Burgundy in the Big Apple


Along with a few of San Francisco’s top sommeliers like Rajat Parr (Michael Mina), Eugenio Jardim (Jardinière) and my wife Christie Dufault (Quince), I went to New York last weekend for the greatest Burgundy event in North America—La Paulée de New York.

There aren’t many Burgundy events in the world because there just isn’t that much great Burgundy wine—it’s a small region, and the truly talented, dedicated producers are relatively few. But when the cabal of Burgundy collectors and lovers do get together—and you can almost fit them all in one big room—they do it right at La Paulée. The term the Burgundians use for their post-harvest party, La Paulée is the gathering for producers and workers at which they uncork a silly number of bottles and drink for love, for the hard work of the harvest and for the exultation of being together.

The mastermind behind New York’s Paulée is Daniel Johnnes. Johnnes, wine director for the Daniel Boulud restaurant group and founder of the Jeraboam wine importing company, is one of the founding fathers of today’s sommelier movement. He’s also been one of the greatest lovers and promoters of Burgundy in this country. La Paulée de New York consists of a crowded afternoon tasting, where about 20 of Burgundy’s top producers come over and pour their top wines (wines that you’d rarely see offered at walk-around tasting). Entertainment is provided by Les Cadets de Bourgogne, an a capella singing group Johnnes flies over; these truly jolly Frenchman rove through the room, singing traditional Burgundian tunes and frolicking with any woman whose eye they can catch.

This heady spirit is resumed at dinner, the heart of the event. This year’s dinner was for 400 and included food by Michael Mina,  Michel Troisgros, Daniel Boulud and Olivier Muller. The idea is that everyone who comes to the dinner brings a great bottle from their cellar and shares it with their table. Friendly competition over who has the best bottle often ensues. In fact, it gets a little crazy as collectors from all over the country travel here and bring not one bottle, but cases of fine, old, rare Burgundy. If you’ve ever wanted to taste the best Burgs, this is the place to do it. Without even leaving my seat, the bottles started to come through—top wines from the top domains, Leroy, DRC, Meo-Camuzet, Boillot, Leflaive. Old vintages—1978, 1985, ’59, ’90. They come faster than I could keep track. Given the rarity and value of some of these bottles, this is the most insane wine party you’ll ever go to. Things ultimately wined down at around midnight, just as people are looking for where they’re going to continue drinking for the after-party.

As wonderful as all that wine is, what’s truly remarkable is the spirit of the event, fueled by the joy and camaraderie that unites Burgundy lovers. And the best news is that next year, Johnnes is planning on bringing La Paulée back to San Francisco, where it was a few years ago. If you love Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from Burgundy, the source, this is something you don’t want to miss.
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