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Last Call: La Paulée de San Francisco

On March 1, there is an event in San Francisco that every true lover of wine needs to attend. Specifically, it's a Burgundy event, but you can't really call yourself a true lover of wine if you don't love Burgundy, because Burgundy is, quite simply, the best.

And La Paulée—a big annual tasting, dinner and party devoted solely to fine Burgundies—is, quite simply, the best wine event thrown on American shores. Nothing comes close. Not only does La Paulée present the chance to taste the cream of the crop from Burgundy, but if you can get into the gala dinner, you will have the opportunity to taste the kinds of wines that most of us only dream about tasting. But, best of all, La Paulée proves wrong the common perception that tasting great wines needs to be a fusty and stuffy affair, best left to older
gentleman with long eyebrow hair and tweed suits. No, it's not some dry, academic wine tasting—it's a big, spirited, sloshing, slurping, stand-up-on-a-table-and-sing party that just happens to feature the greatest wines made in the last 100 (or more) years.

La Paulée is the name the French give to the party that each domaine throws for its workers at the close of harvest. Most famously, it's the name of the big village-wide party thrown after harvest by the town of Meursault, which starts with a grand luncheon that lasts well into the evening. Daniel Johnnes, the famed New York sommelier, author, importer and wine guru (now working for the Daniel Boulud restaurant group in addition to running his own importing company, Jeroboam), took the idea and brought it biennially to New York and, once before this year, to San Francisco. And now it's here again.

The day kicks off with a tasting of top Burgundian producers, from Fourrier to Colin-Morey, Gouges, Montille and Roumier and the list goes on, paired with food from SF's best restaurants (A16, Mina, La Folie, Coi, Quince, etc.). But that night’s Gala Dinner is the spiritual heart of the event. The dinner itself is always exquisite, and will be cooked this year by a team including Daniel Boulud, Michael Mina, Traci des Jardins and France’s Régis and Jacques Marcon.

But it's the wine that is truly sick. The tradition of La Paulée in France is that everyone brings an excellent bottle to share at the dinner. This is no different. Except that there are lots of Burgundy collectors around California who don't bring just one bottle from their cellars—they might bring eight or 10, including something truly amazing (like that six-liter bottle in the photo of an exceedingly rare Domaine Romanée-Conti). The wines are just out of control, and whether you want to or not, you're going to taste something of the rarity and quality that you'd never think possible in your lifetime. A few years ago in New York, at the very end of the night, I remember desperately trying to finish an abandoned magnum of La Tâche as the hotel’s banquet staff was trying to kick everyone out of the room. But I couldn't finish it (you can't guzzle La Tâche), and had to leave half the bottle sitting there for the cleanup crew.

One of my favorite parts of the dinner is the Cadets de Bourgogne, a troupe of traditional singers from Burgundy, who walk around spontaneously bursting into song throughout the night. These guys strike a real note in my heart, actually, because I got engaged the night before the 2005 La Paulée in New York. We were in town because my now-wife, Christie, always works the event as a sommelier. But the next night, at the La Paulée staff dinner, when everyone found out that we were getting hitched, over came the Cadets, who serenaded us with a hauntingly beautiful song that we now ask them to reprise every year.

Tickets to the Grand Tasting are $300, while tickets to the Gala Dinner are $1,400 (but include entry to the tasting too). I know it sounds steep, but if you love or are even just enthralled by Burgundies, a ticket to the gala dinner will net you more tasting experience and joy than if you spent that money on two or three cases of Burgundy and drank it at home. I have just found out that there are, due to some cancellations, a few seats left at the dinner. (Email Jaime Dutton at to reserve your spot.) I suggest you get a ticket; you will not regret it.