La Paulee San Francisco 2012 and the Impressive 2009 Red Burgundy

Burgundy is expensive. Burgundy is ethereal. Burgundy in 2009 is magnificent. But if you have to ask "how much?", then you can't afford it. But wait... there is good news...

A month ago I attended La Paulee in San Francisco - an extraordinarily extravagant and gastronomically mind-blowing event that celebrates fine wines of Burgundy. I've written about it in the past - terms like "embarrassment of riches" have come to mind. Despite the lofty $300 admission fee, this grand tasting is for anyone who is into Burgundy or may be getting into it, and who has the mental and gastric fortitude to navigate through over a hundred wines of the highest order within three short hours. I got to taste thousands of dollars worth of the finest wines in the world, poured by iconic winemakers, accompanied by delectable bites from the hautest restaurants in the city. So worth it IMHO!

My focus was on the reds. There is a bit of controversy about the 2009 vintage in the wine geek circles. One camp believe that the reds are too ripe, another - that they are just beautiful. Barring few (leaner, stemmier, or overdone) exceptions, I reaffirmed my affinity to the latter camp. The biggest takeaway from the tasting is that 2009 is an absolute, hands-down killer vintage for red Burgundy. Across the board, these wines are delicious, seductive, beautifully perfumed, with balanced flavor of fruit, earth, and acidity, already approachable, but not devoid of tannic backbone that will allow them to improve with age. Though richer, fruitier, and riper than every vintage since 2003, they are still nothing like California Pinot "sweet cola" - not even close. To my palate, it's very hard to go wrong with 2009 red Burgundy - there I said it!  The last vintage where nearly everything was great across the board was 2005. I wish I had bought more of it. The 2009 is more approachable early, but it is undoubtedly the best vintage since 2005. A vintage like this, in my opinion, favors lower-level wines - regional and lesser village appellations, because you get tremendous value for your money. Despite what I said in the first paragraph, in 2009 you can get good red Burgundy for under $30, sometimes even under $20.

That's not to say that 1er and Grand Cru aren't sublime -- they are!  But the prices, oh the prices! There was stampede to the Domaine Ponsot table where Mr. Laurent Ponsot himself was pouring four grand crus that mere mortals will never get to experience - Corton Bressandes, Chambertin Clos de Beze, Clos Saint Denis, and Clos de la Roche - elixir in a glass! If you have to inquire about the price, then you CAN'T afford it! (hint: $600+/btl).

Laurent Ponsot and his quartet of sublime 2009 Grand Cru

But the winery that stole my heart was Domaine Fourrier, represented by the second-generation owner-winemaker Jean-Marie Fourrier. These wines seemed to benefit from non-use of stems - bright, juicy, brilliant, and surprise surprise - even more expensive than Ponsot (as in $900/btl - sure I'll take a case!)

Jean-Marie Fourrier and Iron Chevsky

Fourrier's wines were my favorite of the tasting!

On the less expensive end of the scale, I was impressed with wines of Hospices de Beaune. Unfortunately those are auctioned off by the barrel. Literally. They get bought by serious wine folk who bottle them themselves. So good luck finding.

Hospices de Beaune - delicious but hard to find!

By the way, I was pleasantly surprised with a few examples of white Burgundy, which I had generally left for dead in 2009. In general, the same factors that make the reds glorious - warmer, richer, more approachable, make the whites flabby. However, tasting just a couple of whites - from William Fevre and Domaine Roulot - showed otherwise. They were quite good, with sufficient freshness and acidity. I am still skeptical, but perhaps a bit more open-minded about the 2009 whites, while I continue to recommend 2007 and 2008.

Here is the slideshow of my favorite wines and bites. Enjoy!


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