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Food & Dining // Vino Sense
Roberto Viernes

A Grand Bacchanalia In San Francisco

San Francisco was host a couple of weekends ago to one of the most amazing wine events I have ever attended. It’s called La Paulee. It is created by Daniel Johnnes, the wine director of Daniel Boulud’s Dinex Group. It mirrors La Paulee in Burgundy, France an event traditionally held in Meursault every November where all of the wine growers of the village come together with family and friends to celebrate the vintage and share some of the treasures from their cellars with each other. But La Paulee in the United States takes this celebration to a whole new level.

This is a gathering of the most fanatic Burgundy lovers on the planet. Mix in a gala dinner prepared by Michelinstarred chefs Daniel Boulud, Romain Chapel, Thomas Keller, Christopher Krostow and Michael Mina with almost two dozen of Burgundy’s top producers in attendance providing wines from their own cellar.

Did I mention that this is a BYOB party and in the Grand Ballroom of the Westin St. Francis? And what you have is just the most-over-the-top Burgundy wine party the earth has ever seen.

This was my first time attending, so I’d only heard of what happens from friends who’ve experienced it. So my strategy was to simply taste each one in order and not to get hurt, if you know what I mean. And I must say that I am quite proud of myself that I actually noted down every single wine (on my BlackBerry) that I tasted that night 73 in all and many of them from large format bottles including two Salmanazars. It would be insanity to list them all here.

I was amazed at the sheer number and velocity of wines being shared by all of the tables. Wine was coming in waves from people with whom I shared the table, passersby, friends at the table next to me and others coming to see their friends at our table. As each person has only three glasses before them, it is virtually impossible to keep one wine for longer than five minutes, unless you resign yourself to only using two.

The value of the wines being drunk also is staggering. If I were to guess the value of all the wines that I alone tasted and noted, it would have to be more than $100,000, easily. To give you an idea, at one point early on I had to empty a glass of 2004 Comte Lafon Montrachet ($1,500) in order to taste some 2001 Coche-Dury Corton Charlemagne ($2,000). Can you say “decadent”?

Some of these bottles were one of a kind. A single Salmanazar of 2000 Louis Jadot Musigny was the only one bottled in that year. A Salmanazar of 1985 Vogue Bonnes Mares was also the only one made in that year.

By the way I was no slouch one of the most well known collectors in San Francisco told me he thought my wine was the best white wine he tasted that evening!

But the single most important ingredient to the celebration was the passion and enjoyment of the attendees. Every single one was a devotee of great Burgundy and wanted to share its greatness with others. Complete strangers sharing some of the world’s greatest wines is an amazing and comforting thing. Knowing that these great bottles are being shared with those who appreciate it is terrific.

And experiencing this grand Bacchanalia is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I can say I survived, but I have to rest my liver now.

Recommendations: 2010 El Portillo Malbec ($12) Really good concentration of fruit without being overripe, cassis, anise and a hint of black pepper. It reminds me of good Merlot with a darker edge to it. Great value for Malbec. 2009 Stonecap Merlot ($9) OK, when was the last time I recommended a Merlot? This one is no blockbuster, but it is way better than the price would suggest, and it is everything you should expect in a very good Merlot.

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