I returned to Metropolitan Pavilion at 6pm and immediately walked up to the check-in desk. As they checked-in, the guests handed in the bottles that they had brought for the evening. Wines from Coche-Dury, Comtes des Lafon, Raveneau, Domaine Leflaive were labeled with the owner’s name and quickly taken away. My employer (David Bowler) and a co-worker Michele Peters had already found the Champagne station, and I joined them for a glass. The Champagne was nice, but, for perhaps the first time in my life, I had little interest in drinking it. Just on the other side of the wall sat one of the greatest collections of Burgundy ever assembled to be consumed in one evening. It was impossible to contemplate drinking any wine other than Burgundy at that moment. Even talking seemed pointless. My mind was already in the other room. Finally, after an hour of painful small talk, the doors opened and the crowd began to flood into the main room. Long tables, to which all the guests were assigned, stretched throughout the room. By chance, I ended up three seats away from Dominique Lafon and directly across from The New York Times wine critic Eric Asimov. Winemaker Claude de Nicolay Drouhin and importer/distributor Liz Willette were also just a few seats away.
Placed on our table was a warm-up wine, Domaine des la Comte des Lafon, Meursault, 1er Cru, Perrieres, 2001, which was honeyed and full of minerals. Suddenly, it became dark and a strobe light began to spin in the center of the room. Loud, modern music blasted and a group of Burgundian singers made their way onto the stage. Daniel Johnnes, pictured left with Daniel Boulud, walked onto the podium and gave some introductory comments. Monsieur Lafon then spoke about the history of La Paulee de Meursualt, which was founded by his grandfather. The crowd sat politely for most of Lafon’s speech, but it quickly lost its focus as the sommeliers began to bring bottles out from the back rooms. The wines were served at a measured pace, but soon bottles were appearing from other tables and the tasting quickly became chaotic.
Claude had brought some magnums of her Corton, Grand Cru, blanc, 2000 to the event and the rich wine showed very good balance. An elegant, refined Maison Leroy, Meursault, Narvaux, 1996 popped up out of nowhere and a trio of Chevilier-Montrachets from Doamaine Leflaive where passed around. The 2002 was brilliant, incredibly mineral and complex. The 1996 was richer and more powerful, but not as mineral as the 2002. The 1992 tasted like a combination of the previous two wines and seemed to be perfectly mature. Then, out of left field, a 1985 Vouvray was brought to the table from a producer named Jarry (Daniel?). I was not really interested in tasting anything other than Burgundy, but this was a terrific wine. There was no sign of oxidization and the wine still showed a little sweetness. Just in case I had not had enough Leflaive, a profound 2001 Batard-Montrachet jumped into my glass. Domaine L’Arlot brought three liter bottles of their Nuits-Saint-Georges, 1er Cru, Clos de L’Arlot, blanc from the 2000 vintage to the dinner and the powerful, red fruited wine was very good. A 1999 Roulut, Meursault, Tesson was oxidized and undrinkable. Remarkably, it would be the only oxidized wine of the night. Tasting old, but still very much alive was a very good 1989 Leflaive, Batard-Montrachet.
I noticed that Dominique Lafon was opening a couple of bottles of his 2000 Montrachet and decided to see if I could swindle a glass. I asked the gentleman to my left to offer Dominique some of the 1999 Raveneau, Blanchot, which was sitting in front of me and drinking wonderfully. Dominique took the bottle and passed a tiny glass of the Montrachet in our direction. The winewas incredibly rich and elegant, but it was hard for me to really judge it from the tiny sip I was given. Monsieur Lafon then passed the bottles of Montrachet to the opposite end of the table and never returned the Raveneau. Not all was lost, however. The world famous sommelier/wine director David Gordon (who also works at DB wine) was in charge of organizing the wine service for the evening and he made sure to bring some gems by our table. A 1959 Domaine Comte Georges de Vogue, Musigny was powerful and really good (my exact note). Earthy and complex was I how described a 1978 Domaine de la Romanee-Conti, La Tache. A 1983 Domaine Ramonet, Montrachet was elegant and beautiful. The 1971 DRC, La Tache was super ripe and earthy.
