La Paulee San Francisco 2010 - Burgundy Finest Grand Tasting

In wine, I had never experienced such an embarrassment of riches as I did in the 3 hours of sinful debauchery otherwise called "the Grand Tasting" that ensued right after the well-behaved Burghound Seminar at La Paulée. I now stood in a large room teeming with industry insiders and some of the most legendary winemaker / producer figures of our age. Like the proverbial Buridan's ass, wasting precious moments, I was stuck to the floor trying to figure out my approach. Why were they torturing me so?! Dangling grand crus from Roumier, Mortet, Leflaive, Lafon, Dujac, Grivot, Ramonet, Bonneau du Martray, and many many other objects of desire in front of me, altogether over a hundred wines - to cover them all within 3 short hours - unthinkable cruel fate! On top of that, signature dishes from Michael Mina RN74, Quince, The Slanted Door, Acquerello, Boulevard, Il Cane Rosso, La folie, Jardiniere, incredible cheese array from Andante Dairy, and more, more, more - to go with the white and red burgs. Oh heavens, I need 3 hours for just one of them! I was desperate and paralyzed (remember that Buridan's ass?). One thing I knew - no way will I go through all the wines - as thorough as that may be, the mad rush would suck all enjoyment out. My friend Dan materialized on after-burners, zooming straight to the heavy-hitters cluster of Dujac, Roumier, Perrot-Minot, and Dennis Mortet. "Dan, you are starting with the reds?!", I was shocked. But he was already on his way, eager not to miss his idols, screw the proper white-then-red tasting etiquette! I was sucked in by the vaccuum created in his wake, ending up at Dujac.

What happened next was sheer insanity as grand vins that I might never get to taste again in my lifetime, were staining my lips and running down my palate. I was laughing and taking photos with guys that don't even take appointments when they are in a good mood. $300-500 bottles of vino were going up and down to my glass like an oil pump, and between jutting down notes, wiping drip from my chin, and exchanging a few brief words with the gods of winemaking, I was on to the next station. Somewhere in that first half hour of blur, I gave up on elaborate notes - they were taking too long - and decided to just try to remember the feelings I had when tasting those wines and dishes - those that would remain in my memory would be gracing the pages of this blog afterwards. My hat's off to the fellow wine writers Richard Jennings and Alder Yarrow who undoubtedly would be more dilligent in their coverage. As for me, now, almost a week later, the memories of some of the wines still linger on my mind with long, dreamy, flavorful finishes, as they did that day on my tongue.

So allow me to pour some of those memories from the vessel of my mind onto here.

1. This year, 2007's were the majority of the show. White Burgundies stood out better than the reds. Hardly surprising, since the 2007 reds are just too young at this point. For the whites, while 2006 was a fuller, fruitier, and more approachable year, the 2007 is more classical, higher acidity, better focus and minerality, with the best examples irresistible. The portfolios of Leflaive and Ramonet stole the show for me. Brilliant efforts up and down the line-ups confirmed the well-deserved lofty status of those domaines. Leflaive's unforgettable Macon-Verze, Puligny-Montrachet, Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cu "Clavaillon" and 1er Cru "Les Pucelles", and Ramonet's Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru "Les Chaumées", 1er Cru "Les Ruchottes", and a gorgeous Bâtard-Montrachet delivered with a bang. Bonneau du Martray's and Faiveley's Corton-Charlemagnes were outstanding, as was Jadot's Domaine Duc de Magenta Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru Morgeot "Clos de la Chapelle". Several other producers while not as great, still featured some very solid wines: Bouchard (Genevrières and St Landry), Bruno Colin (Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru "La Truffière", "Les Chaumées", and "La Boudriotte"), and Blain-Gagnard (Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru "La Boudriotte", "Morgeot" and "Caillerets"). However, Lafon (Meursault "Clos de la Barre" and 1er Cru "Charmes") left me cold, Dujac's Morey-Saint-Denis Blanc was just ok.

2. The pairing of several lovely Chablis from Domain Christian Moreau (Vaillon, Valmur, Le Clos) with Michael Mina RN74's Shiso Ebi Shrimp Coctail was divine perfection! I must have had five of those little explosions of shiso and Meyer lemon. The food was extravagant across the board, feast for the eyes, though not everyone's concoction pleased my Burgundy stained taste-buds. The highlight dishes for me were Il Cane Rosso's Beef Brisket "Bollito" al Pizzialo, Jardiniere's Rabbit en Escabeche, Michael Mina RN74's Shiso Ebi Shrimp Coctail, Boulevard's Smoked Black Cod, and the Slanted Door's Braised Pork Belly. The cheeses from Andante Dairy were supreme. Notable mentions should also go to MASA'S Maine Scallops "Cuit Sous Vide" (with green garlic and preserved Meyer lemon), La follie's Mushroom Risotto (with truffles), Acquerello's Aged Carnaroli Risotto (with pork belly and Pink Lady apples), Quince's Octopus with Chickpeas & Wild Nettles, and Piperade's Oxtail "Pot au Feu". Enjoy the slide-show:

3. None of the 2007 reds swept me off my feet. The legendary Domaine Roumier Bonnes-Mares was dense, spicy, dark-berry flavored grand cru that has many years before it truly gives pleasure. Perrot-Minot's Nuits-Saint-Georges 1er Cru "La Richemone" was round, rich, and quite nice. His Charmes-Chambertin was dense - not bad. Dujac's Morey-Saint-Denis Rouge had a lovely light rose translucent color, sweet, tart, spicy flavor. Dennis Mortet's 4 wines, poured by Arnaud Mortet, Dennis' son, were thick, and rather too fleshy for my palate, particularly the famous Lavaux Saint-Jacques - beefy, dense, needing more acid to stand up to the fruit and body. Tollot-Beaut's Beaune 1er Cru "Les Grèves" and Corton-Bressandes - solid. Faiveley's Eschezaux was powerful, full, sweet, balanced, and quite good. Domaine de Chevalier's Corton "Le Rognet" 2006 was very good, as was Michel Gros Clos de Vougeot - soft, plush, slightly spicy, with medium-low acid. Domaine de l'Arlot Nuits-Saint-Georges 1er Cru "Clos de l'Arlot" and "Clos des Forets Saint Georges" were very nice, with the Clos de l'Arlot more accessible at this point. Grivot only had 2006's (Vosne-Romanée, Nuits-Saint-Georges 1er Cru "Roncière", "Aux Boudots", and Echezeaux) and left me uninspired, as did Domaine de Montille's wines.

To my extreme grief, I ran out of time before visiting a good number of producers. As well, I reached my saturation point and sensory overload. I simultaneously was thanking and swearing at Bacchus for putting me into such state. La Paulée seems to come to San Francisco every two years, alternating with New York. In the course of 3 hours, I sampled probably $10K worth of most sought-after wines in the world, as well as hundreds of $$ worth of food. This was the best Burgundy extravaganza I'd ever been a part of - so many memories, so many learnings, so highly recommended, so worth $275 ($200 for trade). As I stepped out of the Westin St. Francis, it was around 3:15, sunny day, beautiful Union Square brightly lit and buzzing with visitors. Four French winemakers wearing jackets and jeans like a uniform, were out for a smoke and a breeze, getting a welcome rest from us, the crazy Burgo-maniacs. That evening I was meeting friends for a dinner at Donato Enoteca for what would surely be a lovely dinner. Wearily I looked at my watch. In only 5 short hours I would be eating and drinking again. God bless America!


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