La Paulee 2010 Grand Burgundy Tasting: March 13, 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 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 fifteen 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 opportunities for members of the public to taste top Burgundy wines outside of France.

On Saturday, March 13th, 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 2007 wines and a few 2006. 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 purported to be like dying and going to heaven for those who love Burgundies. Other events this year include a seminar run by Allen Meadows of Burghound, a chance to compare 3 vintages of select producers’ wines, a lunch with wines donated by top collectors, and more.

In these tough economic times coming up with the money to attend a tasting like this can be a challenge for many, which is why this may be the first year that it takes some time for the event to truly sell out (though at least the dinners and other events probably will eventually). Two years ago, even tickets to the Grand Tasting were hard to come by. I usually post about events a couple of weeks before they happen, but to make sure you get a chance at tickets, I’m writing about it now, 2 months ahead of time.

If you can figure out where to come up with the cash, it is quite a worthwhile event for anyone seriously looking to educate their palate, or quench an obsession.

La Paulée Grand Tasting
Saturday, March 13th
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 $275. Tickets for the other events run from $135 to $2750. They all can be purchased online.

Learn more about the event on the official web site.