La Paulee Grand Burgundy Tasting: March 7, New York City

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 easy to feel overwhelmed. Novice wine lovers also often feel a special sense of frustration, 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 “special occasion” 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.

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 expensive and 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 Paulee.

Often referred to as the greatest Burgundy tasting held outside of France, La Paulee is an annual event started in 2000 by sommelier Daniel Johnnes in the spirit of an event known as La Paulee 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 but has been on my “must do eventually” list for years) 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. The event flip flops between New York and San Francisco, where it was held last year.

The event takes place over several days and several events, including several meals at top restaurants with winemakers in attendance, two auctions (one for charity), and more. The full schedule is available on the event web site, but I’m interested in pointing readers to two specific elements of the schedule that I think merit your attention.

The first is a seminar given by Becky and Peter Wasserman. Becky Wasserman isn’t a particularly well known name in the consumer wine world, except by those who fervently adore Burgundy. Wasserman has been exporting and evangelizing small Burgundy producers for more than 30 years, and has been living there as an American expatriate for many more. She and her son have set foot in more Burgundy vineyards than just about anyone who doesn’t actually work in one. For $135 and the chance to taste some wine besides, this seminar is almost worth flying to New York just to attend.

And then of course, there’s the grand tasting itself, which most certainly is worth the $300 ticket and a $200 Virgin America flight to get a chance to taste some of the world’s top Burgundy producers. Of course, the tasting itself is a little hectic, and requires equal parts stamina, patience, and assertiveness to taste all the wines, but provided you’re not a shrinking violet when it comes to such public tastings, it’s well worth the time and effort. Especially if you’re like me and won’t get the chance to taste some of these $800-per-bottle wines anywhere else.

Know a wine lover with a birthday in February or March? Tickets would make a truly awesome gift. Sadly, my birthday is in April….

La Paulee de New York Grand Tasting
March 7, 2009, 12:00 PM to 3:00 PM
Metropolitan Pavilion
125 West 18th Street
New York, NY 10011

Tickets range from $135 for the seminar to $2750 for the rare wine dinner and need to be purchased online, via e-mail or by phone in advance. This event always sells out. Tell them that Vinography sent you.

And if you go, drop me a note or a comment here and let me know how it was this year.