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La Paulee 2012 Burgundy Tasting: February 22-25, 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 lapaulee2010.jpgwines 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 came 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.

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 sixteen 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 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. I attended in 2010, and can say without question that, apart from my wedding, it was the best party I've ever been to.

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 opportunities for members of the public to taste top Burgundy wines outside of France.

This year, the La Paulée Grand Tasting will be held at the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco, and for $275, you can taste a lineup of Burgundies that should make any serious wine lover weak in the knees. The list includes some of the region's best producers, as well as a special selection from the village of Meursault. If you're not familiar enough with these names to know, trust me when I say that the opportunity to taste these wines is well worth the $275, considering that several of the bottles poured, if you were able to find them at all, would cost you north of $500.

The Grand Tasting will feature mostly 2009 wines. But Burgundy is only really good once it has some age on it in my opinion. For those who agree with me, and who are willing to part with a little (OK, a lot) 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 the closest thing to the real La Paulee event in Meursault.

Other events this year include a seminar run by Eric Asimov of the New York Times, a chance to be guided through a series of Burgundies with some of the world's leading sommeliers, a lunch with wines donated by top collectors, and more.

For the first time this year the city of San Francisco will also be celebrating something known as Burgundy Week, where a selection of some of the city's top restaurants will be featuring Burgundy wines on their menus from February 13th to February 24th. Just make reservations, and you're in for a treat.

In these tough economic times coming up with the money to attend a tasting like this can be a challenge for many, but it is quite a worthwhile event for anyone seriously looking to educate their palate, or quench an obsession.

La Paulée Grand Tasting
Saturday, February 25
12:00 PM - 3:00 PM
Westin St. Francis Hotel Grand Ballroom
335 Powell Street
San Francisco, CA 94102

Tickets for the Grand Tasting are $300. Tickets for the other events run from $95 to $9000. They all can be purchased online.

Learn more about the event on the official web site.

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Required Reading for Wine Lovers

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