest wines, that prompted Johnnes to hold his own such celebration in New York. In the 8 years since it began, this celebration has evolved into one of the most exciting and sought after wine events in the world, and in particular, one of the best public opportunities to taste top Burgundy wines that exists outside of its namesake in France.

So why am I writing about this event that is most likely already sold out, and probably too expensive for many of my readers? Because one of the best parts of of La Paulée is not sold out, and while pricey, it is also not prohibitively expensive, and it is still a great opportunity to taste fantastic Burgundy.

On Saturday, March 1st, the La Paulee Grand Tasting will be held at the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco, and for $300, you can taste a lineup of Burgundies that should make any serious wine lover weak in the knees. The La Paulée web site lists the wines that will be poured (the list is too long to include here), but trust me when I say that the opportunity to taste these wines is well worth the $300.

But those are, of course, all current releases. And we all know that Burgundy is only really good once it has some age on it. For those who agree, and who are willing to part with a little more money, the Gala Dinner following the tasting will be the opportunity to taste older vintages from the producers attending, but also to sample wine brought from the cellars of the many attending wine lovers, in keeping with tradition. That opportunity costs $1400, and is purported to be amazing.

La Paulée is usually held in New York, so this second-ever appearance in San Francisco, is a rare treat for West Coast wine lovers, and should not be missed by anyone who is passionate about good Burgundy or who wants to learn to be.

La Paulée Grand Tasting
Saturday, March 1st
12:00 PM - 3:00 PM
Westin St. Francis Hotel
335 Powell Street
San Francisco, CA 94102

Tickets for the Grand Tasting are $300 and can be purchased by calling Jaime Dutton at 212-625-2519 or e-mailing [email protected]. I believe the main event including the Gala Dinner is sold out, but if you're interested in attending, you should ask to be sure.

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The Oxford Companion to Wine by Jancis Robinson Wine Grapes The World Atlas of Wine by Hugh Johnson to cork or not to cork by George Taber reading between the vines by Terry Theise adventures on the wine route by Kermit Lynch Love By the Glass by Dorothy Gaiter & John Brecher Noble Rot by William Echikson The Science of Wine by Jamie Goode The Judgement of Paris by George Taber The Wine Bible by Karen MacNeil The Botanist and the Vintner by Christy Campbell The Emperor of Wine by Elin McCoy The Taste of Wine by Emile Peynaud