My head starts to spin just thinking about the onslaught of fine, old wine that continued on. Also tasted/consumed were a 1993 Comte des Lafon, Meursault, 1er Cru, Genevrieres (great), 1999 Bonneau du Martray, Corton-Charlemagne (nice, but one-dimensional), 1991 Armand Rousseau, Chambertin (leathery and awesome), 1999, Dugat-Py, Gevrey-Chambertin, 1er Cru (big, tannic and coarse), 2004 Dugat-Py, Chassagne-Montrachet, 1er Cru, Morgeot from 1.5ml (rich and oaky), 2006 Raveneau, Montee de Tonnerre, 1er Cru (rich and very tight), 1990 Chandon de Briailles, Savigny-les-Beaune, Les Lavieres from 1.5ml (excellent), 1993 Chandon de Briailles, Pernand-Vergelesses, Illes des Vergelesses, 1er Cru (tight and young), 1978 Lignier (which one?) Clos de Vougeot (high acidity, but nice), 1982 Maison Leroy, Montrachet (lime flavored, bright), 1990 Jayer-Gilles, Echezeaux (over ripe, not good), 1971 Camille Giroud, Charmes-Chambertin (aromatic and vibrant), 2002 Fevre, Chablis Grand Cru, Les Cos from 1.5ml (soft, forward and bland), 1999 Comtes des Lafon, Volnay, 1er Cru, Santenots (big and full bodied), 2000 Dugat-Py, Gevrey-Chambertin, VV (concentrated and closed), 1971 Roumier, Musigny (really great), 1996 Gros Frere, Richbourg (no note), 1996 Ramonet, Chassagne-Montrachet, 1er Cru, Les Grandes Ruchottes (fresh and mineral), 1999 Claude Dugat, Gevrey-Chambertin (refined and elegant), 2002 Denis Mortet, Clos de Vougeot from 1.5ml (raspberry fruit, rich texture) and 1988 Leroy (Maison?), Vosne-Romanee (elegant, sweet fruit).
Towards the end of the evening, I decided to make my way down to the other end of the table to see if any Montrachet was sitting around. I did not find any Lafon, but there was a little Puligny-Montrachet, Les Enseigneres from Coche-Dury left in a bottle. That discovery led to the revelation that other tables might have some really good leftovers. The big collectors were all seated at a couple tables at the far end of the room and many of them had already left for the after party at Cru. Most of the bottles on the tables were empty, but, much to my surprise, I found a 1989 Raveneau, Chablis, grand cru, Les Clos 2/3 full. I guess Chablis is not good enough for some people. The wine was incredibly rich and concentrated, but not over the top. It did possess a lot of minerality, but it was incredible none the less. A third of a bottle of Coche-Dury, Corton Charlemagne, grand cru, 1990 sat all alone at the next table. In total contrast to the Raveneau, the Coche-Dury was very mineral. I was pretty much finished for the night until I spotted a magnum of Henri Jayer, Echezeaux, 1982 in front of a few gentlemen at the end of the table. Not feeling confident enough to approach the men, I went and found Eric Asimov. Upon hearing about the magnum, Eric agreed to investigate. Unfortunately, we were told that the wine was corked. I turned around to leave, but noticed that a young woman standing next to me was pouring a 1993 Domaine de la Romanee Conti, Montrachet. I pondered for a moment how to obtain a sip of the wine, but there did not appear to be smooth way of going about it. Since I could not think of any other options, I turned toward the women and said “Do you mind if I try some?” The young lady looked at me for a second, slightly perturbed, and poured a small amount of the wine into my glass. I ran away like a hyena who just stole a lion’s catch. The wine was lean and intensely mineral.
That was it for the wine, thank God. I probably would have felt better the next morning if I had not walked around searching for wine at the end of the night, but it is hard to regret tasting those great bottles. Hangovers fade away, but the memories of great wines last a long time. Often an afterthought at this event is the food, but I thought it was outstanding. The highlights were a fois gras, blood orange dome (picture left) by Paul Liebrandt of Restaurant Corton (NYC) and an egg white dish covered in black truffles by Michel Troisgros of Restaurant Troisgros (France). La Paulee 2009 was a great event, and I am glad that I survived to drink another day.